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Kole Heidinger is in position to become Ferris’ all-time rushing leader. (Jesse Tinsley)

Ferris running back Heidinger keeps hands on football

Ferris senior running back Kole Heidinger carries the football like a kid who has taken it to bed with him.

For good reason. There was a time when the ball wasn’t a precious commodity to him. As a freshman and sophomore, he suffered from fumble-itis.

Now, Heidinger and the football are seemingly one. He had one fumble last year but recovered it, and he’s had one so far this season.

“There’s no worse feeling than fumbling,” Heidinger said.

Heidinger is still bothered by a game-changing fumble he had against South Hill rival Lewis and Clark his freshman season. That’s when his dedication to ball security took root – in a game he thought he lost for his team.

The Saxons needed a first down to run out the clock and secure the win. But Heidinger fumbled and LC recovered. LC’s quarterback threw a deep pass for a TD, and the defensive back burned on the play was none other than Heidinger. LC won.

The Saturday prior to the game against LC, Heidinger had gone to a game at Pullman between USC and Washington State. A friend of his father managed to get Kole and some friends with USC players Ray Malaluga, Mark Sanchez and some running backs for postgame photos. One of the running backs gave Kole his arm sleeve.

The next week Heidinger, perhaps a tad cocky, wore the arm sleeve against LC. After the game, he went home and used a permanent marker to write a message on the sleeve: ‘I will never lose to LC again’ and he dated it.

The Saxons beat LC the following year when Heidinger was on junior varsity and last year when he started on varsity. The sleeve is pinned to the wall above his bed.

“That fumble (against LC) has stuck with me for a while,” Heidinger said. “I took that seriously. I’d rather have someone break my fingers than steal the ball from me.”

Ball security hadn’t improved much by Heidinger’s sophomore year, though. At one point he sensed varsity coach Jim Sharkey was beginning to lose faith in him.

“I think Sharkey was starting to doubt if I would be able to play at the varsity level,” Heidinger said.

A sophomore coach suggested that Heidinger sleep with a ball.

“He told me I needed to become one with the football,” Heidinger said.

It worked.

“He had a ball security problem, but he’s totally cleaned it up,” Sharkey said.

Heidinger is on the verge of becoming the Saxons’ career rushing leader. His 117 yards against Central Valley last Friday moved his career total to 1,952 – third best at Ferris behind Archie Grant (1969-71; 2,264) and Nick Bozo (1997-98; 2,485).

At his current pace, Heidinger will break the record the last week of Greater Spokane League play and certainly no longer than the first week of the state playoffs.

“Getting the record would be nice, but it’s not something I dwell on,” he said.

The 5-foot-8 1/2 Heidinger rarely goes down on first contact. He packs much strength into his 175-pound body.

“He’s worked so hard,” Sharkey said. “He’s really picked up his speed and strength and he’s got great balance. He’s a great change-of-direction guy.”

While he doesn’t have burner speed, it’s more than adequate. If he breaks loose from a pile, it’s rare that he’ll be caught from behind.

That was evident Friday when all of a sudden he broke out of a midfield scrum and darted 53 yards for a win-securing touchdown against Central Valley.

In the Saxons’ 14-0 drive to the State 4A championship last year, Heidinger was one of several weapons. He finished the year with 1,223 yards.

As the season progressed, though, Heidinger’s contributions became more important.

The Saxons, for example, trailed Mead 20-0 at halftime. Ferris scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to take the lead, and then used its double-wing, ball-possession offense in the fourth quarter to keep the ball away from the Panthers.

A Mead punt pinned Ferris at its 1-yard line with 8:50 to go. The Saxons proceeded to run out the clock with Heidinger carrying the ball nine times. He finished with 172 yards on 32 attempts.

In the state final, Heidinger picked up some key yardage and first downs in the second half.

“We really leaned on him more in the playoffs,” Sharkey said. “He had a great championship game. The great thing about Kole is we could really trust him when we had to run out the clock. He doesn’t get bounced backward much.”

Although he practices some at safety, Heidinger has played only offense this season. It’s by design.

“We’ve got to keep him healthy and keep fresh legs,” Sharkey said. “He’s a backup safety and he’s ready to play if we need him. But we’d like to keep him off the field as much as we can to keep his legs fresh.”

When Ferris goes to its double-wing offense, it’s no guess as to who will get the bulk of the carries.

His teammates enjoy watching the results, too.

“It’s the most beautiful sight there is to see ‘Dinger’ pop one,” Drew Sharkey said.

Heidinger, who carries a 3.84 grade-point average, doesn’t want to play football in college.

“I just want to go to school and concentrate on academics and be a college football fan,” he said.

He’s focused on one thing right now. He wants to get the Saxons back to a state title game for a third straight year. He enjoyed being part of the title last year, but he and the seniors want to capture a championship of their own.

“Nobody wants to be the class that falls off the table,” Heidinger said. “We respect what’s been done in the past, but we want to leave our own legacy. It’s important to have our own identity. We want another state title. Anything less is failure.”