Central High School senior Wesley Riddell, center, jokes with a teammate during practice on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, in Independence, Ore. Riddell leads the state in rushing with 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns through six games this season.
INDEPENDENCE – Wesley Riddell is new to most of his opponents this season, but he is no secret.
With staggering rushing numbers to start Central High School’s season – he has rushed for a state-best 1,576 yards and 20 touchdowns on 167 carries through six games – the Panthers’ new Class 5A opponents have been scheming how to stop him.
But no one has.
“He’s not a secret to anybody,” Central coach Shane Hedrick said. “Everybody knows who No. 32 is. Everybody knows on certain formations where we’re going, and it’s just a matter of stopping it. It’s been a problem for people.”
No. 7-ranked Central (4-0 Mid-Willamette Conference, 5-1 overall) hosts No. 1-ranked Silverton (4-0 Mid-Willamette, 6-0 overall) at 7 p.m. Friday with the league lead – and probably the league championship – at stake.
For a Central team that is in its first year at the Class 5A level after moving up from Class 4A, the Panthers have exceeded Riddell’s expectations.
“Honestly at the beginning of the year I didn’t think we were going to be in this situation,” he said. “I knew we were going to compete and I knew we were going to come out and play our hearts out, but I did not figure we’d be competing for the league.”
The 5-foot-10, 185 pound Riddell isn’t just the eye-popping rushing numbers.
He’s adept at pass blocking and is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield – he’s caught 12 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns – and with his speed and ability to elude tacklers is the complete package.
And as a starting linebacker he rarely leaves the field.
“We have to do a good job of tackling,” Silverton coach John Mannion said. “He’s very elusive. He’s very fast and very tough to carry the ball that many times. He seems to get stronger as games go along.”
After Riddell rushed for 324 yards and five touchdowns on 33 carries in Central’s season-opening 46-34 win against Bend, people started taking notice.
The attention has grown.
“I really like it, I guess,” said Riddell, who also is 2 for 2 passing for 39 yards. “I like being that guy that gets the attention. Attention is not really the word I’m looking for. But I also got to bring it around that I’m not the guy doing it for the most part.
“My blockers are the guys the ones who get me those yards. Without them I obviously wouldn’t be anywhere. I always do turn around on them and give them most of the credit because they do a phenomenal job of blocking.”
A Riddell playing football at Central is not a new thing.
The Riddell family first settled in Monmouth in the early 1900s on what is still the family farm along Riddell Road.
The children attended Monmouth High School until Central High School opened in 1950 and have been making an impact on the school athletically since it opened.
“Two of my brothers and his great uncle all played on a state championship football team together in 1960, I think,” said Duane Riddell, currently head coach at Gervais who coached Central to the AA state championship in 1983.
“It was kind of cool because when I was in seventh or eighth grade they all played on the same side on defense.”
There have been dozens of Riddell’s who have worn the red, white and black Central uniforms since, and many other relatives who didn’t have the name.
When your last name is Riddell and you go to Central there are certain expectations.
“I really liked coming in and everyone knowing my name,” said Riddell, also a cousin of Stanford receiver Jordan Pratt. “I always grew up with everyone talking about Duane this and Alan that back in the day. I really hadn’t known what they had done until I had got up to the high school level, and I heard about what they did back then and how they did with coaching.
“I really enjoyed the fact that my name was known and stuff, but I really wanted to make a name for myself. And so that’s what I’ve been trying to do throughout these four years. I did like that everyone knew the Riddell name. I just wanted to do something for myself.”
The one area where Riddell falls short is describing his relation to other Riddells who have excelled at sports in the area in recent years.
And there have been a lot of them in the past decade including former Mississippi State, Western Oregon and McKay quarterback Josh Riddell, current Oregon State and former West Salem golfer Ashlee Pickerell and current Chemeketa and former West Salem baseball player Jacob Riddell.
If you want to go farther back, there’s a lot more.
If a Riddell playing football at Central wasn’t on the nose enough, Wes lives on Riddell Road and can be found sacking and stacking grass seed and grain on the family farm – that is between summer football conditioning and playing American Legion baseball for the Dirtbags.
“Oh yeah, because there’s such a lineage here with the Riddell family,” Hedrick said. “The Riddells, there was one on the school board back in the ’50s and ’60s. The Riddell clan went to high school here.
“He lives on Riddell Road, he lives in a Riddell house that was a homestead back in the day. He’s as close to Central as you can get.”
This Riddell was was never exactly a secret when Central was playing at the 4A level – he was a second-team all-Oregon West Conference running back as a junior – but this is the first time Riddell has been the featured back in his high school career.
In the prior two years he split carries with Tell Cruickshank, who now plays linebacker at George Fox.
As a junior Riddell rushed for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns on 195 carries while Cruickshank rushed for 817 yards and 10 touchdowns on 112 carries.
In Central’s pro-set offense, Riddell and Cruickshank usually lined up as offset I backs, and when one was carrying the ball the other one was normally his lead blocker.
“Tell, I loved being a back with Tell because I knew he would get the yardage and we would split off back and forth,” Riddell said. “I actually just really enjoyed playing with him because I knew how he’s a good back, and I learned a lot from him, the way he moves and the way he goes about the game and the way he prepares.”
Riddell has lived up to his family name, and the rest of the state has learned that.
Teams are starting to stack the box to try to stop him, but even his game with lowest production – he rushed for 171 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries in the Oct. 9 52-0 win against Lebanon – is impressive.
“Definitely the best running back I’ve had at the high school level, and I’ve been at all the levels,” Hedrick said. “He’s the real deal. As I said to his parents Saturday night, he doesn’t pass the eye test when he walks in the door.
“He doesn’t look big or anything like that, but when he’s on the field and in pads, pound for pound he’s as good as any running back I’ve ever had. He blocks. He runs. He catches. He’s got good what we call FBI, football intelligence. He’s a complete package.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6701 or follow at twitter.com/bpoehler
Silverton at Central
When: 7 p.m.
On the air: Radio on KAJC 90.1 FM.
Records: Silverton (4-0 Mid-Willamette Conference, 6-0 overall), Central (4-0 MWC, 5-1 overall).