Friday, December 09, 2011

SPORTS >> Cunningham sets commitment bar for Bison football

Leader sportswriter

Don’t tell Carlisle senior lineman Ryleigh Cunningham his generation is lazy. He can prove that theory false in one workout.

And should the Bison hoist the 2A state championship trophy tonight at the conclusion of the championship game against Strong, Cunningham’s hand on the trophy will be a well deserved placement.

Cunningham, a starting left offensive tackle for the Bison, has been a part of the program since his seventh-grade year under coach Scott Waymire. His acceptance into the world of football was not immediate as a pudgy kid in junior high school, but the work ethic instilled in him by parents Richard and Marla Cunningham helped him conquer his conditioning and develop into a leader on the offensive line.

“Ryleigh Cunningham is one of the types of kids that are the reason I’m in this business,” Waymire said. “We’ve got several kids who have been talented since they started in seventh-grade, but Ryleigh Cunningham is a young man who has been in our program for six years, and everything he’s earned he’s worked for.”

Waymire prefers a hard-nosed style of football, and his tightened-up version of the double-wing offensive package fits the bill with players like Cunningham blocking up front. Cunningham and the rest of the offensive line proved just how effective a dominant line can be during last week’s 34-7 rout over East Poinsett County in the semifinals.

The Bison line blew EPC defenders back as much as five yards off the ball, creating huge running gaps that allowed the backs to pick up first downs with ease.

Carlisle’s 13-0 run to the state championship game started back in the summer in the weight room for daily workouts, with seniors required to post anywhere from 18 to 25 workouts to acquire special privileges. Cunningham finished the summer with 60 workouts to his credit.

“That just tells you his hard work and dedication,” Waymire said. “And to see a young man like him succeed because of his hard work – it’s special to me. And I think our players see him, and they respect him, because they know where he came from.”

Cunningham said there was no magic moment or flash of inspiration involved when it came to his decision to develop into a football player, just good parenting.

“Back in seventh-grade, my dad told me to work my tail off, so that’s what I did,” Cunningham said. “My parents told me, ‘If you’re going to do something, give it your all,’ so I pretty much just put my head down and started working.”

Cunningham started working out twice a day, and by ninth-grade, all traces of the little plump seventh-grader were gone, replaced by a muscular freshman intent on developing into a stronger athlete.

His freshman year was also when Cunningham began to see his hard work paying off on the football field. He was able to push defenders back more effectively and was able to run harder.

No one is aware of Cunningham’s blocking prowess more than Carlisle senior quarterback Zac King, who has been the main beneficiary of all that hard work over the years.

“Ryleigh, he’s worked extremely hard,” King said. “He’s in the weight room twice, maybe three times a day during the summer. He’s a good offensive lineman – he’s blocked well for all the backs and for me. He’s just a good person all around.”

Cunningham’s work ethic is not just reserved for football. He has a 3.5 GPA student and is a part-time employee of the local Mayflower grocery store. And when the Bison show up at War Memorial Stadium today, He will have one more day of hard work on the football field, and one more game alongside his longtime friends and teammates with a shot at the state’s biggest prize.

“It’s just exciting,” Cunningham said. “You probably couldn’t have told me during the summer that we would be 13-0 and playing in the state finals. But we set goals to do that, and we’re accomplishing those goals.

“We’re like family – we’ll call it up and say, ‘Family on three.’ We’re just like brothers. We just work hard and try to make everybody better.”