SHELTON – Ralph Kinne headed to the sideline, feeling the stinging pain shooting out of his cramped leg the whole way. It was the last thing the Shelton High football team needed.
Late in a close 3A Narrows League contest with Lincoln two weeks ago, Kinne walked to the bench holding his leg. Maybe all the carries and yards he had recorded had finally caught up to him. Maybe he was worn down by Lincoln’s physical defense.
But the Highclimbers’ single-season record-holder and the state’s leading rusher did not go out sitting on the bench.
“I told myself I had to go back out there, you have to work through it,” Kinne said. “(You’ve) got to dig deep.”
Kinne took a short breather before quickly re-entering. He ran 36 times for 245 yards.
Shelton rode his performance, and a touchdown pass with 6.4 seconds to go from backup QB Jake Frakes, to a 34-28 victory over host Lincoln.
It was Shelton’s sixth win a row to start the season, matching the Highclimbers’ number of wins for the prior four seasons combined.
Kinne’s extra effort not only pushed the Highclimbers to a level they hadn’t achieved in almost a decade, it also allowed the running back to break the school’s single-season rushing record at 1,684 yards.
Shelton finally suffered its first loss last week, 21-20 to North Thurston at home, but Kinne added to his state-best total. He has 1,876 yards and 20 touchdowns on 206 carries.
While he is inching closer to the record set by Interlake’s Jordan Todd in 2011 of 2,741 yards, Kinne’s workload is the highest in the state. He has already surpassed the number of carries he accumulated last season – with two games remaining on the schedule and playoffs after that.
Kinne and his team return for their final regular-season visit to Tacoma when Shelton visits Mount Tahoma tonight.
Even though each carry seems to bring him new bruises and more soreness, Kinne is fine trading stiff legs and a tough workload for wins.
“I am a lot more sore after games this year,” Kinne said. “I have been feeling it in my legs a lot more, especially after that Lincoln game. But I’m not thinking about how many carries I’m getting. I’m just thinking about what we need to do to win.”
Kinne, who is averaging more than 29 carries per game, ran a season high 42 times for 359 yards against Wilson earlier in this season. Shelton coach Matt Hinkle said he would hand Kinne the ball every time if he thought it would help the team keep winning.
“We have thrown the saddle on him,” Hinkle said. “But limiting his carries is not an issue for us. His preparation is second to none and he is so tough athletically. We haven’t been worried about it at all.”
Hinkle saw a need to revamp the offense to take advantage of Kinne’s dynamic skills. He told Kinne before the season that his workload would increase, so Kinne traveled to summer camps in eight different states to pick up tips on how to run – and prepare – more efficiently.
The running back came into the season faster and stronger. And Hinkle came in with a new two-back, power-rushing playbook after posting a 6-34 record the previous four seasons using the spread-option offense.
Hinkle had become disgusted with the team’s lack of a running game. He thought the Highclimbers had become too “cute” – which did not fit the blue-collar identity of not only the town, but what made them a successful football program in the past.
“It feels like we are going home,” said senior offensive and defensive lineman Jake Lindley. “That is Shelton’s history. We are blue collar.”
Added Hinkle: “We had been successful with an aggressive style before, and a more physical team fits Ralph’s style of play.”
The switch has paid obvious dividends. Not only has Kinne broken out as the top running back in the state, but the Highclimbers are in position for the 3A Narrows title after already securing their first winning record since 2007.
“It hasn’t really sunk in because you don’t know what to be more impressed with,” Frakes said. “We haven’t really even thought about the records Ralph is breaking because of all the wins we’ve had. We are still trying to grasp everything.”
Hinkle said he wouldn’t have switched the offense if he knew it didn’t fit the type of players he had. His offensive line is loaded with big, physical seniors who put in just as much work as Kinne in the offseason.
It creates a tough combination when paired with one of the most physical, explosive tailbacks in the state – one who doesn’t mind his number being called 30-40 times a game.
“I’m trying to leave a legacy,” Kinne said. “We want to show people how much preparation has gone into this season, and how that has helped us get to where we are. Hopefully that will inspire the younger generations. We are playing at the level we deserve to be playing because of the work we put in.”
And how about the state rushing record?
“It’s not something I’m really working toward,” Kinne said. “Compared to the chance we have to go far this season, it’s not one of my main objectives. We just want to keep what we have going.”