Former QB recalls twist of fate from 2006 state championship

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cardinal Newman quarterback Ryan Lingle, center, takes a break on the bench as teammates Al Netter, left and Bryan Whitfield chat before the start of overtime in the Division 3 bowl game in Carson. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat, 2006)

Cardinal Newman quarterback Ryan Lingle, center, takes a break on the bench as teammates Al Netter, left and Bryan Whitfield chat before the start of overtime in the Division 3 bowl game in Carson. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat, 2006)

Ryan Lingle, walking with a pronounced limp, was the last Cardinal Newman player to leave the field that day. He and the Cardinals had come within a play or two of springing one of the biggest upsets in the recent history of California high school football, and as he entered an emotionally wounded locker room, the quarterback was blindsided by the knowledge that this would be his last high school game.

Though Lingle didn’t realize it at the time, the finality was more dramatic than that. He would never throw a football again in any game, for any team, at any level.

“That one still stings a little bit,” Lingle, 25, said earlier this week. “I didn’t think that would be my last game I ever played on a football field. That was kind of a bitter taste it left, that close to winning.”

Lingle’s left tackle in the 2006 Division 3 state championship game, Al Netter, is on the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad. His Oaks Christian counterpart, quarterback Jimmy Clausen, is with the Carolina Panthers (though currently on the team’s injured reserve). Lingle, meanwhile, lives a modest life in Santa Rosa, working as a personal trainer at BreakThrough Fitness on Sonoma Highway, working out at the Aftershock Volleyball Club and keeping an eye out for coaching opportunities.

With the North Coast Section playoffs set to resume again tonight, Lingle admits there are moments when he wonders where his right arm could have taken him had it not broken down at the most inopportune time. Otherwise, he seems perfectly content with his life’s path. And he looks back on the 2006 season fondly.

Player follows coach

Lingle grew up in Sebastopol and thought he would play for Piner High, because that’s where local quarterback guru Paul Cronin was coaching. But Cronin took the job at Cardinal Newman as Lingle graduated eighth grade, and player followed coach to the private school.

It was a mutually beneficial relationship. Lingle started at quarterback as a junior and senior, and passed for a total of 5,067 yards and 52 touchdowns over the two seasons. The Cardinals won NCS titles both years, and in 2006 they did more. The California Interscholastic Federation rekindled state championship games that year, and the CIF selected Newman to represent Northern California in Division 3.

All three games would be played at the Home Depot Center in Carson the same day, Dec. 16, but the schedule called for the Division 3 contest to kick off first, at 11 a.m. In effect, Cardinal Newman would play the first California state championship football game in 80 years.

And the Cardinals would go in as huge underdogs. Their opponent, Oaks Christian of Westlake Village, featured nine players headed for Division I-A college programs, and that included Clausen, who was undefeated in 41 previous high school starts. Clausen, perhaps the most highly recruited quarterback in America, would star at Notre Dame.

Sure enough, the Lions scored just 2:11 into the game on a touchdown pass from Clausen to Marshall Jones, who would play safety at USC. The rout was on. And then it wasn’t. Improbably, Cardinal Newman outplayed Oaks Christian for most of the game. The Cardinals wound up outgaining their celebrated foes 282 yards to 233 and hogging the ball for 34:41 out of 48 minutes.

Better numbers than Clausen

The crowd had fallen in love with Newman by the time the Cardinals’ Ellio Torrano sent the game into overtime on a 29-yard field goal with 31 seconds left in regulation. In the college-style overtime format, Oaks Christian struck first on a 7-yard run by Jones, and Cardinal Newman couldn’t answer, failing to score on four plays from the Lions’ 10-yard line.

Lingle’s numbers were modest: 14 completions in 29 attempts for 116 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. But they were better than Clausen’s. He had just 94 yards in 22 attempts, and the Newman defense harassed him into three picks.

It might have been a huge springboard for Lingle. Instead, it hastened his downfall. He broke his ankle on a quarterback sneak in the second quarter, sat out a couple of plays and returned to action for the rest of the game.

“I don’t know if it was just the kind of guy he was, but I honestly didn’t know he was hurt until after the game,” Netter said. “He didn’t show it at all. Like I said, he was a warrior. He fought and fought. I heard after the game he broke his leg, and I was thinking, ‘What?’ I had no idea.”

Lingle’s arm ‘already shot’

What a lot of people didn’t know was that Lingle had been throwing with elbow soreness since his sophomore year, taking painkillers to get through it. He had been a baseball pitcher, too, and had thrown curveballs from an early age.

“That was one of the big reasons a lot of the big colleges actually backed off on me,” Lingle said. “A lot of people’s arms progress, and their arm strength gets better. Right? Obviously, as you get older you’re gonna get a stronger arm. My arm was already shot.”

The ankle injury against Oaks Christian took away Lingle’s leg drive and put added pressure on his arm, and it was the tipping point. He had Tommy John surgery at Stanford University in the summer after his senior year at Newman. Lingle took classes at Santa Rosa JC that fall, then joined the football team at Hartnell College in Salinas in the spring of 2008. It was a disaster. Still recovering from the elbow surgery, he couldn’t throw the ball more than 30 yards.

Lingle immediately transferred to Diablo Valley College. The coaches there understood his injury, but it still didn’t feel like the right situation.

“For one, I didn’t know anybody there, obviously,” Lingle said. “And then, two, I was with the team, but then when we did our lifts and stuff, I was in a separate room all by myself. So I was kind of excluded from the team because I couldn’t do anything.”

Lingle left DVC and returned to SRJC for classes in the fall of 2008, and the following spring he was set to play for College of Marin. The Mariners had solid athletes and a pass-heavy offense. Lingle was excited. Shortly before he joined the team, however, the college dropped its football program.

He took it as a sign. Through the injuries, Lingle had been thinking of other avenues, specifically training and coaching. He decided he wasn’t a quarterback anymore.

Elbow surgery a success

His former teammates still find it hard to believe that Lingle never got a chance to pilot a college offense.

“This is something I thought about a lot,” Netter said. “I remember thinking back in the day, how the heck does this guy not have Division I scholarships? You look at his size (Lingle was about 6-foot-2, 215 pounds). I thought he had good arm strength and intangibles, and he had the stats to back it up. Part of it, I think, is it’s hard to get recognized up in the North Bay. But I thought for sure he’d get an offer from like a Sac State or a UC Davis.”

The irony is that Lingle’s elbow surgery was completely successful.

“My arm’s probably stronger than it’s ever been,” he said. “I always joke around with my buddies, because my eligibility factor — I still have all my (college) eligibility left.”

Lingle sounded about one-quarter serious when he said that, but he doesn’t sound bitter about the way things unfolded. He speaks about his life with a low-key enthusiasm. Lingle splits time between his parents’ house in Santa Rosa — they live on Tebow Court, befitting of a frustrated quarterback — and his girlfriend’s place downtown. He rarely attends Cardinal Newman games, and has only fleeting contact with Cronin, but loyally charts the Cardinals’ results through the newspaper.

Former Cardinal Newman quarterback Ryan Lingle now works as a personal trainer in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

Former Cardinal Newman quarterback Ryan Lingle now works as a personal trainer in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

Coaching aspirations

Lingle said people still occasionally recognize him, or his name, and connect him to that 2006 season. He enjoys the memories, but tries not to dwell on them.

“What I’m excited about now is kind of changing from being known as the Newman quarterback to being Ryan Lingle,” he said. “It’s gaining that identity.”

Lingle is serious about his work as a trainer, and about his coaching aspirations. He spent two seasons with the Analy JV squad, and was the varsity quarterbacks coach there under Dan Bourdon in 2012. He would like to work with quarterbacks again, and eventually to become a high school head coach.

Lingle believes he can bring some valuable perspective to the job.

“I just go out and watch some of these games on Friday nights, and I still kind of remember the feeling when you get out there,” he said. “I tell all the kids I know who are in high school, man, enjoy it, because it’s gonna be gone before you know it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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