LANCASTER — The influence that Lancaster senior fullback Ryan Fitchpatrick had in the Golden Gales’ wing-t rushing attack can’t be measured.
Lancaster coach Rob Carpenter talked relentlessly about how the fullback was the heart and soul of the offense. Fitchpatrick’s physical running style put defenses on their heels because he rarely went down on first contact. Many times, he dragged defenders to gain extra yards.
“He didn’t have outstanding numbers, but he had a lot of impact plays,” Carpenter said. “When he would hit the linebacker or safety and get an extra five yards, it made an impact on everyone on the defense trying to tackle him.
“You could see guys not wanting to tackle him, and in turn, it pumped up our offense when made runs like that. You can’t coach those kind of plays.”
Fitchpatrick, who finished with 1,125 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, is the 2015 Eagle-Gazette Offensive Player of the Year.
“When Ryan was a freshman, you could see the intensity and desire,” Carpenter said. “He had both of those things going for him, and he was one of those kids that always wanted to learn. You could never work him hard enough.
“What really made the difference for him was when he got in the weight room and realized his potential by increasing his explosiveness and his overall strength.”
Fitchpatrick’s hard work in the offseason made a huge difference. He isn’t your typical slow, bruising type of fullback. He had several runs of 30 yards or more. He lowered his 40-yard dash time down to 4.65.
While there was no doubt Fitchpatrick was a punishing runner, he showed flashes of speed the entire season, and on a pair of long touchdown runs, he showed his speed by running away from defenders.
“I knew I wanted to have a great year, and to do that, I had to step up and put the work in,” Fitchpatrick said. “It made a big difference because I became stronger and faster.”
Fitchpatrick got off to a slow start in the opener against DeSales when he gained only 53 yards, but then he proceeded to rip off four consecutive 100-yard performances.
He really started hitting his stride midway through the season when he rushed for 132 yards on 26 carries against Pickerington Central, and the next week in a win at Pickerington North, he rushed for 153 yards and scored three touchdowns on 25 carries.
He rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns on only 15 carries against Groveport, and he had 158 yards on 23 carries against Reynoldsburg.
As a team, Lancaster rushed for 3,459 yards on the season.
In the highly-competitive OCC-Ohio Division, which saw four teams qualify for the playoffs, Fitchpatrick was selected by the league coaches as the player of the year.
“There were a lot of talented players in our league,” Carpenter said. “But he was the heart and soul of our team, and he is the guy that got it done. We’ve had a lot of good players around here, but not many have received the most valuable player of the league.
“He would be the first one to tell you that he is nothing without his offensive line. It is a group award with the other running backs blocking for him, as well.”