Just do what you do.
Connor Wedington had yet to rip off the jaw-dropping touchdown runs that he would become known for. He was a sophomore getting his first crack at varsity football for Sumner High School.
An assistant coach approached him on the sideline.
“Don’t do what everybody else is telling you to do,” Mark Isaacs said. “Go trust your blocks, and just do what you do.”
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“The next play, I broke my first touchdown,” Wedington said.
It was a 56-yard burst against Shelton.
“Ever since then I’ve gone by that motto,” Wedington said. “Trust my blocks, and let the abilities that God gave me just work.”
Now those kinds of plays are about as common in Sumner as antique shops.
In the first eight games this year, Wedington had 13 touchdowns of at least 35 yards, and seven touchdowns of more than 60 yards — whether by a run, catch, kick return or punt return.
It’s that explosiveness that earned Wedington, who has verbally committed to the University of Washington, The News Tribune’s 2016 All-Area Football Player of the Year.
“Best back I have ever coached against,” South Kitsap coach Gavin Kralik said. “Wedington was outstanding.”
Wedington has 1,460 rushing yards and 2,048 all-purpose yards with 19 rushing touchdowns, three receiving touchdowns and a pair of TD returns on kickoffs and punts.
He’s averaged 9.5 yards per carry.
“He reminds me of Barry Sanders and Walter Payton in the open field,” Sumner coach Keith Ross said. “I tell Connor, ‘If you get through the hole, the hole that we block for you, then you be Connor.’
“It’s amazing his patience to set up tacklers. I can’t teach that. Nobody can teach that. You can’t go anywhere and pay anyone to teach you that. That’s Connor’s God-given ability.”
Best back I have ever coached against. Wedington was outstanding.
South Kitsap coach Gavin Kralik
Then the Emerald Ridge game happened.
Sumner had already sealed the 4A SPSL title heading into the final game of the regular season. But Wedington separated his shoulder on a play just before the end of the first half against the Jaguars — after he had accumulated 137 rushing yards, with 69 coming on one play.
Wedington barely played the next week in a district playoff win over Glacier Peak and then he rushed for 117 yards in the first round of the state playoffs against Monroe.
A doctor’s visit last week, just before Sumner’s quarterfinal game against Woodinville, showed the shoulder was separating more and he was told he should sit the rest of the season.
It’s a crushing blow for the Spartans — not just for what he does as a running back.
“Connor is the most dangerous person on the field in everything he does,” Ross said. “Offense, defense, and special teams — he can dominate the game from any position. I think that’s what sets him apart. There are good running backs, there are good linebackers, but Connor can change the game at any position.”
He’s become somewhat of a Sumner celebrity in the process.
He’s typically seen smiling with kids who run onto the field after games. Some head to linebacker Ben Wilson, some to running back Tre Weed or defensive back Skyler Sandretzky because they recognize them from helping out at youth camps. But all seem to know of Connor Wedington.
“I love it,” Wedington said with a laugh. “If taking a picture with somebody makes them happy, I’m going to do that.”
He reminds me of Barry Sanders and Walter Payton in the open field. I tell Connor, ‘If you get through the hole, the hole that we block for you, then you be Connor.’
Sumner coach Keith Ross
Sumner hasn’t had many Wedingtons. He’d be the first Sumner student-athlete to play at an FBS school since Tom Slevett (Notre Dame) and Craig Goodwin (WSU) in the early 1960s.
“He takes me to the UW games a lot with him and there will just be random people he’s never met wanting a picture,” Sandretzky said.
“But he is just calm about it. He knows he’s a small-town boy from Sumner.”
Ah, yes, that same small town that has grown just as incrementally as Wedington’s abilities — seemingly tossing him greater challenges each year. First as a 2A school three years ago, then 3A and now 4A.
Wedington has rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of the past three years. And whenever he’s had at least 10 carries the past two years, he’s rushed for more than 100 yards.
“During the offseason last year, coming into the season, he was the hardest worker on the team,” Weed said. “He lifts a lot. Every day. And he’s always trying to be the best at everything.”
In school, he has a 3.9 GPA. He ran a 4.48 40-yard dash. He’s gone from 168 to 190 pounds.
He thanks his brother, Tristan (a defensive back at Central Washington University), and his father, Donovan, for most of that.
Wedington and Tristan competed in anything and everything, he said — no matter if it was racing each other, playing Xbox or whoever could eat more.
He remembers his father taking them to a soccer field near their house in Tacoma, where Wedington was born. He taught them how to catch a football and how to hold the ball while running it. Then how to juke and stiff arm, setting up cones, then buying them resistance parachutes or ankle weights.
“My dad would always tell me, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Go and be whatever you want to be,’ ” Wedington said. “That’s kind of what I live by and I truly believe in that.”
“I would tell him, ‘If you stay healthy and your grades are right, you are going to be busting everybody up,’” Donovan Wedington said. “It’s been wonderful watch. The kid is hungry man. He’s hungry for it and he wants to be the best.”
And when Ross told Connor Wedington, when he was “little and skinny and he fumbled” entering his sophomore year, that he needed to lift weights and hold on to the ball if he ever wanted a shot at Sumner’s starting running back?
“He said, ‘I will,’” Ross said.
“I don’t know if I believed him. I knew he was talented, but he’s been a dream to coach. I know some players with his level of talent and athleticism aren’t dreams to coach. But Connor back then told me he wanted to be a D-I player, so I said, ‘Well, then you got to act like one.’”
My dad would always tell me, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Go and be whatever you want to be.’ That’s kind of what I live by and I truly believe in that.
Sumner running back Connor Wedington
The day after Sumner’s state playoff loss to Bishop Blanchet last year, Wedington was at a training center in Bellevue by 8 a.m. the next morning for a workout.
And he works just as diligently in the classroom, which is why he also has scholarship offers from places such as Stanford, Cal, Oregon and just about everywhere else in the Pac-12.
“The thing I’m most proud of him for are his grades and what his teachers think about him,” Ross said. “Obviously, Connor is a legend in Sumner football. But he’s going to leave a legacy in the Sumner valley for the kid he is and the way he carries himself.
“He certainly could be full of himself. He’s good-looking, smart and athletic. He really has it all. But I’ve never seen any of that. He’s just a normal kid, just cruising down the hallway and going to class and getting good grades and respectful of the teachers. He’s a legend here. But that might be his best attribute — his humility.”
For Wedington, that’s simply “do what you do.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677