Lets just say Amherst’s Ryan Makuski has a nose for the football. Oh yeah, and his hands aren’t too bad either.
A 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior defensive back, Makuski has made life a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks who dare throw the football anywhere near his vicinity.
He leads the entire state with 13 interceptions entering the Falcons matchup with Colby on Friday night in a WIAA Division 5 state semfinal at Comunnity Stadium in Stevens Point.
Makuski is at a loss when it comes to an explanation for his ball-hawking talents, especially coming off a junior season when he picked off three passes in 11 games.
“It never even crossed my mind. Going from 3 interceptions last year to 13 is something I would never have thought would happen,” said Makuski with a sheepish grin.
One would think after the first seven or eight interceptions, teams might try someone else in the Falcons secondary, where it’s more like pick your poison
While a mystery to him, Amherst head coach Mark Lusic thinks team will continue to target Makuski in the passing game at their own risk.
Predominantly a man-to-man team, Lusic has seen the knack Makuski has for intercepting passes in practice on a daily basis, so the coach isn’t all that surprised by the interception total.
“It just happens the ball finds him. He has serious ball skills. The best thing he does is he stays on top (of the receiver) and he has great hands, soft hands,” Lusic said. “He’s gotten better and he makes plays. It’s one of those things. Is he perfect? No, but he makes plays. Some of that is natural talent, you’re not going to coach that. He’s an athlete and hell of a player.”
His athleticism may have saved the Falcons’ season in their Level 3 win against Stratford last week.
The Tigers reached into their bag of tricks with less than 2 minutes left in regulation and caught Amherst by surprise when halfback Travis Urlaub hit quarterback Drew Spaeth on a throwback pass.
Spaeth appeared to have a clear path to the end zone running down the left sideline, but Makuski came all the way across the field and tackled him at the 7-yard line.
Three plays later, Caleb Glennon, another one of the Falcons stanout defensive backs, intercepted a Spaeth pass and had a long return, setting up Amherst for the game-winning touchdown.
“We talk about making them (the other team) run another play,” Lusic said.
After catching passes from opposing quarterbacks, Makuski was on the receiving end of the biggest pass of the season when he hauled in the game-winning 24-yard touchdown pass from Amherst signal-caller Chris Zblewski with 12.2 seconds left to knock out Stratford.
All the work on the passing game in practice on both sides of the ball certainly has paid off for Makuski and the Falcons.
“We throw the ball around a lot (in practice), and that gets me used to catching the ball,” Makuski said. “Coach always puts me on one of their best wide receivers. When the quarterback makes a throw, I try to step in front and make a play on it.”
Nobody has made more plays in the state when it comes to intercepting passes than Makuski.