After tearing the labrum in his left shoulder — his second shoulder injury of the season on his non-throwing shoulder — Gig Harbor High senior quarterback Ryan Baerg received a blunt assessment from his doctor.
“If you were my kid, your season would be over. You’re not going back to what you were,” Baerg said the doctor told him.
That news didn’t sit well with Baerg, who felt like everything was piling up on him all at once. He lost out on the starting quarterback competition to start the season and was playing safety, a position he had never played before. Twice, he hurt his shoulder, extending his arm in an effort to make tackles. Now he had to miss a few league games.
He was forced to watch from the sideline as his team struggled early on, knowing he could make a difference if he could only get a chance at playing quarterback.
“It was probably one of the biggest tests that I’ve ever had to go through playing high school football, knowing I could be out there, helping my team and being held back like that, it was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do in my life,” Baerg said. “Doing a lot of stuff this offseason to prepare, and then not having everything work out, in terms of playing the position I would like to at the beginning of the season. And then on top of that, the injury — I felt like it was just all coming down on me at once.”
But his belief in himself never wavered. So he told his doctor he was going to keep playing. And when the Tides got off to a slow start against Shelton and offensive coordinator Jeff Mladenich called Baerg’s name, he was ready. He led Gig Harbor to a 30-12 victory.
Since then? He’s 58-for-83 passing with 1,012 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s completing 70 percent of his passes and has been the catalyst for Gig Harbor’s season turnaround and district playoff appearance.
“When he had his chance, he tore it up,” said Gig Harbor coach George Fairhart. “He’s accurate, gets rid of the ball quickly and makes good decisions. He’s reading defenses really well.”
Baerg has quickly established a rapport with his receivers, including speedy Ben Hollenbeck and Kellen Gregory, a bigger target with good hands.
“He’s been awesome,” Gregory said. “It’s been cool to see his growth during the offseason. That injury devastated him. It’s good to see all that is paying off for him, and he’s getting all these yards and stats, things like that. It’s just awesome to see. It’s an example of hard work paying off. Even when stuff is down, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Gregory said Baerg worked relentlessly on his game during the offseason.
“I think it just comes with throwing every day,” Gregory said. “And when I say every day — I mean every day. New Years, Christmas, whatever.”
The accuracy stands out most. Against Capital, Baerg went 19-for-20 passing, tallying 281 yards and four touchdowns.
“It’s incredible to have that,” Hollenbeck said. “He trusts the receivers. That helps a lot.”
Baerg deflected credit for his role in turning the team’s season around.
“I think it’s more just our whole team is really clicking together,” Baerg said. “Our line has really stepped up, our practices are starting to run a lot smoother, we have a lot more purpose to what we’re doing out there. We’re not just going through the motions. On top of that, having some stud receivers like Kellen, Ben, Ryan King and Jurrian Hering — they’re just snagging them and running past guys.”
Gig Harbor faces Edmonds-Woodway (8-1 overall, 6-0 Wesco 3A) on Friday (Nov. 3) in a loser-out district playoff game. Gig Harbor is the underdog on the road, but with the way Baerg is spinning the ball right now, the Warriors could have their hands full with the Tides.
“It’s always easier being a lower seed,” Baerg said. “No one expects us to win. … It’s a chip on our shoulder. We’re here and we’re ready to get rolling. We’ve really been picking it up. Every week, we’re just getting exponentially better as a team and as a group.”