Jim Thorpe's Ryan Saunders' time has finally come.
The Olympians' Saunders knew coming into the 2013 season that his role was going to significantly change. With All State quarterback Pat Duvigneaud lost due to graduation, Saunders was the man head coach Mark Rosenberger was going to hand the keys of the offense over to.
Everybody in the league knew Saunders was athletic due to his successful junior campaign for the Olympians at wide receiver and on defense, but nobody could've guessed he'd be gashing defenses like he currently is.
His performance in week five of the 2013 regular season has earned him TIMES NEWS Player of the Week honors. The senior rushed seven times for 165 yards and two touchdowns and also threw for a touchdown to help Thorpe trounce Minersville 47-0.
"I was a little nervous coming into the season, obviously because Pat was such a great football player," said Saunders. "Pat was a great teammate and a great friend, who taught me a lot last season. I think once I got past the butterflies and through that first game then I gained the confidence that I needed in order to be successful. We started rolling in the Tamaqua game and we've been rolling ever since."
Rosenberger always knew what kind-of athlete Saunders was and the veteran coach had no doubts about how he would perform as the leader of the Olympians' offense.
"Ryan has thrived in our offense this season," said Rosenberger. "We like to put our best athlete at quarterback and all-around he's probably our best athlete. He really makes us look good out there. Actually, what people might not know is that he was our back-up quarterback the last two years, so he knew the position well. He was just too good of an athlete to not find another position for him on the field."
Saunders and company have no doubt turned things around for the Olympians' football program. Jim Thorpe was 1-9 a year ago, a far cry from their 5-1 mark they currently hold. For a team to turnaround like that it definitely needs a player like Saunders at the forefront, but the Thorpe signal caller was quick to point out that this is a total team effort.
"Right now we're just playing so well as a team," said Saunders. "We're truly like a family. We do a lot together off the field as well and that really helps build solid relationships. Our offense is playing well and everything, but I think a big difference for us has been the play of our defense. We've cut down on giving up the big play this year and that has no doubt helped the turnaround."
Saunders has shown his athletic ability week after week and he has helped JT become one of the toughest offenses to stop in the Anthracite Football League this season. He always seems to make the right cut and almost never takes a full hit from an opposing defender.
"He's very elusive and has the ability to make great cuts," said Rosenberger. "His vision is outstanding and although he's not a big kid he does a great job of running through tackles. He's just a big play type guy and he's always gaining positive yardage. Even when he does get hit or tackled he always seems to be falling forward, picking up that one extra yard that we may need."
Moving forward, Saunders believes the Olympians just need to continue playing the brand of football they've been showcasing. Surprisingly, once again he also made it clear that for Thorpe to stay atop the AFL their defense has to keep playing tough.
"To stay on top we need to continue to play good defense," said Saunders. "We also need to cut down on our penalties and offensively limit our turnovers. If we can do all that we're going to be a pretty tough team to beat."