Catch him if you can

Samir’s stock is rising: It’s hard to ima­gine what Arch­bish­op Ry­an seni­or run­ning back Samir Bul­lock can do for an en­core in 2014 after rush­ing for 2,055 yards and 21 scores last sea­son, but his coaches and team­mates can’t wait to find out. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

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.” ••

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