If you watch Shelton High School running back Ralph “Lafu” Kinne, he has a big burst of speed up the middle and breaks away from the secondary. And the holes his linemen open are large enough at times for a car to drive through.
“They go the extra mile for me,” the 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior said. “All I have to do is look for that big hole, make that one cut, and find my way into the end zone.”
This is Kinne, a kindhearted running back who prides himself on his Samoan heritage and buys snacks for his linemen for film sessions every Monday. It’s one of the many ways Kinne gives thanks to the players in front of him for their blocks.
He’s the state’s leading rusher through three games with an eye-popping 896 yards and six touchdowns on 88 carries.
He’s a big reason why Shelton is 3-0 for the first time since 2004. The Highclimbers will look to stay unbeaten tonight at 7 when they travel to face another 3-0 team – Yelm – at Yelm Stadium.
Kinne’s numbers didn’t happen overnight. His success has been a work in progress. The difference between Kinne in 2012 and Kinne in 2011 has been speed and going into an extra gear out of the backfield.
Kinne spent all but one week this summer traveling to camps and scouting combines, going up and down the Interstate 5 corridor in Washington and Oregon as well as taking flights to New York, New Jersey and Florida. And when he wasn’t at camps and combines, he was working on speed, agility, plyometrics (explosive jumping) and strength training.
“That’s a big thing to work on and to get to that second level,” Kinne said. “I worked a lot to get my strength up.”
Coach Matt Hinkle, in his 19th season at Shelton, doesn’t hesitate to put Kinne on the short list of top running backs he has coached. Hinkle compared Kinne to Shelton all-state running backs Kyle Burbridge, who set single-game (330) and single-season (1,657) rushing records as a senior in 2007, and Isaiah Taito, who became the school’s all-time leading rusher as a senior in 2004 and went on to play at Montana State.
Kinne broke Burbridge’s single-game record when he ran for 358 yards last season against Stadium. Kinne broke his own record in last week’s 35-25 victory over Wilson with 359 yards on 42 carries.
“Ralph has a certain element,” Hinkle said. “He’s good as far as not having to slow down to make a lateral move. He’s … (one of those backs who) outrun the defensive back type of guys.”
Success in football stems beyond Kinne’s immediate family. His second cousin is Rahmel Dockery, a redshirt freshman wide receiver at Washington State from Curtis High School.
Kinne and Dockery visited when Kinne was in Pullman for a WSU camp in late June. Dockery’s advice? Keep the grades up. Kinne has a 3.6 grade-point average.
“If football never works out,” Kinne said, “I can fall back and be an engineer.”
That might note be needed anytime soon. Kinne has sparked interest from several schools and spoken to coaches from Hawaii, Idaho, BYU and Ivy League schools such as Princeton and Cornell.
When Shelton plays Yelm today, it will be a battle of two of the area’s top running backs – Kinne and Yelm senior Jacob Swilley.
Swilley, too, had a record-breaking game last week in the Tornados’ 45-6 win over Stadium. He became the school’s all-time leading rusher with 2,639 yards, breaking the mark set 41 years ago by Keith Lazelle, who led the state in touchdowns as a senior in 1971.
The 3-0 start for Shelton is a first since the team won its first nine game of the 2004 season on its way to winning the Narrows Bridge Division championship. A big change has been the return to a traditional pro-style offense with an emphasis on the running game. Kinne and Deshon Bell have gotten most of the carries.
Experience, Kinne said, has also been a big help.
“I can speak for more than one of us,” Kinne said. “I know we’re all blessed to have such a great team this year.
“Last year, we didn’t have that much experience. This year, everyone has stepped up their game. The experience we had from last year has helped us through each quarter.”
KINNE BY THE NUMBERS
Week 1 vs. Tumwater: 31 carries, 328 yards, three touchdowns
Week 2 at North Mason: 15 carries, 209 yards, two touchdowns
Week 3 vs. Wilson: 42 carries, 359 yards, one email@example.com 360-754-5473 theolympian.com/southsoundsports @megwochnick