BAYFIELD – Ryan Phelps isn’t one to talk much about his accomplishments. His play on the football field, basketball court and in the throwing pits of track and field send all the statements he needs.
Phelps, a graduated senior from Bayfield High School, was a monster in athletics during his time with the Wolverines. He went from being a solid athlete as a junior to the best in the state for his classification as a senior. Though he was surrounded by elite athletes at BHS, such as fellow seniors Carl Heide and Dax Snooks, and junior Hayden Farmer, Phelps’ accomplishments led him to be named The Durango Herald’s Boys Athlete of the Year because of his record-setting and title-winning football season, leadership of the state championship basketball team and huge contributions to the state championship track and field team.
Phelps’ nomination for the award follows two previous BHS winners, as his cousin, Zane Phelps, won in 2016 and Sam Westbrook earned the honor in 2017.
“It’s huge,” Phelps said of the award, “especially following in the footsteps of some athletes like that. I wanted to go out my senior year with a big bang, and an award like this at the end of the year is definitely something to do.”
Phelps, son of Nancy and Trent Phelps, started his senior season by breaking the Colorado high school football state record for quarterback sacks. With four sacks in the Class 2A state championship demolition of La Junta, Phelps finished with 24 to take over the all-classifications record in one season, and he did it in 13 games. He beat the previous mark of 23½ sacks set in 2015 by Jack Wibbels of Pine Creek. He also helped Bayfield set the team record for sacks with 65 to beat Discovery Canyon’s previous record of 60 set in 2014.
Phelps finished with 94 tackles and one interception, and was a force on the offensive line. He served as the team’s punter, too. In 29 punts, he placed 10 inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. From the punt formation, he also ran the ball four times for 13 yards, converting a few key fourth-down conversions along the way.
“There’s a lot of memories we can take away from it, individual stuff like the sack record or whatever,” Phelps said. “More importantly, it was really fun to watch us come together as a team. We started strong the first couple of games, and as the year went on and the schedule got tougher into the playoffs, it was crazy watching every single person on that football team stepping up, making plays they hadn’t before.”
While Phelps struck fear into opposing quarterbacks, he drew the awe of his coaches.
It continued into basketball season, Phelps’ long preferred sport. Phelps first saw varsity glory in the state playoffs as a freshman, and he continued to blossom into a dunking, shot blocking machine. As a senior, Phelps finished with team highs of 17.4 points and 13.2 rebounds per game while he made 48 percent of his shot attempts. He also had an average of 2.5 steals, 2.3 blocks and 2.2 assists per game.
“What he brought for four years was toughness,” BHS basketball coach Jeff Lehnus said. “I mean that in the terms of the guy never missed even a minute of a game for injury or illness in four years. He played major minutes all the time. He loved to compete. To go along with his continued developed athleticism as he got older, he provided a spark with dunks, blocks, all those important elements that are a pivotal thing in terms of intimidation of teams.
“Bottom line, Ryan wanted to win. Even though he got double teamed and sometimes didn’t have the best statistical games, he always brought it. He didn’t care about stats, he cared about his team winning.”
Phelps finished his year with another two podium finishes at the state track and field meet with a second-place result in discus and fourth in shot put.
“I think to be able to put together a string of all three sports and play at the level he did is just remarkable,” said BHS football and track and field coach Gary Heide. “It was just an honor to coach him. Very rarely do I get to coach a group of athletes like we had this year, let alone an athlete like Ryan Phelps that excels in all three.
“He is humble and easy going, but when he gets inside those lines its 100 percent, get out of my way attitude. His athletic ability surpassed everybody in the state this year in our classification.”
Phelps had several college scholarship offers, particularly in football, but he turned them all down to go work for his family business, RT Construction Inc. He started working and building homes the day after graduation.
“Working for family is a blessing,” he said. “It’s tough work, and I definitely have a lot to learn. My dad, uncle and cousin are teaching me new stuff every day. You know, working for friends is good and all, but there’s something special about working with family.”
Editor’s note: The Durango Herald selected high school sports players of the year based on a unanimous decision between sports editor John Livingston and sports writer Karl Schneider. Increased consideration was given to multi-sport athletes who showed leadership in their firstname.lastname@example.org