A Wheaties box with Barry Sanders on the cover is sitting in a cabinet somewhere at Ryan Callahan's home, collecting cobwebs. Though it's stowed away now, the box and other Sanders memorabilia filled Callahan's bedroom for four years.
Now that he's a little older, the decorating scheme of the Old Mill running back's room has changed, but the highlight reel running through his head has not.
"Watching him was like watching [Michael] Jordan for me," Callahan said of Sanders.
It shows, as Callahan's high school highlight reel has some of the same characteristics: the runs that start one way and end another for gains, the jukes that leave defenders grasping for his jersey as they fall to the grass, the sharp cuts through the defense against the grain.
"He plays bigger than what he is," Old Mill Coach Mike Marcus said of Callahan, who measures 5-feet-7, 155 pounds. "He's got great vision. The acceleration and the cutting is what makes him special. There are a lot of guys that can cut, but when they cut, they stop. Ryan can make cuts at full speed given the chance."
After being the second-leading rusher in the Washington area through 12 games as a junior last season (2,336 yards and 22 touchdowns on 253 carries), Callahan returned to face defenses keying on him. Because of that, his rushing yards are lower this season, but he still maintains a top 10 spot in the area.
Through 10 regular season games, Callahan has 1,555 yards rushing on 194 carries and 25 rushing touchdowns.
"He's a good running back," said Raymond Mack, a two-way starter for North County, which takes on Callahan and Old Mill tomorrow at 5:15 p.m. in the first round of the playoffs. "He hits the hole real quick and he has nice vision. He's one of the top [running backs] in our county right now."
The Old Mill (8-2) offense simply wouldn't be the same without Callahan, who is considering playing football at several colleges and universities, including James Madison and Connecticut. The vast majority of plays are on the ground, through Callahan, and why not? Callahan has proven that he is the most dangerous offensive player on the field. In the regular season finale against Glen Burnie, he rushed for 207 yards on 11 carries and three touchdowns, scoring from 33, 60 and 86 yards.
When the Patriots were down 14-3 at halftime to county champion Severna Park, Callahan, with the help of the offensive line, scored from 17 and 18 yards out to put the Patriots up 17-14 before the Falcons came back to win. In the Patriots' 51-0 regular season win over North County, he had 14 carries for 200 yards and four touchdowns.
But Callahan can't do everything. That's why if the Patriots are to succeed in the playoffs and have a shot at winning the school's first state title, the other parts of the team are going to have step up, as they have much of the season. Senior wide receiver Steve Holmes, who received a scholarship to play football at Towson University next season, knows that, and he expects everyone to do so, including himself.
"We have the chance to be the best [Old Mill] team ever," Holmes said. "If we do what we have to do in practice, I think we can do this."