Before Ryan Nall established himself as one of the best running backs in the Pac-12 Conference, he was just a kid that was entering college not knowing what position he was going to play.
The Sandy native was an all-state running back and linebacker in high school for Central Catholic, but when he arrived on the Oregon State campus for his redshirt season in 2014, former head coach Mike Riley and his staff had Nall taking reps at H-back — a position that usually lines up similarly to a tight end. But the main difference is that it's behind the line of scrimmage.
"When I got on campus, the coaching staff had me playing H-back originally. I also took some run at tailback during scout team scrimmages," Nall said. "When the new staff came in, they wanted me to be pretty versatile."
When Gary Andersen took over the head coaching job at OSU in 2015, the staff originally had Nall playing both H-back and tight end. But after several injuries to the Beaver backfield during fall camp, Nall was shifted to the running back slot.
"I had bulked up to about 250-255 (pounds) in the offseason. But when our other backs starting getting injured, I switched back to playing running back and had to drop some weight off," Nall said.
Nall was used as apart of a three-man running back committee during his freshman season, rushing for 455 yards on just 73 carries.
There was still some question about what Nall's future would look like as a tailback. However, Nall dissolved any question of his ability in the final game of the 2015 season.
Nall ran all over the 18th ranked Oregon Ducks in the annual Civil War battle, rushing for 174 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries — including a 66-yard scamper where he broke away from the entire Oregon secondary.
Although the Beavers ended up losing the game 52-42, Nall had solidified himself has OSU's premier back for the near future.
"That game was a defining moment for me. The rest is history," Nall said. "There were some coaches talking to me about switching over to defense to play linebacker, but that conversation was over after the Oregon game."
Nall's performance against Oregon propelled him to be one of the best backs in the conference for his sophomore campaign in 2016. Despite missing a portion of the season due to injury, Nall rushed for 955 yards 13 touchdowns while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Nall was also named to the All-Conference team as an honorable mention.
While Nall had a stellar season in 2016, he once again saved his best performance for the Ducks back in November, rushing for a 155 yards and tying a school record with four rushing touchdowns. This time around, OSU would be victorious, ending the season with a 34-24 win.
"There is just something about rivalry week. I watched the Civil War all through my childhood and I knew that I always wanted to be apart of it," Nall said. "I feel like it brings the best our of everyone.'
In the world of up-tempo offenses that major college football has to offer, many of the backs you will see on Saturdays in the fall are guys with that love to run East to West and get loose in the open field. But Nall's strength lies in running downhill and being physical between the tackles. At 6'2, 234 pounds, Nall is a load that has proven to be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
"Growing up, my dad always instilled in me that it should always take one than one person to bring you down. I'm a hard runner that goes balls to the wall on every snap," Nall said. "I love being a physical runner, but I also know when not to take hits and when to make a move on someone."
While he's known for his physicality, don't underestimate Nall's ability in the open field.
"Look at the film. I'm not slow. I'm good in open space and I love being able to make moves on guys," Nall said.
Nall was first able to put his exploits on display for college coaches as a senior at Central Catholic in 2013, leading the Rams to their first state championship in 60 years. With 1,684 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on the season, Nall was named 6A Offensive Player of the Year as well as the Oregon Sports Awards Prep Player of the Year.
"My senior year was the most fun I have had on a football field. We were a dominant team and I feel very lucky to be able to say that I was apart of it," Nall said. "It took a little while for us to get rolling, but we were a special group."
Despite growing up in Sandy, deciding to go to Central Catholic was an easy decision for Nall.
"My brother went to Central Catholic and I had two uncles go there as well. We have a lot of family history," Nall said. "We were always very competitive in sports and I played some very good coaches there."
Just like he is on the football field, Nall is very serious about his work in the classroom as well. Nall majors in speech communication with a minor in leadership and was a Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable Mention last season.
"My main goal is to play in the NFL one day, but it is also important for me to have something to fall back on," Nall said. I'm not 100 percent sure of what I want to do yet, but the good thing is that communication is broad enough to give you options and OSU does a terrific job of trying to line you up with internships and jobs of interest...I would love to be in a position where I would get to be personal with people, like with TV or sales."
As the 2017 season draws near, the expectations for Nall are already pretty high. He was named to the Maxwell Award Watch List — given annually to the nation's top football player — and he was selected as a preseason an All-Pac-12 Second Team member.
While Nall is hoping for a breakout junior season in 2017, he is even more hopeful that the OSU program will get over the hump in the Pac-12 North after three straight losing seasons. Oregon State has a record of 6-18 in the Andersen era, but Nall believes that this Beaver team has what it takes to put together a winning season.
"My individual goal is to rush for over 1,000 yards this season. It kind of bugged me a little bit that I fell short last year...Our main goal as a team is to reach a bowl game. We have been talking about it a lot during the offseason and I think this team is ready to make that next step," Nall said. "What we do as a team is way more important than my personal goals."
Oregon State opens up their season on the road against Colorado State at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.