Ryan Phelps may be the most feared pass rusher in Colorado's 2A classification. That only begins to detail his athletic abilities.
Phelps, a senior at Bayfield High School, leads the entire state in quarterback sacks, making six in two games. He's recorded three in each game so far this year for the Wolverines. He is half of a sack ahead of Sangre de Cristo's Tristin Franks for the state lead, though Franks had played in only one game.
"My goal this year is to lead the state in sacks," Phelps said after Saturday's 52-0 win against Bloomfield. "I pay close attention to it."
Quarterbacks keep close attention to Phelps, too. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Phelps has the size, speed and strength to get around the most talented of offensive lines. Last season, Phelps led his team with 13 sacks, which helped him garner all-state second team honors.
Phelps' coaches believe he can be an all-state caliber player in football, basketball and track and field this season. He averaged 17.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots per game in basketball last season. As a thrower on the track and field team, he finished seventh in the state in shot put and ninth in discus, and he had the third-best throws of any non-senior at the state meet.
"When I think of Ryan Phelps, I think of an all-state athlete," said Gary Heide, the head coach of football and track and field at Bayfield High School. "What a privilege to have him. He's such a humble and hard worker. He has huge athletic ability, and what a great young man he is."
Phelps, son of Nancy and Trent Phelps, could also be an all-state punter and offensive lineman this fall. He moved to the tackle position after playing tight end last season and is helping pave the way for Bayfield's powerful rushing attack. He also has punted four times this season and has pinned the opponent inside its own 20-yard line three times, including two inside the 10-yard line last week against Bloomfield.
"My uncle Deon taught me in middle school how to punt," Phelps said. "I kept practicing the techniques he taught me, and it's been working ever since."
Phelps' leg gives the Wolverines a serious weapon in the field-position game, especially with such an imposing defense. It makes Heide's decision to punt near midfield an easy one to make. And, as Phelps showed Saturday, he's not afraid to make a snap decision and run with the ball for a first down, either. His 10-yard run on fourth-and-4 continued a drive that led to a Bayfield touchdown.
"He made that decision on his own; we didn't call it," Heide said of the fake punt. "I didn't bat an eye when he came over apologizing to me. If he thinks he can make it, then I know he's gonna make it. That's how much I trust him."
Phelps also has forced two turnovers in two games. After knocking away three passes at the line of scrimmage in the team's opening win against San Juan High School in Blanding, he also hauled in an interception. Last week, he stripped the ball out of a Bloomfield player's hands and recovered the fumble himself amidst a big pile of players from both teams.
"He's got such good instincts and quickness, he's like a cat," Bayfield defensive and offensive line coach Frank Hawkins said. "He makes plays all over and is always hustling. I'm amazed watching him."
College coaches also admire Phelps' ability. He drew the attention of Colorado State University-Pueblo, the 2014 NCAA Division II national champions, at a camp this summer. But Phelps doesn't have much interest in playing college sports, as he wants to go into his family's business, RT Construction Inc, after high school.
Football isn't Phelps' first love. He still considers himself more of a basketball player but says he has grown to love the gridiron as much as the hardwood. He has big goals in all three of his sports during his senior year, with nearly the entire defending league champion basketball team returning this winter and a boys track and field team loaded with talent.
First is football, though, and Phelps and the Wolverines are solely focused on getting back to the state playoffs and into the state championship game after being eliminated in the semifinals by one point against eventual champion La Junta last season. Bayfield won the state title in 2015 when Phelps was a sophomore.
"It's redemption," Phelps said. "We want to get back where we were last year and not get knocked out. We want to get to the state championship and win another one."