WALLA WALLA — Wa-Hi’s senior linebacker and avid angler Ryan James enjoys spreading fear and trepidation among schools of salmon and steelhead on the Snake and Clearwater rivers.
He doesn’t mind doing the same to opposing passers and ball carriers on the gridiron, either.
And as a veteran center, and a budding engineer, James may be the main cog in keeping the Blue Devils’ offensive wheels well-oiled and rolling.
By all accounts, Wa-Hi coach Marc Yonts highly values his contributions.
"Ryan is just a great athlete," Yonts said. "He’s good at basketball. He’s good at baseball. He’s good at football.
"He’s a real leader. He’s very passionate. I don’t think anybody wants to win as badly as he does," Yonts said. "He’s very, very competitive."
Yonts explained that James played as a defensive lineman last year when the coaching staff recognized that it "had to get him involved more in the defense."
So, coaches moved him to inside linebacker in the spring.
"He excelled there," Yonts said.
Then, when defensive coordinator Ryan Carter accepted a baseball coaching position at Kamiakin, Wa-Hi switched up its front line and found a great spot for the 6-3, 220-pound James at outside linebacker.
"James has really, really been a good football player at that outside ’backer," Yonts said.
And he may be even more valuable at center.
"As a center in the shotgun he’s just incredibly consistent, which makes the whole thing go," Yonts said. "In the spread offense, if you’re having trouble getting the snap off, you can have a bad day in a hurry."
Born and raised in Walla Walla, James attended Davis Elementary, Meadowbrook Intermediate and Sager Middle schools in College Place before attending Wa-Hi.
He’s played baseball, basketball and football in all grades, including high school.
On the basketball hardwood, James uses his size and strength to battle under the boards.
"Mostly my roll is to rebound and play defense," Ryan said.
On the baseball diamond, Ryan works chiefly on the mound, as a hard-throwing right-hander, where he became the ace of the staff during his junior season.
Despite his wide-ranging athletic abilities, James may concentrate on baseball in college.
"I’m thinking about playing baseball at WWCC," James said. "Baseball is what I’m looking to do in college. It’s my favorite sport."
And he plans to study some type of engineering. He’s not sure yet what the specialty will be, but he does like to build things.
James is the son of Dan and Julie James, and he has two brothers, Kenneth, who coaches football and baseball at Jerome, Idaho, and Justin, who played several sports at Wa-Hi. He also played center for Wa-Hi’s football team and graduated in 2003.
Justin is presently an assistant coach, working with the defensive line, for the Blue Devils.
"He doesn’t offer many tips about playing center," Ryan said and may have blushed slightly. "He usually stays with his ‘D’ linemen (at practice). And I stay with the offensive linemen."
Ryan said careful footwork keeps a center on his toes.
"You just have to take your same footwork and do it every time on every play," he said. "You’ve just got to make sure you trust your footwork."
And Ryan James enjoys fishing.
"Me and my dad, we fish a ton," he said. "We got to go to Alaska this summer and fish for salmon up there. We do a lot of steelhead fishing and bass fishing. We fish a lot (on the Snake River) at the mouth of the Tucannon (River).
"My dad went up on the Clearwater last week," James continued. "He caught a couple of salmon and a big steelhead. I caught a couple at the mouth of the Tucannon the other day, so that was fun. We troll with Hot Shots. We don’t bobber fish."
And, of course, James looks forward to Friday’s Big Nine Conference Cascade Division game with Richland.
Wa-Hi takes a 4-2 record and third place slot in the standings into the game.
The Bombers are 3-3 and tied for fourth. Wa-Hi needs a win to nail down a home field game in the first week of the playoffs.
"The Richland game is huge," James said. "To have home field advantage in the playoffs is huge. It’s a really big deal.
"Richland is playing a lot better," he said. "Richland has a really fast get-off on the defensive line. Their ‘D’ linemen get up-field really far."
Yonts believes James will be ready to play.
"He does a great job for us," Yonts said. "He makes a difference. He’s got a great motor. He works really hard and he’s extremely competitive.
"He’s the glue that makes the whole thing go for us."
Wa-Hi vs. Richland
Richland has won three of its last five games, and it threw a scare into unbeaten Kamiakin before falling 21-14 last week.
In the five-game span, the Bombers beat West Valley 21-13, beat Hanford 24-14 and beat Chiawana 16-6. Richland also lost to Eisenhower 20-0 in that span.
"Richland has settled into their running game a little bit," Wa-Hi coach Marc Yonts said. "They’re an explosive play-action team. They hit a couple of big ones against Kamiakin.
"And they ran the ball pretty well," he said. "They’ve settled in to what they want to do."
The Bombers have run for 1,274 yards and passed for 499.
And Yonts describes the Bombers as being similar to the Blue Devils on defense.
"They’re doing a good job," he said. "They haven’t given up a ton of points, other than one game or so.
It will be a tough game."
Richland has allowed 126 points, and the Blue Devils have allowed 116.
"This is a huge game for us," Yonts said. "They beat Chiawana. They held Kamiakin to 21. They’re a good football team, and we need to come out and play well.
"It’s very important for us, for what’s at stake."
A victory assures the Blue Devils a home-field venue for the first round of the Big Nine Conference crossover games.
Key offensive players for the Bombers include running back Jake McKinney (148 carries for 996 yards and seven touchdowns) and quarterback Haden Hilty (45 completions in 100 attempts for 550 yards and two TDs, with seven interceptions).
Wa-Hi counters with running back Austin Schilling (124 carries, 734 yards and five TDs) and quarterback Michael Weisner (72 completions in 133 attempts for 1,145 yards and 14 touchdowns with four interceptions).
Weisner is tied with Kamiakin’s Corey Hitchinson with total TD passes, and Weisner leads the Big Nine in passing efficiency with a 155.2 rating.
Colton Arias, Wa-Hi’s leading receiver with 20 catches for 273 yards and four touchdowns, anticipated a possible return to action Friday after a leg injury suffered against West Valley early in a game three weeks ago.
After missing the first three games, Wa-Hi receiver Gary Winston has moved into sixth place among the league’s top scorers with 10 touchdowns.
Joe Fuerst of Eisenhower has scored 15 TDs.
"Our kids are ready," Yonts said. "I hope we’re focused. We did a good job of focusing through all of the distractions last week.
"I’m going to bet our kids can handle it and will be ready to go," he emphasized. "We’ve got to come out and play well. We’ve done a nice job so far.
"But when Richland comes to our place it’s a big test."