Whether it's football, basketball or track, coaches speak glowingly about Soldotna senior Rick Simpson's selfless ability to try something different.
About the only one not so unabashed about commending that trait is Simpson's father, Bill Simpson.
"He's always been very coachable and willing to try new things, even some that are not what I would consider all that bright," Bill said.
When Rick was 6 or 7, his father remembers when his son took to riding his bicycle under a mailbox. One time, Rick rose up too quickly and cut the top of his head.
"There's a number of things like that," Bill said. "He's been my adventurous son in that respect.
"Not always does he think about the consequences. It's always, 'I'll try it.'"
While Simpson's willing attitude may not have served him particularly well during his childhood years on a bike, it has served him well in his prep sports career.
Take football, for instance. Simpson was a varsity starter as a sophomore -- a rarity at Soldotna -- at defensive back.
Then junior year, he saw time at defensive back as well as tight end, running back, quarterback and receiver on offense. He played well enough to earn second-team all-Northern Lights Conference honors at defensive back.
"Every now and then you get these kids that mentally are maybe a little bit above, kind of like a captain," Soldotna football coach Sarge Truesdell said. "I would say Ricky Simpson is one of those kids born to be a captain.
"Anyplace you put him, he goes after it. He can pick up so many different positions."
Truesdell finally decided to give Simpson a permanent home at receiver, notifying the player after his junior year.
"When he told me that I would be playing receiver, I embraced it," Simpson said. "I looked at it as a challenge."
Simpson met the challenge by lifting weights and running track to get faster and stronger. He then attended a football camp at Brigham Young University in the summer and went to a Wing-T camp in Anchorage, where he had already grasped the position enough to be named the camp's best receiver.
About a month before this season, Simpson started getting together with quarterback Eric Simpson (the two are not related) to work on timing.
"When you start something new, it's always hard to say how it will turn out," Rick Simpson said. "I had a feeling the receiver position would turn out OK.
"After two or three weeks, Eric and I had nice timing."
In the regular season, Simpson was the leading receiver on the peninsula. He caught 17 balls for 413 yards and seven touchdowns as Soldotna went 7-1 and took its third-straight Northern Lights Conference title.
Friday, in the opening round of the small-schools playoffs, Simpson kept right on rolling. He had four catches for 41 yards, and also made two interceptions on defense.
The Stars will face Kenai Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Anchorage Football Stadium for the small-schools state title.
"Anytime a lot of seniors get together for four years, they have a chance to do something pretty good," Simpson said. "It's great that we've all come together like we have."
Simpson is hoping that will hold true for basketball, as well. Simpson made the SoHi varsity his junior year, but the Stars went 1-9 in Region III/4A before losing their first two games in the region tournament.
"This year, we have a lot of returning seniors who have stayed through all four years," Simpson said. "I'm looking forward to it.
"Hopefully, it will turn out the same way the football season has."
For that to happen, Simpson -- surprise, surprise -- will have to contribute in a variety of ways.
"He's the jack of all trades," Soldotna coach Bill Withrow said. "Whatever you ask him to do, he will do it.
"That's probably one of his greatest assets. Stick him in a mold and he'll go after it to the best of his ability."
Both Withrow and Bill Simpson said they were impressed with how the defeats last year only seemed to make Rick and the team work harder.
"I learned a lot last year," Rick said. "One of the biggest things was that even when you're getting beat, you have to keep your competitive edge."
That competitive edge also has served Simpson well in track, where he does the triple jump, long jump and runs the sprint relays.
"I've never asked Rick to do anything that he didn't do gladly," Soldotna track coach Mark Devenney said. "If we knew what made up kids like that, we'd have 100 of them.
"He's been a joy for me to coach."
Simpson finished third in both the triple jump and long jump at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Track Meet last season. Devenney said he is hoping Simpson can be a factor in the state meet this year.
"Now that I have two years behind me learning the jumps, I'm really looking forward to this year," Simpson said.
Simpson thanks Bill Simpson and his mother, Laurie Simpson, for instilling him with the discipline necessary to be successful in sports and academics in high school.
He has a 3.67 grade-point average and his affinity for the sciences has him thinking about going into sports medicine.
But that doesn't mean Simpson's gumption for trying new things has lost any of its zeal.
"I like to do high adventure stuff in the summer, like cliff-jumping, rafting, canoeing, camping and fishing," Simpson said. "I've lived in Alaska my whole life.
"I love it because in the summer, there's never a day where I don't have something to do."
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