As the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears football team made its way through to the state high school semifinals last year, senior running back/linebacker Ryan Wilson was collecting an impressive batch of injuries.
Despite the pain, Wilson was still able to rush for 1,520 yards and 13 touchdowns on 212 carries, plus he caught nine passes for 129 yards and one touchdown. Wilson earned a running back spot on the first-team all-state squad for that effort, plus his ability to play through pain earned him a lot of respect from Juneau head coach Reilly Richey.
Wilson's toughness did attract a couple of college coaches, and even though he has not yet been officially offered a scholarship Wilson has been given a chance to walk on with the University of Nevada, an NCAA Division I school based in Reno.
``He played with a hairline fracture of his ankle,'' Richey said, adding that the fracture wasn't discovered until after the season. ``And he had his shoulder and back problems. Ryan is one of those kids who knows how to play football. He has an intuitive instinct. He's not going to turn heads with his speed, but as a running back he saw the full field. They (college scouts) don't put a stopwatch on toughness. He runs and plays defense with a lot of heart. He had so many health problems, but he kept on playing.''
Jim Mastro, the Wolf Pack's recruiting coordinator and running backs coach, said there is a chance Wilson could play his way into a scholarship once football players report for practice on Aug. 3.
``He's a tough kid,'' Mastro said. ``He's a good athlete and he runs well.''
Mastro said Wilson will walk on as a running back, although Wilson said he was told during his visit to the school Feb. 26 that he'd most likely play safety, and that he might have to compete with Chugiak's Brad Lindstrom at the position. Lindstrom, who was the Cook Inlet Football Conference's offensive player of the year this season, signed a National Letter of Intent to play defensive back for Nevada on Feb. 1.
``I'm really excited,'' Wilson said. ``I wasn't sure if I'd get to play after high school. I was getting looked at by smaller schools, like Southern Oregon, but I kind of wanted to go to Reno because I have family there.''
``Ryan just wants to play football, and he wants to play Division I,'' Richey said.
Mastro said Nevada tends to recruit players who are athletes first, and position players second. Then the offensive and defensive coordinators will get together with head coach Dick Tormey to decide what position the player might be best suited for that season. Tormey just took over the head coaching spot after several years as head coach at Idaho, and he takes over a team that went 3-8 last year to finish last in the Big West Conference. Nevada will move to the Western Athletic Conference this season.
Wilson hasn't officially been offered a scholarship. But Wilson said he'll receive help with his housing and food bills at Nevada, and he'll have to pay his own tuition which will be discounted as part of the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE). Mastro said the football program is not allowed to break up any of the 85 total scholarships it's allotted, but some non-scholarship players can earn tuition waivers based on academic performance. Because Wilson hasn't been officially offered a scholarship yet from Nevada, Mastro said Wilson is not committed to the school and he can choose to go elsewhere if another school offers him a scholarship.
No Crimson Bear football player has ever moved on to compete at the NCAA Division I level, although former Juneau players Jeremy Woodrow and Matt Carey were both redshirted as walk-on freshmen last year by Northern Arizona, an NCAA Division I-AA school. In February, Rick Carte signed a National Letter of Intent to play tight end for NCAA Division II Western Washington University.
Richey said lineman Lino Fenumiai is being looked at by both NCAA Division I Wyoming and NAIA Division I Southern Oregon, but would have to walk on at both schools. Some other players from this year's team, including Kelly Pajinag and Tim Tangney, are considering Shasta (Calif.) Junior College, where former Juneau resident and East Anchorage High football coach Mike Curry is now special teams coach.