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Next great Gorilla: Gregory's Rylan Peck is Mitchell Republic football player of the year

A dual-threat force with the ball in his hand, the junior led the Gorillas to the Class 9A state title.

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Gregory's Rylan Peck is the Mitchell Republic's 2022 Football Player of the Year.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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GREGORY, S.D. — Off the field, he’s your typical West River kid.

He’s a hunting guide and loves to hunt himself, wearing his boots to school and working in a diesel shop in his free time.

But on the field, Rylan Peck was anything but typical this season for Gregory football.

“With our offense, it kind of revolves around the quarterback, so you try to get one of your best athletes at that position,” Gregory head coach Mike Murray said. “Rylan is definitely an athletic individual with loads of talent, so it’s a natural fit.”

That “natural fit” was evident all season for Peck, who threw for 1,303 yards and 18 touchdowns and added 1,149 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns, en route to the Gorillas first state championship since 2017.

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Peck was named the Joe Robbie MVP for the Class 9A state championship game, capping off his junior season with a three-rushing-touchdown performance in a 162-yard showing, while also adding a game-sealing interception late in the fourth quarter in Gregory's 36-23 win over Warner.

“Words couldn’t explain (the feeling of winning a state title),” Peck recalled about the game. “I was speechless after the game, just could give hugs out, that was about it.”

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Gregory's Rylan Peck stands with the Joe Robbie MVP award after defeating Warner during the Class 9A state football championship game on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, at the DakotaDome, in Vermillion.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Peck’s big season offensively, coupled with a defensive score, a punt-return touchdown and a state championship helped earn him the Mitchell Republic’s football player of the year award for 2022.

Since 1994, the Mitchell Republic football player of the year has been selected by the newspaper's sports staff, and conducted via a point-based voting system that awards five points to the top player, four points to the second player on the ballot and so on. Peck received all three available first-place votes, totaling 15 points. He is the seventh player from Gregory to win the award and first since Andy McCance won it in 2017.

Other players receiving consideration were Mount Vernon/Plankinton’s Reed Rus, Winner’s Aiden Barfuss, Bon Homme’s Riley Rothschadl, Parkston’s Brayden Jervik, Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy’s Riley Tschetter, Corsica-Stickney’s Waylon Bolle and Lyman’s Teagan Gourneau.

Always improving

The now-star quarterback for the Gorillas didn’t start his football days under center.

In fifth grade — when he first started playing youth football — Peck played wide receiver and running back, and though he transitioned to the signal caller the next year, it wasn’t an easy transition.

“It was still pretty hard,” Peck said of moving to quarterback. “It felt weird being back there (and) instead of grabbing the snap from someone else, you had to actually take the first snap.”

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But Peck has worked to perfect his craft as the quarterback, and even before this season he went to a Jeff Trickey quarterback camp in Tea where they watched his own film and worked on everything from dropbacks to arm angle on throws.

The work was evident this season, as the junior threw for 500 more yards and 10 more touchdowns than 2021, adding extra accuracy and arm strength to his arsenal that already featured an ability to run the ball.

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Gregory's Rylan Peck (2) hurdles his way through the Kimball/White Lake defense during a nine-man football game on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 in Kimball.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

On top of that camp, Peck went along with the entire Gorillas team to a camp at South Dakota State over the summer. He also plays baseball and was the catcher for a Gregory County team that made it to the American Legion Class B state tournament this past summer.

It’s more than just his play that made a jump this season, though. Murray saw his quarterback improve as a leader and become more mature.

“As a middle schooler, I watched him play and he would run and double back and try to make plays and make things happen where there weren't things,” Murray recalled. “(He improved at) making good decisions and playing smart and then being a team leader (and) knowing that you can't say and show everything that you feel.”

When you have the talent that Peck has, though, sometimes good decisions don’t look like good decisions as the ball leaves your hand.

“Rylan is so athletic that it's a blessing and a curse,” Murray said. “There's sometimes I'm thinking, ‘No, don't, don't throw. Oh, great throw. Great touchdown.’”

About the only thing Peck didn’t do this season was catch passes. But that doesn't stop the former wide receiver from trying to convince his coach to draw a play up to let him log a catch.

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“Almost every week,” Peck said with a chuckle on how often he tries to convince his coach for a play to put a play in the book for him to make a catch. “Hasn’t worked yet, maybe next year.”

Can’t catch him

Despite the ability to throw the ball, Peck’s biggest weapon this season was his speed.

Highlighted by a long, 81-yard touchdown run during the state title game at the DakotaDome, he found a new gear this year and was able to pull away from defenders more consistently, resulting in bigger plays and more scores.

“Last year (and) two years ago, he would run the ball and sometimes he would get caught from behind, and I’d joke with him, ‘You need to go out for track because you need to get faster, you’d be in the end zone,’” Murray said.

Peck did just that, joining the track team during the football offseason and competing in hurdles, long jump and either the 100-meter or 200-meter dash. And he feels that, along with lifting, helped him immensely.

“(It) got me stronger and (helped) to throw the ball harder and run faster,” Peck said about his offseason. “(It) makes you stronger, makes everything a little bit easier.”

Still, though, Peck was sheepish about his speed, and said his teammates Eli Fogel and Kade Stukel would be tough for him to beat in a race, but that didn’t stop the trash talk from who the fastest player on the team was.

That speed — from not only Peck, but from Fogel and Stukel, too — helped Gregory to utilize designed runs, including the option play, which was one of Peck's favorite plays to run and one of Gregory’s most effective in the playbook.

“He's really good at reading (the defense on the option) and he's really good at making guys commit. He attacks that inside shoulder (of the defender) and if that guy bails, he loves to keep it and run,” Murray said of the option play. “That's, on the ground, one of his best and most dangerous qualities.”

But Peck didn’t take full credit, making sure to give kudos to his offensive linemen for his success on the ground. And one of his other favorite plays — a tag play — was all a credit to his linemen.

“That's just our linemen getting down and dirty, doing the dirty work and we just follow behind it,” Peck said of the play. “So it’s pretty easy on our part.”

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Gregory's Rylan Peck poses for a photo outside Mike Dacy Field in Gregory on Monday, Nov. 20, 2022.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

Continuing the Gregory tradition

Peck appears to be the next in a line of great Gregory quarterbacks.

Most recently McCance led the Gorillas to a pair of Class 9AA state titles with the latest coming in 2017 when he was named the Republic’s football player of the year. And another former Gregory winner of the player of the year award, Andy Thomas, is the current defensive coordinator for the Gorillas.

Peck will have another chance to win not only the player of the year, but the state title, next season when he comes back as a senior. But for Peck, he isn’t focused on the stats or his own personal numbers, he just wants to win.

“Whatever I can do best to help the team win,” he said of his mindset for next year. “Not really any personal goals. It's all about the team.”

Even with one championship to his name — for now at least — Peck has joined the ranks of some of the best Gregory quarterbacks to don the red of the Gorilla uniforms.

What happens after high school for Peck, he doesn't know yet. While he wants to play a sport in college, he's still deciding whether he'll play baseball or football at the college level.

But no matter what comes next, he'll always be remembered in Gregory as a state champion.

“His name will be up there with the best (quarterbacks) that we've had,” Thomas said. “We haven't had one like him. He just has so many intangibles and he can make so many plays out of nothing.”

Here's a look at the other players who received consideration, with their vote-point totals in parenthesis:

Reed Rus, Mount Vernon/Plankinton (11): A senior quarterback and linebacker, Rus rushed 145 times for 1,172 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Titans, who finished 8-2. He also was 26-for-51 passing for 447 yards and four touchdowns, and made 58 tackles on defense, including 13 for a loss.

Aiden Barfuss, Winner (9): A 6-foot, 210-pound senior fullback, Barfuss rushed 138 times for 1,050 yards and 18 touchdowns, plus had 51 tackles on defense as part of Winner’s 11-1 Class 11B runner-up season.

Brayden Jervik, Parkston (3): A 5-foot-7, 200-pound junior running back and linebacker, he helped lead Parkston to the Class 9AA state championship game.

Riley Rothschadl, Bon Homme (3): A four-year starter for Bon Homme, Rothschadl ran for 1,081 yards on 151 carries with 16 touchdowns and added 981 yards and 12 scores through the air.

Riley Tschetter, Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy (2): A 5-foot-9 freshman, Tschetter had a standout season for the inaugural season of the Freeman/Marion/Freeman Academy Phoenix. He completed 56% of his passes for 2,225 yards and 30 touchdowns, while rushing 71 times for 300 yards and three scores.

Waylon Bolle, Corsica/Stickney (1): As a freshman, Bolle rushed for 17 touchdowns and 1,278 yards on 144 carries. In all, he had more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 22 touchdowns as the Jaguars bounced back for a 6-3 season.

Teagan Gourneau, Lyman (1): Gourneau, a four-year senior starter for the Raiders at quarterback, finished with 30 total touchdowns (19 passing, 11 rushing) and accounted for 1,632 yards of total offense, including 1,148 passing yards.

Past players of the year

1994: Josh Ranek, Bon Homme; 1995: Josh Ranek, Bon Homme; 1996: Glen "Andy" Thomas, Gregory; 1997: Jeff Schultz, Freeman; 1998: Chris Mikkelsen, Gregory; 1999: Chad Greenway, Stickney-Mount Vernon; 2000: Chad Greenway, Stickney-Mount Vernon; 2001: Tim Dacy, Gregory; 2002: Justin Horn, Tripp-Delmont; 2003: Michael Veskrna, Gregory; 2004: Doug Carlson, Howard; 2005: Jim Williams, Hanson; 2006: Jake Steffen, Stickney-Mount Vernon; 2007: Josh Endres, Emery-Ethan; 2008: Earv Archambeau, Avon; 2009: Jayd Knodell, Winner; 2010: Jeb Olsen, Canistota; 2011: Jason Greenway, Mitchell; 2012: Jaden Bartling, Gregory; 2013: Brandon Kocmich, Avon; 2014: Luke Loudenburg, Howard; 2015: Windsor Barry, Winner; 2016: Spencer Neugebauer, Mitchell; 2017: Andy McCance, Gregory; 2018: Jackson Kinzer, Colome; 2019: Brady Hawkins, Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan; 2020: Tyce Ortman, Canistota/Freeman; 2021: Grayson Hanson, Platte-Geddes; 2022: Rylan Peck, Gregory

Zech Lambert is a sports reporter for the Mitchell Republic. He graduated from Penn State University in May 2022 and began at the Mitchell Republic in July 2022. He can be reached at zlambert@mitchellrepublic.com or on Twitter @Zech_Lambert.
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