MODESTO -- Oakdale coach Trent Merzon isn't a fan of using two-way players.
The Mule may force his hand.
Nikk Ryan wasn't the everydown fullback when he was thrust into Oakdale's starting lineup on Friday evening against Sierra at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.
Instead he spent most of his time at defensive end for one of the Stanislaus District's stingiest defenses.
"He's important to us, defensively," Merzon said of Ryan. "I don't like to play guys both ways. He's so unbelievable at defensive end and I've been hesitant to use him (on offense) because our strength is defense."
"He's so phenomenal."
Now he's got the highlight tape to prove it.
Ryan toppled Sierra defenders like they were bowling pins on Friday evening, highlighting a 49-7 victory that wasn't even that close.
That the game finished under a running clock was befitting. Oakdale (1-0 Valley Oak League, 3-1) ran roughshod over the Timberwolves (0-1, 3-1), obliterating their perfect record with TNT blasts from Ryan.
"I get called a lot of things," Ryan said of The Mule nickname given to him by a fan on Friday evening. "I don't pick my nicknames."
His play does.
Ryan rushed for 136 yards on a team-high 20 carries, scoring three touchdowns in the second quarter. Oakdale raced into the locker room ahead 42-7. The more telling statistic, though: 252 of the team's 370 total first-half yards came on the ground.
"Nikk running the ball opens up stuff for me, opens up stuff for the other tailbacks," said quarterback Spencer Thomas, who gashed Sierra for 118 yards through the air and 115 more on the ground.
Oakdale scored a season-high in points with a full complement of weapons.
Thomas (4-of-6 passing) was decisive and elusive.
Tailback Marcus Northcutt (11 carries, 60 yards) was dangerous in space, scoring the first and last touchdowns of the game.
Wide receiver Austin Jones (two catches, 90 yards) took a jump ball out of the hands of Sierra cornerback Jonathan Montoya and left him for a 64-yard score.
But it was The Mule, a part-time offensive player until Friday, that set the tempo.
Ryan won the starting job in practice last week, Thomas said, by chasing yards like they were sacks.
Whether he keeps that spot and the lion's share of the carries remains to be seen. One thing is certain, though: The 6-foot, 210-pound senior has bought into the coaching staff's offensive philosophy.
"Our approach was to shove (the ball) down their throats," said Ryan, who had four consecutive runs of 11, 11, 14 and 11 yards in the second quarter. "Our approach was to run the ball down the center of the field."
Oakdale draws Kimball (0-1, 1-3) next. And if the most important game in Valley Oak League is the next one, as Merson has said, the fiery coach may need to once again borrow from his defense.
"His effort, energy and passion were phenomenal," Merzon said. "Nikk was dynamic."
James Burns is the Regional Sports Content Editor of The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star. He can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2324.