For a guy who ran for 2,055 yards and 21 touchdowns a season ago, Samir Bullock has mastered the art of being humble. That, says his head coach at Archbishop Ryan, is the measure of the man.
“Everyone thinks it’s corny, but I tell them that Samir is a way better kid than he is a football player,” Frank McArdle said during a Monday practice on the eve of Saturday morning’s season opener against Father Judge (11 a.m., at Washington). “He’s so humble. He cares about his teammates and people in general. He’s so nice to everyone, to the point when I first met him I was wondering, ‘Is this an act?’ He’s a special, special kid.”
While he may not possess the brash, outspoken personality attached to most superstar running backs (Boobie Miles in Friday Night Lights he is not), Bullock certainly has the skills, and then some. He averaged nearly eight yards per rush in 2013, but nearly picking up a first down on every carry wasn’t enough for the Raiders. A three-game losing streak in the division last year kept Ryan out of the playoffs, despite the fact that the Raiders manhandled non-league opponents in the season’s early throes before closing it out with convincing wins over Archbishop Wood and St. Joseph’s Prep, teams that ultimately won state titles.
The Raiders finished 8-3 but went home disappointed, something McArdle deemed “frustrating.” The Raiders graduated a ton of senior starters — Bobby Romano, Connor Golden, Sean Boylan, Connor Rooney, Jesse Wireman, Jason Dones, Joe Hansbury, Nick Werez and Andrew Voroscak, to name a few — leaving Bullock as the team’s top remaining returner.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, since the day we stopped playing last year,” Bullock said of his senior season, his second at Ryan after transferring from Judge. “High school goes by fast, and I want to be remembered for being a part of a great program that ended with a bang. We have no intentions of losing any games this year.”
Declining male enrollment figures at the school dropped Ryan from Class AAAA to AAA in the Catholic League, meaning the Raiders’ new set of division rivals will feature Wood, O’Hara, Carroll and Bonner-Prendie. The team likes its chances, especially given the fact that it defeated Wood and O’Hara in 2013.
And, of course, the Raiders have to like their odds as long as No. 28 is on the field.
In his first game last season, Bullock shattered the single-game school rushing record, running wild for 345 yards. He reached 100 in every game but one, and had efforts of 295, 241, 233 and 280 yards in addition to his record-breaker. He’s short in stature at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, but possesses game-breaking quickness and underrated physicality that makes it next-to-impossible for singular defenders to bring him down. Bullock became just the 11th player in city history to break the 2,000-yard barrier.
Still, don’t expect the modest standout to toot his own horn. That just wouldn’t be his style.
“I came into such a great program with great coaches and great kids,” said Bullock, who also plays in the defensive backfield and returns punts and kicks. “It’s more than just football with these guys … it’s family. I give all the credit to my linemen for blocking for me and my coaches for pushing me. Last season had a lot more to do with the program and the people around me than it did with anything I did.”
Bullock said he’s already got six scholarship offers in hand, and McArdle said most of the interest has come from FCS (formerly Division I-AA) programs like Delaware, Rhode Island and Stony Brook, although Temple and Wake Forest are also showing interest. McArdle, a former assistant at FCS school Northeastern University, called it “a crime” that Bullock didn’t have a Division-I offer yet. However, more attention should come with another dominant performance on the gridiron.
“I’ve had some talks and meetings with a variety of college coaches, but I’m just focused on one goal at a time,” Bullock said. “My goal now is to lead this team to Catholic and state championships. It’s all good to think about where you’ll be after high school, but my mind is set on one thing, and that’s Archbishop Ryan football.”
Despite the exodus of senior leaders, McArdle said the biggest difference is that he and his staff have established a program now. The team has improved in each of McArdle’s five seasons, so now guys coming up through the pipeline are ready to step right in and produce in the place of players who have moved on.
“We’ll have some growing pains, but it won’t be as big of a hit as everyone thinks,” McArdle said. “We lost experience, but we’re very talented and athletic. This is my favorite group I’ve ever coached, and they’re ready to get over the hump and progress to the next step, which is making the playoffs and winning a playoff game.”
“A lot of teams lose guys,” Bullock added. “We’re ready to show everybody what we can do. It’s all dependent on team chemistry and how hard we’ll be willing to work.”
McArdle and Bullock both claimed there were plenty of other players to keep an eye on — sophomore WR/DB Jeremy Smith, sophomore QB Matt Romano, senior WR/DB Seneca Williams (a Roman transfer), junior DE Dylan Dopkin, junior safety Jason Wagher, senior WR/DB Justice Pitts (Washington transfer) and senior lineman Jimmy Cruz (Fels transfer), to name a few. But in the end, the Raiders will go as far as Bullock carries them.
“My heart is pumping,” Bullock said. “I’d like the (Judge) game to be today, I’m so excited. It will be an intense game that goes down to the fourth quarter, and I’m excited we get to open up against such a good opponent. It’s going to be a great day. We just have to keep chopping through the hard times, keep getting better. We want to progress and keep going to the point where we’re better than we were yesterday, and that’s what we’re going to do. It’s going to be a great senior year for me, but more importantly, for us as a unit and a team that’s become a family.” ••