It’s not every football team that, literally and figuratively, has a ringer on its roster.
Central Catholic is such a squad and tailback Matt Ringer is, well, he’s the Raiders’ ringer.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound senior with the golden boy good looks is the fourth-leading rusher in the Stanislaus District this season, and 28th in the state, with 2,017 yards.
Watching Ringer run the ball is bit like watching somebody rush to catch an elevator – bolting through the narrowing crack with no regard for getting caught in the doors or slamming into the back of the lift.
“He runs hard,” said Central Valley coach Jason McCloskey, who watched Ringer gain 210 yards against his Hawks on Oct. 25. “He hits the hole, puts his foot in the ground and goes forward.
“He’s a powerful guy that can run away from you.”
Last year, Ringer was a bit player in the Ray and Rey Show, starring Ray Lomas (2,084 yards) and Rey Vega (1,524), and his carries were few and far between.
But Ringer was patient – it’s probably a little easier to be when your team wins the state championship – and this year he’s the focal point of Central Catholic’s punishing ground game. So much so that in four games this season he’s carried the ball at least 29 times.
That’s a workhorse.
Come Saturday afternoon, when the top-seeded Raiders (12-1) take on unbeaten No. 2 seed Hilmar (13-0) for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 title, you can bet Ringer will get the ball 30 times. Maybe 40 … whatever it takes.
“I don’t ever expect to get the ball 20 or 25 times a game,” says Ringer. “But sometimes the passing game is having a hard time finding its rhythm; I’ve proven that I can run hard and get to that first-down marker.”
With his blocky frame, Ringer may look like a plodder, but he’s deceptively fast.
“I think deceptive is a good word to describe his speed,” says Central Catholic coach Roger Canepa. “He’s faster than people think.”
Ringer’s also stronger than people think. He squats 455 pounds and can power-clean 295 – those numbers put him in offensive lineman territory.
“I wanted to be stronger this year and I wanted to be thicker this year,” says Ringer, who’s added 25 pounds to his frame to handle the extra pounding he’s taken as a senior. “I knew I didn’t have the speed that Vega had or the shiftiness that Ray had.”
But he’s got 2,000 yards like Lomas had, and like Vega would’ve had if Vega hadn’t missed the first six weeks of the 2012 season due to the state’s transfer rule.
Essentially, that’s three 2,000-yard backs at Central Catholic in the past two seasons. So, what does that say?
“It says we block well,” Ringer deadpans, deflecting praise to his offensive linemen.
Spencer Stark, the anchor of the Raiders’ o-line, says he and his mates thrive on setting a tone with the ground attack.
“It definitely says that we’re a physical program,” says Stark, a 6-foot-2, 325-pound mountain of a young man. “Our coaches come up with blocking schemes and then do a good job getting us prepared.”
And besides, Stark adds, “Run-blocking is just simpler – you just get on a guy and move him.”
Hilmar head coach Frank Marques points out that CC has other weapons, and his Yellowjackets can’t focus solely on Ringer. But Marques, whose team has only allowed two runners all season to break 100 yards, knows Ringer will tough to stop.
“He’s definitely a weapon that we have to contend with,” says Marques, who guided the Yellowjackets to the D5 section championship in 2008 with a 17-6 win over the Raiders. “He’s patient when he needs to be and he’s smart; he knows when to the hit the hole and he knows how to read his blocks.”
Having played on last season’s section and state championship team, Ringer knows the importance of Saturday’s showdown. But he also knows football is about more than wins and losses.
“It’s been an enjoyable season already,” says Ringer. “Everyone on the team has performed great, and you can’t ask for more than that. A state title is what we’re shooting for, but in the end it’s all about having fun.
“And we’ve had lots of that.”