By JIM McCUE | SportStars
The numbers are astounding: school-record 2,884 yards rushing and 43 rushing touchdowns; 50 total TDs (rushing, receiving, interception return, punt return, and fumble return); career .328 hitter; and two Sac-Joaquin Section Division I baseball championships. But numbers alone are not what makes Elk Grove High senior Ryan Robards stand out.
And numbers are not what made Robards the 2016 Art Savage Award winner. Work ethic, leadership, sportsmanship, academic excellence and all-around athleticism all contributed to naming the Thundering Herd standout this year’s Male Athlete of the Year.
“Ryan is a great athlete, but more importantly, he is a great person,” said Jeff Carlson, head baseball coach and assistant football coach at Elk Grove. “He is a great leader, plays hard, and leads by example on the field and is the same in the classroom. He is just a guy that everybody wants to be around.”
Carlson has witnessed Robards’ excellence on and off the field for a decade as Ryan and Dylan Carlson, Jeff’s son and a senior baseball star in his own right at Elk Grove, have been friends and teammates since Little League. Robards has been like a member of the Carlson family, hanging around with Dylan and growing up with the Thundering Herd baseball program.
Robards credits his success on the diamond and as a leader to observing Elk Grove baseball greats form years past that have gone on to collegiate and even professional baseball success. Even though he signed with the University of the Pacific to play baseball, Robards has always been more than just a ballplayer. During his time at Elk Grove High School, Robards has played basketball and football in addition to his primary sport.
Entering the 2015 football season, Robards was one of several players with the potential to share the workload for the Thundering Herd’s run-heavy offense. But, once the season got started and Robards got rolling, there was no stopping him””opponents could not slow him down and coaches could not keep him off of the field. In addition to running roughshod over foes as a running back, Robards was an excellent defensive back that had four interceptions including a pair returned for touchdowns; an elite kicker who averaged nearly 45 yards per punt and made four field goals longer than 40 yards including a 51-yarder; and a lethal punt returner.
If you watched an Elk Grove football game in the fall, chances are you saw an awful lot of Robards. And a lot of Robards translated into a 13-1 record and a berth in the SJS Div. I final. The Herd’s only loss was in the SJS Div. I championship as Elk Grove extended Folsom to the limit before falling 35-27. The defeat was a painful end to a remarkable season for Robards and the entire program, but it would eventually be a transition to his final baseball chapter at Elk Grove.
Through early May, Robards was making an impact on the diamond and helping the Thundering Herd to a 17-7 record and 9-2 mark in the highly competitive Delta League. After winning section titles as a freshman and junior, the four-year varsity letter winner has his sights set on a third SJS crown to add to his high school accomplishments before he transitions his game and life to college and beyond.
A third baseball section championship would surely add to the amazing numbers Robards has put up in 2015-16 and further justify his selection as the Art Savage Award recipient, but the numbers are secondary to the person that he is.
“He had an incredible football season where we were a touchdown away from winning section and going on to NorCals, and he is an immeasurable part of the success of the baseball program,” Carlson said, “but he has always been first class.”
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