All-Area 2013 - Oakley's Kuhn a dominant force
By CONOR NICHOLL
Oakley High School junior Ryan Kuhn had strong freshman and sophomore seasons at nose guard, including Class 2-1A District 7 Defensive Player of the Year honors for a 7-3 team in 2012. Kuhn looked at his first two seasons and believed he could become an even better player if he put in extra work on his own.
Last spring, Kuhn decided to forgo track and focus on training for football. He started to run and lift weights. He often ran a mile, ran stairs and did ladder drills and pylometrics. In the summer, Kuhn worked for the city and had another job mowing lawns.
"The kid just likes to work, and he is a really good kid," Oakley coach Randall Rath said.
In the summer, Kuhn woke up around 6:30 a.m., lifted and ran, worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., took an hour off, lifted more, then worked again.
"My parents always taught me to work hard and never give up," Kuhn said.
The 230-pound Kuhn naturally lost 20 pounds, gained muscle and lost body fat and was able to play faster and longer than virtually every opposing lineman.
Kuhn wreaked havoc all fall for an 8-2 Oakley team that led Kansas in scoring offense at 39 points. Kuhn earned Hays Daily News Defensive Player of the Year honors on the 30th annual All-Area Super 11 team.
"His reactions were quicker, and then just his physical abilities, he was quicker," Rath said. "He got off the football faster and with a combination of that, and size and strength, that made a big difference."
Kuhn finished with six fumble recoveries for the season and was in on 10 tackles for loss in the last three contests. In a 12-7 second-round playoff loss to La Crosse, Kuhn had four tackles for loss and three sacks.
"It was a tough feeling," Kuhn said. "We knew we played hard. We just got outplayed on a couple of plays. We needed to focus a little bit more."
La Crosse often ran away from him, a strategy many teams employed. Opponents double-teamed him throughout the year, and Kuhn estimated he drew triple teams 10 percent of the time.
"He is by far one of the best kids that we have seen all year," La Crosse coach Jon Webster said, a sentiment shared by multiple area coaches.
Kuhn helped Oakley enjoy a one-win improvement from 2012 and shut out six opponents in Rath's final year with the Plainsmen. Rath coached at Oakley for 24 years and announced his resignation shortly after the fall started.
"For sure one of the top ones," Rath said. "We have been fortunate to have some good ones come through here. He is definitely, for his size, a tough kid to contend with."
Because of Kuhn's increased speed, he could explode off the ball quicker than last fall. In Rath's eyes, high school centers have trouble with a shotgun snap and then a quick step back to block. Kuhn especially performed well against shotgun-heavy teams. Rath said Kuhn's 3.5 tackle for loss performance against Ellis' shotgun offense in Week 9 was the junior's top contest.
"He could cause centers a lot of problems," Rath said.
"Once the tip of the ball moves, I go," Kuhn added.
Team defense statistics weren't fully available for three of Oakley's games, a 70-0 victory against Sublette, a 72-0 win versus Syracuse and a 56-0 win against St. Francis, arguably the Plainsmen's three weakest opponents.
In the other seven games, Oakley averaged 79.7 rushing yards per game and 2.8 yards per carry. Teams collectively completed 59 of 136 passes for 715 yards with three touchdowns against 10 interceptions in those seven games.
"He was exceptional," Rath said.
This offseason, Kuhn plans to continue the work ethic. He wants to gain weight and not sacrifice speed and has set a goal to play college football.
"I just want to become a better athlete, wanting to work hard, so we can win," Kuhn said.