Rod Rumrey was beginning to think the last of his 35 seasons as a decorated football coach would be his worst.

It was fall 2005. North Medford had stumbled out of the gate, losing three of its first four games. Game 4 was the Black Tornado’s third straight loss — the first time that had happened in a decade.

It was so bad, Rumrey got ornery. No more half-pad practices. No more shorts and T-shirts for conditioning. It was full speed and full contact, recalls Darren Bruhns, the team’s quarterback.

Senior Ryan Folsom had established himself as the squad’s hardest worker. When the practice intensity ratcheted up, he went with it, stride for stride.

“Ryan was on the verge of puking and was absolutely spent,” says Bruhns. “But he encouraged guys to get up to the line, get their heads up. He was not the most vocal guy, but he was going to finish it even though he was absolutely spent.”

Folsom, who died Sunday at age 29 following a car wreck in Northern California, was the team’s star running back and linebacker.

More than that, says Tim Endecott, “He was the heart and soul of the team.”

“I don’t think it mattered what the situation was,” says Endecott, “or who we were playing or how bad of a practice we had or how much Rumrey yelled at us, I don’t think he ever frowned or got down on anybody.”

Former teammates and coaches remembered fondly the star athlete with the engaging personality in the days since his passing. He was a quiet leader, they say. When he spoke, people listened, but it was his action that resonated.

Rumrey thought of Folsom like a son.

“I cared about all my players,” he says, “but Ryan was special.”

Folsom was killed when a car driving the wrong way on Interstate 5 near Anderson, California, veered into oncoming traffic. Folsom, heading south in the right lane, was struck head-on and died at the scene.

The budding physician — he was on his way to interview for a residency position in Sacramento — is survived by two young sons and his wife, Lauren, who is expecting their third child this month.

Folsom was all-state in football and wrestling as a senior.

In football, he was offensive player of the year in the Southern Oregon Conference and first team on both sides of the ball. He earned second-team all-state accolades at running back and played linebacker in the Les Schwab Bowl for senior all-stars.

With a sense of urgency permeating after four games, the 2005 Black Tornado turned its season around. It won seven straight games and advanced to the state quarterfinals.

“After the 1-3 start,” says Rumrey, “everyone bought into a motto that was based on Ryan’s effort. That motto was, ‘snap to whistle.’ It was a complete change, and it was because this young man kind of showed his teammates what effort was all about.”

Folsom didn’t take plays off, whether in games — when he rarely came off the field — or practice.

When the offense practiced, backs carried the ball past the line of scrimmage a few yards. Folsom, however, sprinted 40 yards before stopping. At one point, Rumrey told him to stop at 20 because he was slowing down practice.

“‘Nope,’” Rumrey recalls him saying. “‘I’ll just go faster.’”

And he did.

Two-thirds through the season, Folsom’s teammates pranked him. He wasn’t the fastest player, but he always finished first when the team ran a series of sprints for conditioning.

Several players took turns going easy on some sprints so one of them could beat Folsom each time. Rumrey realized what was going on and smiled, wondering how it would play out.

After a kid who had earlier loafed beat Folsom on about the sixth sprint, the team leader delivered a message.

“He just chews their butts,” says Rumrey, “and says, ‘You better go hard on every sprint or get your butt off the field. And that knocked the smile right off my face. It wasn’t accepted by this kid.”

North Medford had game captains, not season-long team captains. Folsom was a captain every game.

“He earned that title,” says Endecott.

Troy Driskell was a wide receiver and cornerback, a year younger than Folsom.

“He was the best teammate you could ever ask for,” says Driskell. “Thankfully, he was on my team. I would not want to go up against him.”

Bruhns calls Folsom the fiercest competitor and best leader he’s seen.

And in their senior year, he was the Pied Piper of the gridiron.

“He kind of took it upon himself — and Rod did a good job of kind of allowing this,” says Bruhns, “but as the season started going bad, Ryan took control of the locker room and took control of practices. It wasn’t always vocal; it was by example.”

He even held court after Friday night games, warning his peers to steer clear of bad situations.

“Ryan was wise beyond his years,” says Bruhns. “He knew the consequences. He knew what situations high school boys could potentially find themselves in. As a leader of our team, Ryan was wise enough to make sure after games that everybody understood, we’ve got a mission and we can’t let outside distractions get in the way of our mission.”

Folsom carried out his end.

In a story that season, Folsom said his father told him he needed to get a minimum of 8 yards every carry. That way, he’d get the ball more and his team would win more.

In the final three regular-season games, Folsom ran for 600 yards and seven touchdowns as North Medford claimed the SOC title.

In two playoff games, he added 380 yards and became the Tornado’s single-season record holder with 1,743 rushing yards.

Jason Slowey, a 2007 graduate and teammate of Folsom’s, coaches linebackers at Western Oregon in Monmouth. Whenever he sees “Beaverton,” he thinks of Folsom.

“He kicked the ---- out of those guys,” says Slowey, recalling the 242 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries Folsom amassed in a 42-27 playoff win.

“He was one of those guys who was successful in everything he did,” says Slowey. “And he did it the right way. He was a really good role model.

“I think it’s rare, especially in high school, when someone your age can be a true leader and someone everyone looks up to. He was that person.”

After the Beaverton win, North Medford lost in the quarterfinals to Lincoln.

Folsom moved on to wrestling, where he placed fifth in the state at 160 pounds.

He played football for three seasons in college at Brigham Young, then entered med school.

Folsom left a positive impression, something he’d likely be happy to know.

After North Medford won the SOC title in 2005, he told the Mail Tribune:

“Those last few games, I did everything in my power to not go down unless I got smacked by three or four guys. I wanted our team to leave its mark. I wanted all of us to have something special to remember.”

Mission accomplished.

— Reach Sports Editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or