Chiawana groups behind senior running back Austin Urlacher

Tri-City Herald sports editorNovember 6, 2014

14_urlacher_article

At least once a week, Chiawana senior running back Austin Urlacher is asked if he’s related to former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Yes. They are cousins, and the former NFL star was in town a few weeks ago to watch his young cousin play.

But Austin Urlacher is his own man, and he’s on a mission: to be on the field and help Chiawana repeat as Class 4A state football champion.

He’s well on his way, rushing for 1,784 yards and scoring 24 touchdowns in eight games this season. The Riverhawks (8-1) open Class 4A regional play at 7 p.m. today at Edgar Brown Stadium against Lewis & Clark of Spokane.

Last year, as the Riverhawks embarked on their run to the state championship, Urlacher was lost for the playoffs when he broke his leg in a regional game against Gonzaga Prep.

“It was terrible,” Urlacher said. “It was the toughest thing I’ve been through. It was a broken fibula. The guy got his helmet on my leg.”

He spent the rest of the playoffs cheering his teammates from the sideline. It was bittersweet.

“I was proud of everyone,” he said. “But I still feel I didn’t win the state title.”

This season, the Riverhawks expected to use Urlacher a lot in their offensive scheme.

“Honestly, I thought Austin was the better of our two running backs last year until he got hurt,” Chiawana coach Steve Graff said.

But offensive coordinator Dave Spray had a plan.

“We were considering going into the season with Corey Bell, Austin and Andrew Vargas taking turns carrying the ball, if we could keep them all healthy,” Spray said. “But Corey got hurt, and we do do that with Austin and Andrew.”

In some games, though, the passing game has struggled, and it has forced the Riverhawks to run the ball more.

Against Walla Walla, Urlacher carried the football 48 times in a 28-19 win over the Blue Devils.

“Our coaches said, ‘Why stop doing what they can’t stop?’ ” Urlacher said.

At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, the standout running back said his biggest challenge is fending off the bumps and bruises he gets with so much work.

“I’m struggling every week to play because I’m super sore,” he admitted.

But he has a solution that seems to work: ice baths.

“I work out every morning and then after school, and both times afterwards, I take an ice bath,” Urlacher said. “I hate it. It’s the worst part of the day. But it takes the soreness away.”

It doesn’t help the way he runs. He’s a specialist at breaking tackles. In a game against Kamiakin this season, he broke 20 tackles.

Chiawana quarterback Logan Ellsworth, Urlacher’s closest friend since grade school, isn’t surprised.

“We had a day where the coaches got mad at our line,” Ellsworth said. “Austin had 25 carries in that game, and the coaches figured he had been hit behind the line of scrimmage in 18 of his 25 carries. Yet he still averaged 7 yards a carry in that game.

“He’s a stud for sure. He’s super strong for how small he is. He’s really quick and can make you miss him on a tackle. On the flip side, he can lower his shoulder and run right through you.”

Urlacher likes that he doesn’t give up until enough guys bring him down to the ground.

“I like my vision and my balance,” he added.

Spray can’t put his finger on it.

“He’s special,” Spray said. “I can’t really explain what makes him special. It’s a combination of balance, strength and toughness. It’s crazy how many tackles he breaks.

“There is something unique about him. He reminds me of a running back I had years ago at Dayton named Bud Lyonnais, who is now a Navy Seal. They remind me of each other. They’re the same size.”

But one can’t measure the heart.

So colleges have been taking a wait-and-see approach on the running back. Urlacher visited Washington State last weekend with teammate Caleb Weber, but most of the schools showing interest in him are NCAA Division III.

“I wish he was bigger,” Ellsworth said, “so bigger colleges would take a chance on him.”

Spray agrees.

“We’ve told college recruiters to watch his game film and don’t judge him on his size,” Spray said. “Take a look at the film and ask, ‘How does that do that?’ We don’t know, either.”

Urlacher can’t worry about something he can’t control.

So he spends time with his offensive line: tight end Christian Penny, tackles Jake Martin and Trenton Steach, guards Anthony Reisch and Kameron Silvers, and center Bernardo Castillo.

“When I take an ice bath after practice, one of the offensive linemen keeps me company,” Urlacher said.

When he’s not playing football, he goes fishing, skiing or hunting. He stays on top of his classes, carrying a 3.6 grade-point average after the first quarter.

“I love history, and I hate math,” he said, laughing.

The football situation — his future and the team’s future — will take care of itself if everyone does his job.

“We’re not surprised at all (at how well they’re doing),” Urlacher said. “We knew we were a special group of kids since we were freshmen, when we were unbeaten. We have huge expectations. And our coaches, no doubt, keep us grounded. It’s Graff mainly, and he does a good job of it.”

As long as Urlacher is playing football, he’s happy.

“There is something about football I love so much,” he said. “I can remember the first time I got the ball (at age 6) and I ran for a touchdown.”

He has been doing it ever since.

It’s a winning recipe, and the opponents have yet to stop him.

“One guy is going one-on-one against Austin, I’ll take that chance every time,” Ellsworth said.

Chiawana football team still No. 3 in AP state poll

For the third week in a row, the Chiawana High School football team is ranked third in The Associated Press Class 4A state poll.

In the latest poll, released Wednesday, the Riverhawks (8-1 overall) received 112 points, 23 behind first-place Bothell (9-0) and 18 behind No. 2 Camas (9-0). Chiawana closed out an undefeated Mid-Columbia Conference schedule with last week’s 83-7 romp over Pasco in the Gravel Pit Bowl.

Chiawana routs Pasco 83-7

Chiawana finished the Mid-Columbia Conference portion of its schedule unbeaten on Friday night, beating crosstown rival Pasco 83-7 in the annual Gravel Pit game.

The Riverhawks, who also finished atop the MCC and have earned the MCC’s 4A top seed, will host the Greater Spokane League’s No. 2 team next Friday in a regional playoff game.

Chiawana jumped out to a 28-0 first-quarter lead, as quarterback Logan Ellsworth hit Christian Penny on a 20-yard scoring pass play. Then Ellsworth added a 13-yard TD run.

Dre Dorton then stepped up, scoring on a 48-yard run, then a 17-yard interception return.

Ellsworth and Dorton combined later on a 32-yard scoring pass, and the QB also added a 20-yard TD run.

Austin Urlacher carried the football 11 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

Riverhawks beat Lions 21-7, stay perfect in MCC

By Jack Millikin -  Tri City Herald

The Chiawana Riverhawks, ranked No. 3 in the latest Class 4A Washington prep football poll, were challenged for the second consecutive game, pulling out a 21-7 Mid-Columbia Conference win over the Kennewick Lions on Friday at Edgar Brown Stadium.

Chiawana clinched at least a share of the MCC title and the top 4A berth. Asked if this was a win the Riverhawks could be proud of, Chiawana defensive lineman Christian Penny didn’t hesitate.

“No, sir. I’m actually embarrassed,” he said after recording three sacks, another tackle for loss and a fumble recovery. “I don’t think we were ready. We came out a little cocky.”

The defending state champions rode Austin Urlacher hard, giving him 38 carries. The senior running back responded with 202 yards and three touchdowns, showing off his tools in front of a home crowd that included his cousin — former Chicago Bears star Brian Urlacher — and former Pasco and University of Oregon basketball coach Don Monson. But the appearance of Chiawana player Mac Graff, who injured his back in a hunting accident three weeks ago, was enough to inspire his teammates to a strong start.

Not long after Graff led his team onto the field, the Riverhawks recovered a fumble on Kennewick’s first play from scrimmage and punched in their first score of the night — a 6-yard dive by Urlacher — to make it 7-0. They held the Lions to a three-and-out and then mounted a 10-play, 53-yard drive capped by Urlacher’s 1-yard touchdown run.

Urlacher scored on Chiawana’s third drive, a 14-yard scamper around left end to put the Riverhawks up 21-0 with 8:05 left in the first half. But after scoring on their first three drives, Chiawana was held scoreless by a scrappy Kennewick side.

“The plan is always to be balanced, but we just can’t seem to get things done,” Riverhawks coach Steve Graff said. “The offense has got to finish drives.”

While Chiawana was stalling on offense, Kennewick was finding some confidence. Quarterback Matt Driver had a 16-play drive in the first half fizzle out near the Riverhawks’ red zone, but he got another chance in the third quarter.

When the Lions punted with 5:03 left in the third quarter, Dre Dorton appeared to lose control of the ball after calling for a fair catch. Josh Kutzke was there to take advantage, snatching the ball away to give Kennewick a first down at the Chiawana 7. Three plays later, Kutzke hauled in a 5-yard touchdown pass from Driver to cut the lead to 21-7.

Chiawana had a chance to pad its lead in the second half. Dorton returned an interception 85 yards for a score but had it called back on account of offsetting penalties. The Riverhawks were inside the Lions’ 5-yard line as the clock wound down, but Urlacher was stopped on several carries by a tough Kennewick defensive front.

“They play physical up front,” coach Graff said.

Driver left the game late in the third after being tripped up by Chiawana safety Nate Murillo, limping off with a right ankle injury. He was replaced by Kutzke at quarterback and did not return.

Kennewick’s Izayah Darby intercepted Logan Ellsworth with 1:48 left in the game, but he fell awkwardly to the turf after being tackled at the Lions’ 6-yard line. He did not return.

Driver completed 17 of 24 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown, while Ellsworth completed 7 of 12 passes for 67 yards.

Kennewick’s Dwight Norwood was held to just 21 yards on 10 carries.

Urlacher scores 4 touchdowns as Riverhawks beat Blue Devils

Tri-City Herald staffOctober 17, 2014

The Chiawana Riverhawks rode the legs of senior running back Austin Urlacher on Friday night in a 28-19 Mid-Columbia Conference football victory at Borleske Stadium in Walla Walla.

Urlacher carried the football 48 times for 256 yards and all four Chiawana touchdowns.

Wa-Hi took a 6-0 first-quarter lead when Blue Devils quarterback Trever Coronado hit Mitchell Huffman for an 83-yard TD play.

But the Riverhawks took the lead for good in the second quarter, when Urlacher scored on an 8-yard run for a 7-6 lead. He scored later in the quarter on a 3-yard run for a 14-6 lead.

On that TD, Urlacher scored with one-tenth of a second remaining in the first half.

The teams traded touchdowns in the second half, with Urlacher scoring on runs of 4 and 14 yards, while Coronado hitting Huffman for scoring passes of 9 and 22 yards — the final score coming as time expired.

The Riverhawks, now 5-0 in MCC play and 6-1 overall, won despite having 14 penalties for 116 yards.