Record-breaking QB Ryan as comfortable blocking as he is passing and running
HAVERHILL — While Whittier offensive lineman Chris Affannato isn't ready to give his quarterback an honorary jersey with number in the 70s quite yet, he had to credit Dillon Ryan for his play in the trenches.
"Blocking's a big part of Dillon's job," said Affannato with a smile. "We haven't worked with him too much, but he seems to do it well enough to get us some yards. The more blockers we have the better."
This season, Ryan has emerged from Whittier's run-heavy offense to lead the area in touchdown passes (18, tied for second in Eastern Mass.). It's the most for a Wildcat QB since The Eagle-Tribune began keeping complete records in 1984.
Whittier (7-0) now looks to push towards a Commonwealth Conference large title as it faces undefeated CAC Small rival Chelsea (6-0) and powerhouse Manchester Essex (6-1, 2-0 CAC large) the next two weeks.
But, while most quarterbacks drift far away from the action on running plays, Ryan's helmet is substantially dinged up from plowing into defenders.
With Whittier frequently employing an old-fashion single-wing attack, in which the ball is often snapped to other backs, Ryan is called on nearly as much as a fullback as he is as a QB.
"Last week at Shawsheen I made a big block that cleared up a whole for a big run for Nick Ferreira," said Ryan, now in his third year as the starting QB. "I take a beating, but it's worth it if we win."
A quarterback since he began in youth football, Ryan never ran away from contact in his early years. But blocking has not come easily.
"I played in the Haverhill junior league and it was all about hitting," said Ryan, hardly a waif at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds. "But I've had to work a lot on the footwork of blocking and finding the right guy to hit. It's a challenge."
The signal-caller's blocking duties have only increased as the Wildcats have shifted from a more traditional attack (similar to a straight-T), where he was first asked to pitch the ball, to the 1940s-era single-wing on about half their snaps.
"It is what is expected of me," he said. "The last two years I would go into the hole and go hit someone. But I am blocking a lot more this year. I kind of like blocking. I like the contact. I've even asked the coaches to put me in on defense a little, but they don't like that very much."
Behind the blocking of Ryan and the offensive line, Whittier has one of the most potent rushing attacks in the area, averaging 194.6 yards a game.
Ryan's versatility as both a blocker and runner (17 carries, 83 yards) have been key.
"Dillon does it all," said Wildcats coach Kevin Bradley. "He's a running back, quarterback, we have plays to throw to him, and he's a blocking back. He even runs the scout offense during practice. There's never a down moment for him. He'll be carrying the ball a lot more with the big games on the way."
When the ball is snapped into Ryan's hands in the traditional offense, he has been making almost every play.
"It's been a big change from my sophomore and junior years," said Ryan. "The coaches trust me with the ball and to air it out. A lot of the guys have progressed, and coach told me this offseason we'd be throwing more, and I was all for it."
Ryan showed potential as a passer right away as a sophomore, totaling 700 yards (on 43 of 96 throwing) and six touchdowns. He followed that up a year ago with 919 yards (59 of 131) and 10 TDs. But it was in Week 2 this season, a 30-6 win over Ashland, that it came together.
"In the Ashland game I threw for (112) yards and a score," he said. "Everything just started to click. I just thought, 'Alright, we can catch the ball a little.'"
He ranks fourth in the area with 899 passing yards on 53-of-85 passing for 899 yards. \He has also thrown just four interceptions.
Also a starter in baseball (.404 average, 74 strikeouts as a pitcher) and basketball, Ryan is looking to play baseball and/or football in college.
The Ryan name is well know around football circles in Haverhill. Dillon Ryan said his grandfather, Paul Ryan, was the head coach of the Haverhill High squad that was 7-0-1 and won the Eastern Massachusetts Class A championship in 1955.
Dillon's father also spent two years as a starting quarterback for Whittier — also wearing No. 10 — and Dillon's uncle, also Paul, was a quarterback at the University of Rhode Island, lettering from 1972-74.
The week ahead
The battle of undefeateds between Whittier and Chelsea on Saturday isn't the only big game on the docket. On Friday, Central Catholic looks to strengthen its hold on the Merrimack Valley Conference large against Chelmsford.
One town over, in the Cape Ann League large, North Andover attempts to rebound by hosting Triton. Both are 5-1, but 0-1 in the CAL large.
With as many as six games left (if Whittier makes the EMass Division 4 Super Bowl) he could destroy the modern area single-season record (through the 1984 season).
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