Football player of the year: Braden Youngstrom, Rigby

Rigby’s Braden Youngstrom poses for a portrait on Tuesday. John Roark/

Rigby’s Braden Youngstrom poses for a portrait on Tuesday. John Roark/

Rigby’s Braden Youngstrom poses for a portrait on Tuesday. John Roark/

Rigby’s Braden Youngstrom poses for a portrait on Tuesday. John Roark/

Rigby’s Braden Youngstrom poses for a portrait on Tuesday. John Roark/

Mountain View High School football coach Judd Benedick has coached 22 years in Boise, and he said he’s never seen a running back quite like Rigby’s Braden Youngstrom.

Benedick’s high praise holds weight. Benedick’s Mavericks play in the most competitive 5A league in Idaho, often facing the best backs the state has to offer, and even they had trouble stopping Youngstrom during a 14-13 5A quarterfinal slugfest. Youngstrom finished the game with 198 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

No, not even a sliced left hand (which needed six stitches and seven staples at the base of his palm) could slow down Youngstrom, a 5-foot-11, 185 pound senior.

“Every time he touches the ball, you hold your breath,” Benedick said. “In 22 years of coaching, he’s one of the top backs I’ve ever faced.”

Using raw power through the hole to breakaway speed, Youngstrom rushed for 1,863 yards and 23 touchdowns on just 255 carries to lead the Trojans to an 8-3 season this past fall.

He also tallied 332 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns to eclipse 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Rigby coach Armando Gonzalez said he leaned on Youngstrom to jump start a Trojan offense that averaged 37 points per game.

Youngstrom had three or more touchdowns in five different games this season.

“He’s an impressive kid,” Bonneville coach Matt Virgil said. “When I talked to my kids after the game … they said he just dragged a couple of them while running. That kid runs hard, and you couple that power with breakaway speed, and he’s the real deal.”

A rancher by trade and a punishing running back by the time the leaves begin to fall, Youngstrom epitomizes eastern Idaho toughness. It’s one of the many reasons Youngstrom is the second Trojan since 2015 to take home the Post Register’s All-Area Football Player of the Year honor.

“If you can’t find a hole, make one,” he said of his bulldozing run style. “I love hitting people, but there’s nothing more I love than stiff-arming someone.”

For all the running, blocking and bashing, though, the senior’s stellar 2017 season almost never happened.

With a new coach at the helm for his final year, Youngstrom said he nearly walked away from the sport. He wasn’t showing up to preseason camps and workouts, and wanted to focus on work, making money and trying to find a school where he could potentially study trauma surgery.

He said his absence caused a slight rift between him and Gonzalez at first.

“My running back coach (Jeff McKinlay) called me one night and was like, ‘Dude, if you’re not coming, (Gonzalez) doesn’t want you playing for him,’ and that kinda set me over the edge,” Youngstrom said of the beginning of the season. “And ever since then, I started showing up.”

You see, Youngstrom doesn’t flaunt his talent much. He even said football may or may not be in his future.

His interests are mostly with outdoor activities — including dirt bikes, hunting and ranching. He doesn’t even watch football (the only professional player he could name was LaDanian Tomlinson, who retired in 2011). He’s played the popular video game football franchise, Madden, just once. He uses a flip phone that only makes and receives calls.

During a 35-minute interview, he talked more about tracking coyote and his family’s Greek ethnicity and less about running though defenders, which he could potentially do in college. He said Eastern Oregon, Idaho State and Boise State have been in contact with him.

“My whole life, I’ve been outside messing with my dogs,” Youngstrom said. “My family has always been into the outdoors.”

But after some initial disagreements with Rigby’s more intense offseason regiment and questions on whether or not to play, Youngstrom stayed for one more go as the Trojans’ running back.

His teammates, receiver Ben Fullmer (also his cousin) and quarterback Tanner Clayton in particular, persuaded him.

“I don’t want to let anyone down,” Youngstrom said. “I just want to keep playing and keep having fun and push through it … in life, you’re going to have hard things to go against — whether its school, family or marriage problems or anything. There’s problems everywhere. You just gotta push through.”

As for his relationship with Gonzalez: time, and winning, heals all wounds. He said Tuesday he grew to love Gonzalez’s fast-paced offense.

“I just want to thank my dad, my parents, coach Gonzalez and all my coaches. And everybody for sticking with me,” Youngstrom added.

Regardless of where Youngstrom ends up in life — at a school in Boise or on a ranch in the fields of Rigby — he was, indisputably, the best football player in the area during 2017.

“As the weather got worse, we knew we had to run the ball more,” Gonzalez said. “We had to get him the ball in different ways. He was our guy.”