High School Football

Perfect finish for back with three 1,000-yard seasons? Trip to state

Blaine’s Riley Fritsch slips through the hands of Lynden’s Jacob Kettels at the line of scrimmage Oct. 7 at Lynden High School.
Blaine’s Riley Fritsch slips through the hands of Lynden’s Jacob Kettels at the line of scrimmage Oct. 7 at Lynden High School. For The Bellingham Herald

Last year, after losing the final game of the season, Blaine running back Riley Fritsch and several other upperclassmen sat staring at their home turf under the lights.

“It was a moment of peace,” said Fritsch, then a junior. “(But) it was kind of bittersweet, because I knew that the next year was going to be my last one. It was just a time to take in our field and remember our home.”

After the Borderites fell short of the postseason for a second straight year, Blaine’s dynamic running back can lead the team to a state playoff berth Friday with a win in the Class 2A bi-district playoffs at eighth-ranked Liberty.

Fritsch enters the weekend as Whatcom County’s fourth-leading rusher with 1,286 yards and 16 touchdowns on 216 carries.

Borderites coach Jay Dodd said that while the 5-foot-8, 175-pound senior’s speed and strength are impressive, his vision and knowledge sometimes exceed it.

“He’s obviously very gifted, physically, and he’s worked very hard to improve his physical skills,” Dodd said. “But … his intelligence as a football player is amazing. He knows where the ball is going, probably a lot of times, before the ball’s snapped.”

Dodd has had Fritsch in his weight-training class for four years and said the senior’s drive as a student-athlete is impressive.

“I’ve never seen him not do his best at something,” Dodd said. “He is always working hard to improve in whatever he’s doing. … I’ve never seen him be lazy; I’ve never seen him take a set off; I’ve never seen him cut the reps short. His work ethic is amazing.”

Fritsch said he began playing flag football at age 6. He also has run track and is a longtime wrestler with three trips to state.

Although Fritsch estimates he’s spent more time wrestling than playing football, he greatly prefers the latter.

“It’s more of a fun sport,” he said. “There’s nothing fun about wrestling, other than winning.”

Fritsch’s football career flourished during an amazing sophomore year in which he rushed for 1,407 yards and 16 touchdowns on 243 carries. Dodd said that season began with a senior, junior and Fritsch vying for the role of lead back.

“He just took that job over right away,” Dodd said. “In the first couple of games, he just made it very clear that he was going to be the No. 1 back all season long.”

After several linemen graduated, the hefty statistics didn’t come as easily for Fritsch as a junior, as he and his line learned and developed. He still finished third in the county with 1,166 yards and 13 touchdowns on 211 attempts.

Still, Dodd said Fritsch kept working hard and, perhaps more importantly, stayed positive.

Fritsch’s favorite part of being a running back is making long runs downfield.

“It feels like there’s nobody but me on the field,” he said. “It’s just the wind and running.”

He names his favorite NFL running back, without hesitation, as Barry Sanders, considered one of the game’s most elusive.

Camaraderie, though, is perhaps football’s greatest appeal for Fritsch.

“I like having 10 other brothers on the team at the same time,” he said. “You just know that you would do anything for them and they would do anything for you.”

Strangely, Fritsch admits that while he’s always loved playing football, he hasn’t always liked watching it.

“Probably until high school … I hated it,” he said. “It was boring to me, because I always wanted to be playing it, and it didn’t quite get up there with the excitement of playing.”

He now finds spectating a little more interesting, especially if it’s reviewing game film for improvement or watching clips of incredible running backs.

Looking forward, Fritsch said he’s interested in an Ivy League education and has applied to Yale. If accepted, he hopes he can walk on to the football team.

If that doesn’t pan out, Fritsch said he’ll try to get recruited by a school closer to home.

Either way, he wants to keep playing the game he loves.

Now he just hopes he can keep playing for Blaine for another week.

 

District playoff games

Friday’s games

CLASS 1A NORTHWEST DISTRICT PLAYOFFS

Sultan at Mount Baker (at Civic Stadium), 4:30 p.m.

CLASS 2A BI-DISTRICT PLAYOFFS

Blaine at Liberty, 7 p.m.

CLASS 3A QUAD-DISTRICT PLAYOFFS

Rainier Beach at Squalicum (at Civic Stadium), 7:30 p.m.

Saturday’s games

CLASS 3A QUAD-DISTRICT PLAYOFFS

Capital at Ferndale (at Civic Stadium), 4 p.m.

CLASS 2A BI-DISTRICT PLAYOFFS

Granite Falls at Lynden (at Civic Stadium), 7 p.m.

CLASS 1A NORTHWEST DISTRICT PLAYOFFS

Meridian at King’s, 7 p.m.

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