WHEN ARCHBISHOP Wood junior Ryan Bates was in seventh grade, he decided he was finished with football for good. It was too tough, required too much running and had just stopped being fun.
So, after he told his CYO coaches he was finished, Bates returned to his dad's 1999 black Ford F-150 thinking the nightmare was over. You couldn't even pay him to play.
"When I got back into the truck my dad had four $100 bills," said Bates, sitting inside the team's film room on the Warminster campus. "He said, 'Son, if you stick with football, I'll give you these $400 right now.' I just couldn't do it. I was just so out of shape and so lazy."
Now, the 6-5, 285-pound right tackle is a nationally sought-after recruit not just for his size, but, ironically for the guy who hated running, his speed.
At 7 o'clock tonight in Hersheypark Stadium, Bates will anchor the strong side of the Wood o-line for the PIAA AAA championship game against Harrisburg's Bishop McDevitt.
With the Vikings averaging about 240 rushing yards per game, bet on a healthy percentage of attempts coming behind Bates.
"It's rare that you see a guy that athletic and that big," said Wood assistant head coach Mike Carey, who is also the defensive coordinator and leader of the offensive line. "He's got attributes like nobody else I've coached."
Bates, 16, who wears a size-15 shoe, said he was clocked at 4.9 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
"That's just unheard of," said Carey, who has more than 30 years of coaching experience.
The combination has drawn college coaches en masse to Warminster, about 10 minutes from the Bates' family home in Warrington.
In fact, hours after being interviewed, Bates said a coach from Miami came to the Vikings' practice and offered a scholarship.
Add the Hurricanes to a list that already included Penn State, South Carolina, Virginia, Temple, Boston College, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Pitt, Duke and You-Get-The-Picture University.
"I think he's a little bit faster than a 4.9," said AAA Catholic League MVP and Wood's leading rusher, Jarrett McClenton (1,467 yards, 26 rushing TDs). "I normally don't even see who he's blocking because they're usually on their backs. I just see a big hole."
So, where does the speed come from?
"I don't know," Bates said with an aw-shucks tone.
Dad doesn't either. "I played at Northeast High and if I got in one game I was lucky," Norman Bates joked over the phone.
That was nearly the Bates' family football legacy.
"Yep, Ryan retired when he was in seventh grade," Norman said, laughing.
"I wasn't up for the challenge," said Ryan, adding that he was always bigger than the other kids. "I didn't like the running. I had a little trouble running sprints and everything."
Not even for four Franklins?!
"I was tempted," he said with wide eyes and a heavy laugh. "When you're 12 years old and you have $400 waved in your face, yeah, you're tempted!"
He didn't get off that easy. Dad, and mom, Theresa, still made Ryan go to all the games because his younger sister, Anna, now in eighth grade, was a cheerleader.
It wasn't until Visitation Day at Wood that Bates was lured back to the game by then-senior running back/defensive back Sean Cain. Just an eighth-grader at the time, Bates doesn't remember the sales pitch, but Cain certainly does.
"The kid was just a monster!" said Cain, now a 20-year-old criminology major at Albright College. "He was gigantic."
Cain's younger brother, Tommy, actually played with Bates on the CYO Bux-Mont Saints squad that Bates quit.
"I remember the conversation," said Cain a 5-6, 176-pound wide receiver at Albright. "I just told him, 'You have the gift. God gave you this size.' I wish I had it."
A year later Bates was back trading helmet paint and running sprints. He even played freshman basketball for the Vikings.
But his heart belonged to football.
"I like being physical," Bates said. "I like smashing people on the ground. When you pancake someone - that's the best feeling in the world."
Now, Bates is a four-star recruit and currently on the 2015 Rivals250 to Watch list on Rivals.com.
"I'm ecstatic," said Norman. "I'm like a proud peacock . . . We're very proud of Ryan. He's dedicated and he's a hard worker."
Freshman year, that ethic was tested by the commitment demanded by the Wood football program. Bates struggled at first, but persevered instead of looking for an exit.
So, will he ever quit anything again?
"Uhhh, no," he said with a playful pause. "It's definitely taught a big lesson to me. Now, to me, it's about starting what you finish and don't give up."
Berwick head coach George Curry, the state's leader in all-time high school football wins (437), is a believer.
Wood bested Berwick in the state semifinals last week, 42-14.
"He's the best offensive lineman I've seen in over 40 years," Curry said over the phone last night. "I told everybody that kid's going to play on Sundays. I'm telling you right now that kid has an unbelievable future.
"He's big, he's not a clunker," continued the 44-year coaching veteran. "He's not a clumsy kid. He's an athlete."
In that case, perhaps a finder's fee would be in order for Cain.
"I mean, if I can get that then I would be perfectly happy with that," he laughed.
Said Carey: "I'd say the most exciting thing is I have him for another year to see his growth."
It all begs the question: What if he never even came back to the game?
"It's hard to think about it," Bates said. "Now, I can't imagine myself not playing football."