He may not be faster than a speeding bullet.
He may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
He may not be more powerful than a locomotive, although to some players he may remind them of one.
When Ian Rudzik made his high school debut as a Ulysses Tiger football player in 2012, he rushed for 146 yards on just 13 carries and scored a touchdown to help his team to a 43-27 comeback victory over Class 5A Liberal.
That performance led to a 1,000-yard plus season for Rudzik, who played at about 200 pounds that season while seeing limited duty on the defensive side of the ball.
His sophomore season of 2013 saw Rudzik become bigger, stronger and faster, resulting in a sterling season performance where he rushed for 1,987 yards, scored 26 touchdowns and was still a part-time player on defense for coach Jason Kenny.
In the just recently-completed 2014 campaign, Rudzik had another memorable season in which he scored 26 touchdowns and broke the 2,000-yard barrier with 2,061 yards (averaging 9.3 yards per tote).
But it was perhaps his defensive effort where Rudzik saw the biggest improvement during his junior season. He finished with 61 solo tackles, 39 assists for an even 100 stops and intercepted two passes, returning one 92 yards for a touchdown.
For his all-around performance, Rudzik, all 6-2, 220-pounds, has been tabbed as The Telegram’s Football Player of the Year.
“I felt like I gained a little more speed, a little more power this year,” Rudzik said in a recent interview. “On defense, working with my coaches, they helped me with my stance. I think my overall movement on the field, and a lot of tackling drills were the main areas of improvement.”
His head coach, Kenny, said Rudzik has that rare combination of speed and strength that enables him to excel on both offense and defense.
“On offense, he became a more patient runner,” Kenny said. “In the past he just looked to run over people. Now, he’s waiting for the block to materialize. Then, he’s got the speed to run away from some pretty fast defensive backs, which I think is a surprise to many people. They take the wrong pursuit angle on him. Some (backs) just want to get out of the way. He’s a very physical player, and in the open field, he’s very tough to bring down.”
Rudzik said running track in the spring (he was a finalist in Class 4A 200-meters) had helped with his speed and agility.
“The sprint workouts and all the agility things we did, working on my flexibility, helped me improve a lot,” Rudzik said. “Getting in the weight room, getting stronger was a big part of it, too. I still feel as though I can get faster.”
Rudzik has been tabbed as a 3-star recruit by rivals.com and he was electronically-timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash last summer at a football camp.
Rudzik credits a lot of drills for his ability not to go down with a first hit from a defender.
“I just try to make sure my knees are staying up, so I don’t trip over things on offense,” Rudzik said. “I just try to flop around and try to stay on my feet as much as I can. I guess I’ve always had pretty good balance. I plant my arm down, try to bounce back up and just keep running.”
During his junior year, Rudzik rushed for more than 100 yards in all 10 Tiger games. His season-best effort came against Goodland when he rushed 12 times for 312 yards and scored four touchdowns. He tallied six touchdowns against Colby when he only carried the ball nine times but netted 277 yards.
In each of the last two seasons, the Tigers have been knocked out of the 4A playoffs by Buhler, but in each of those games Rudzik has gained more than 200 yards against the Crusaders. As he looks to the 2015 season, his final one, the bruising runner has the team’s sights set on making a run at a state title.
“I’d really like to see us go to state and win that,” Rudzik said. “That would be a great way to end my career.”
Rudzik’s rise on the defensive side of the football came in part by playing full-time at linebacker where he disrupted offensive linemen and runners with his speedy pursuit.
“I like tackling people, causing the pain, so defense is my favorite,” Rudzik said. “But I’m probably better on offense because it’s just so hard to take me down.”
Rudzik said going over the 2,000-yard plateau was a big goal, especially since he came up just 13 yards shy of that level during his sophomore year.
Kenny said that Rudzik made incremental improvement in all areas of football.
“He matured mentally. He’s become a better leader, a harder worker,” Kenny said. “He’s always been physically gifted but he certainly improved a lot this past season.”
Kenny said there are still areas to improve as Rudzik prepares for his senior year.
“He’s got a knack for finding the ball, and sometimes you wonder how he got there,” Kenny said. “He needs to improve on reading his keys. For him to play at the next level, he’s gonna have to improve that area.”
Kenny has coached many of the best players in Ulysses’ storied history, and he believes Rudzik has a chance to be right at the top of that list.
“We’ll give him one more year to say that he’s the best player in Ulysses football history,” Kenny said. “But certainly he deserves to be talked about as one of our best. I believe he’ll have some opportunities to play at the next level.”
Rudzik’s collective three-year career rushing statistics are impressive.
He now has rushed for 5,235 yards, scored 67 touchdowns and averaged an eye-popping 8.84 yards every time he carries the ball.
And if opponents had anything to be concerned about from past performance, is that Rudzik looks to get even bigger, stronger and faster for his senior year.
Favorite Athlete: Rob Gronkowski
Favorite Food: Japanese
Favorite Class in School: Cabinet-making
Person I Most Admire: My dad
If I could meet one person, it would be: Jim Carrey
Favorite Pastime: Hanging out with friends
Season Highlights: Breaking 2,000 yards rushing.
Honors: All-Great West Activities Conference; All-State.