By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Ryan Wieligman sat down to lunch with Braxton Noble — nothing out of the ordinary for the two friends.
But whereas most their conversations stem from the usual topics — girls, music, sports or the latest trends — this conversation was about something else they both loved — football.
Wieligman had just joined the Stillwater High School football team after sitting out last year and was looking to pick the Stillwater High School quarterback’s brain, hoping to understand the offense a little better.
“We went out to lunch and I was just trying to get a feel for what he wanted me to do,” Wieligman, a junior receiver for the Pioneers, said. “It helped out tremendously. Both (Noble) and Coach (Paul) Hix know how they want to run the offense. I can go to either of them at any time and ask questions. That’s helpful for me because they can tell me exactly what they want me to do right off the bat.”
That happened in early August, back when Wieligman was still learning his position after taking a year off to focus on his baseball career. Now, not only is Wieligman catch on, he’s shown the ability to impact the offense after tallying five catches against Mustang last week — a trend he hopes continues as the Pioneers (0-3) host Ponca City (0-3) at 7 p.m. Friday at Pioneer Stadium.
“I think he’s got a good chance to really factor in on our football team,” Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard said. “He’s stepped in immediately and impacted us already. As his knowledge level increases, he’s going to be able to do a lot of things. Right now, we’ve had to kind of slowly bring him along to get him to know what we’re doing, but he’s going to be a good player.”
It’s been a bit of a process for Wieligman. Even in the most recent practices, there are times where the junior won’t run a play to perfection.
But while Wieligman is still prone to make mistakes, he does his best to make up for those mistakes through his effort in practice.
“I had no idea that I could have an impact this early in the season,” Wieligman said. “When I went out, I just gave as much effort as I could. When I met with the coaches, they told me that I would have to do what everybody else had to do and make my way up the totem pole. From there, I just took every opportunity I could to get better.”
That meant staying late after practice, playing on special teams and defense — basically doing everything but becoming the team’s waterboy in hopes of seeing the field.
“I had the mentality that I would go in anywhere they needed me,” Wieligman said. “When I did get in, I’d give it all my effort. I just wanted to play.”
“While we’re watching, evaluating and teaching these players, we’re also trying to figure where’s the best place to put him,” Barnard said. “That’s a big reason why you need everybody throughout the course of the offseason. It starts to give you a picture of how they all fit together. Then your scrimmage games and non-district games should complete the picture for you.”
Now three weeks in, Wieligman almost seems to be the missing piece of the Pioneer puzzle.
“He’s helped a lot,” Barnard said. “He’s allowed us to do some things that we may not have been able to do otherwise. We’re continuing to use King Williams primarily on defense. We’re beginning to position Spencer Parsons more to the defensive side of the ball to try to put ourselves in position to make more plays defensively. ... It’s definitely given us a little more flexibility.”
Wieligman may be the missing piece in Stillwater’s puzzle, but as it turns out football also seems to be the missing piece in Wieligman’s life.
“I just missed it a lot,” said Wieligman, who did play on Stillwater’s freshman team before giving up football for baseball last year. “You work so hard during the week to go out and perform on Friday night, there’s nothing like it. I missed practicing and everything that leads up to Friday night. It took the whole summer to him me, but I didn’t want to leave high school with any regrets.”
There are still some regrets for Wieligman — namely, not playing football his sophomore season — but those feeling of regret are slowly dying with each week. And while he may not always run the perfect route, just being on the field — whether as a receiver, defender or on special teams — is enough of a reward to satisfy those regrets.
“We think football is something a lot of kids should want to be a part of,” Barnard said. “It’s hard but it’s such a rewarding sport because of the effort. When you’ve invested so much in something, the reward is so great. The feeling of success is so great.
“I think football, because of the physical nature, kind of stands apart from some sports because of that aspect. I know in baseball, people invest a lot of time in becoming good baseball players and chasing that dream. But just the physical nature of football just puts it in a little bit different category and makes it so rewarding.”