River Ridge High School football coach Steve Schultz calls them the “silent giants.”
Neither Ryan Blash, nor Blayne Haderman — two of Schultz’s veteran defenders — are particularly vocal, but the numbers the duo puts up on Friday nights say plenty.
“We’re usually pretty quiet,” Haderman said. “When we’re told to do something, we’ll do it without saying a word. … I try to let my actions speak for me.”
Haderman, a defensive tackle, has contributed 23 tackles (11 for losses and two sacks), and scooped up two fumble recoveries this season.
Blash, a defensive back and Olympian All-Area selection last year, has added another 13 tackles and two interceptions.
“They’re great role models to look at, so you know you’re on task, and know what you’re doing,” River Ridge cornerback Alex Coleman said. “They’re big on understanding what the game plan is.”
Adept at executing it, too — through five games, the third-ranked Hawks are undefeated, have limited opponents to 27 points or less, and have never allowed more than one touchdown in a quarter.
“I think, above all, we’re a defensive team,” Blash said. “… I believe there really shouldn’t be any passing touchdowns, and we’re good at tackling.
“We just try to get as many turnovers as we can to get (the ball) back to the offense.”
River Ridge is touted for its offense, which is averaging 43.6 points per game, but its defense has been just as effective. The Hawks have allowed an average of 18.4 points per game, and the defense has scored four times.
Coleman said Blash and Haderman are a “big part” of that effort. There are times the two speak up, he said — and it’s important to listen when they do.
“If we’re down, or it’s a serious down in a game, they can be two people that hype us up,” Coleman said. “When they start talking, we know it’s serious.”
For Blash, it’s about concentration. In school, and on the field, Blash said silence helps him focus.
“I’ve always been that way, whenever I’m playing sports,” he said. “I like to have fun and talk a bit sometimes, but I like to stay focused because I take pride in being the best I can be when I’m playing.”
Blash was born in Germany, and has made several stops on the way to River Ridge’s football program. His father, Zebedee, encouraged him to start playing youth football in San Antonio when he was 7.
Blash played one season before his parents divorced, and he moved to Wichita, Kansas, with his mother. He took a six-year break from football, picking it up again after his parents reconnected.
“I said I’d try it again, and that’s when I fell in love with it,” Blash said. “I’ve just been playing ever since then.”
After playing his eighth-grade season in Missouri, Blash’s family moved to Washington, where he emerged as a standout at River Ridge.
“When I started playing again, I noticed that I just naturally knew how to play,” Blash said. “I felt like it was in my blood.”
Blash’s father is a former Divison -I recruit — his most prominent offer was from Tennessee — but his college career never came to fruition. Blash has a scholarship offer from Western State Colorado, and said he has spoken to several schools.
He’s primarily being recruited as a defender, but has proven effective for River Ridge in all phases. He is a wide receiver (five catches, 100 yards, one TD) and return specialist (23.2-yard kickoff return average).
Schultz said he’s never been uncomfortable when matching up Blash defensively against an opposing player — Blash is physical, but fast.
Coleman had a similar assessment.
“He’s a big hitter,” Coleman said of Blash. “He’s always going in for tackles, always full speed.”
Blash considers his job on River Ridge’s defense important, which impacts teammates.
“Sometimes they see that I’m focused and decide to focus up,” Blash said. “Usually it’s in a game because that’s when I really get serious. … I want to make sure we’re all locked in.”
SILENT BUT STRONG
For Haderman, it’s about letting actions speak — and they tend to speak volumes.
River Ridge, lacking significant depth, has a handful of two-way starters. Haderman is pivotal on both sides of the line.
“He doesn’t come off the field,” Schultz said. “When you’re on the sideline, you’re talking about your two-way players, like, ‘How are we going to get him rest?’ We never even bring (Haderman’s) name up.”
When the Hawks attended camp at Linfield College in Oregon, some players were hit by a bout of food poisoning. They were given the morning off to rest and hydrate, but Haderman showed up for practice anyway.
“I watched him because I was concerned about him,” Schultz said. “He went off in individual drills. Then, in scrimmage, he was tearing it up. He’s tougher than nails.”
Haderman was born in Las Vegas, but his earliest memories are of living in Washington. He played one season of youth football as a fifth-grader before it took a back seat to taekwondo, in which he has competed at the black-belt level.
He still trains in taekwondo and competes in wrestling. He took fourth in Class 2A in the 220-pound weight class at Mat Classic XXVIII in March.
He said he’s learned speed and balance techniques that have aided him in football.
“I really have to rely on speed,” said Haderman, a 6-foot, 230-pound senior. “Speed is my advantage over big linemen.”
Blash said Haderman’s pass-rushing proficiency relieves stress on the secondary, allowing him and other defensive backs to focus on coverage.
“Blayne is always getting tackles in the backfield,” Coleman said. “It’s always on plays where someone didn’t know where the ball was going. It saves us.”
With a banged-up defense — Coleman (ankle) and lineman Mark Valerio (knee) are out this week — Blash and Haderman will be more crucial.
“They’re both guys you really appreciate coaching,” Schultz said. “If you had 22 of those guys, you could win a state championship at any level.”
If the Hawks can solve Eatonville’s offense — which features quarterback Tristan Graf (61 of 106 passing, 1,013 yards, 17 TDs) — on Friday night at South Sound Stadium, a win would clinch at least a share of the Class 2A South Puget Sound League Sound Division title.
Perhaps more importantly, it would secure the division’s No. 1 seed, and a spot in the 2A SPSL championship game.
In big situations, Coleman said, Blash and Haderman certainly have prominent voices.
“On the field, in a serious moment, Ryan and Blayne can be the loudest,” Coleman said.