Making the Big Plays
- Dan Brood
- The Times - Sports
Brian Balsiger was a record-breaker receiver for the Wolves and he also stepped up for the basketball team
TUALATIN - Brian Balsiger had a pretty good football season in 2009.
Then, as a Tualatin High School junior, Balsiger, new to the Timberwolf starting line-up as a receiver, had 39 catches for 602 yards and he was an All-Pacific Conference honorable mention pick.
Pretty good, right?
But, for Balsiger, it wasn't good enough.
So, between his junior football season and his senior season Balsiger went to work.
He worked hard, he worked constantly and he worked with determination.
And the results were, well, record-breaking.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Balsiger, in his senior year, had arguably the best-ever season that a Tualatin receiver had every had - finishing his high school football career as the sole possessor of four school receiving records.
Put that record-breaking 2010 football season together with being part of a close-knit team and enjoying a season that saw the Wolves win the Pacific Conference championship and advance all the way to the Class 6A state championship game and it was a season to cherish.
Add in the basketball season which saw the athletic Balsiger be a key cog in Tualatin's playoff run and you've got a heck of a senior year.
'It definitely was a lot of fun,' Balsiger said last week as he looked back on his senior year at Tualatin. 'Going to the state championship game in football was really fun. And being together with the team was special. The camaraderie was had was really big. I had a lot of good friends on the basketball team. That whole season was fun.
'It definitely was a special senior year.'
And it just might have gotten a little more special.
That's because Balsiger has been named The Times' Athlete of the Year for Tualatin High School. The honor goes to the top senior-class athlete, as seen by The Times, at Tualatin High School for the 2010-2011 school year.
'Brian is an awesome kid,' Tualatin football coach Rob Hastin said. 'And he had a great senior year with football and basketball. He just put in the extra hours. He did all the preparation. He caught a lot of balls from (Tualatin quarterback) Matt (Yarbrough) and he had a great season.'
And what a season it was for Balsiger.
He finished his senior season with 62 catches for 850 yards and seven touchdowns while also earning first-team all-league and first-team Class 6A All-State honors.
His reception and receiving yards totals ranks as single-season school records. His career totals of 101 catches and 1,452 receiving yards also are school-record totals. He also holds a share of the school record for most touchdown receptions in a game with two.
'It's definitely cool,' Balsiger said with a smile in regard to breaking the records.
Years of hard work
Balsiger's trek to his record-breaking season began when he was a freshman, when he looked up to Tualatin senior receiver Matt Losli.
'I took as much away from him as I could,' Balsiger said. 'He was one of the hardest workers.'
That trait certainly seemed to rub off on Balsiger, especially between his junior and senior football seasons at Tualatin.
That also required Balsiger to make a tough decision. He decided not to play basketball his junior year, opting instead to keep training for his senior football season.
'That was tough,' he said. 'But I knew I wanted to play football in college and I wanted to use those extra three or four months to improve my skills, strength and speed.'
Balsiger's offseason work included training at the Barton Academy, hitting the weight room and doing whatever other preparation work he could.
'It definitely was a lot of hard work, but the best players put the work in,' Balsiger said. 'By the time my senior year rolled around, I really knew our offense and I was ready to go.'
And, with that, he took off.
He had seven catches for 93 yards in an early-season 33-21 win over Aloha. The next week, Balsiger caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Yarbrough in a 17-13 win over Hillsboro.
Balsiger had six catches for 73 yards and a touchdown in a 28-27 victory over rival Tigard.
'That was a fun game, and we deserved to win,' Balsiger said. 'Before the game, one of their coaches came over and told me that they were going to double-cover me the whole game.'
Shining in the playoffs
Balsiger kept rolling in the postseason. He had four grabs for 117 yards and a touchdown in a 24-14 quarterfinal win over South Salem.
And then there was the semifinal game with Jesuit.
It was a game that Balsiger and Tualatin fans will remember for a long, long time.
The Wolves trailed the Crusaders 22-14 going into the fourth quarter of that game. Balsiger caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Yarbrough with 8 minutes and 24 seconds left to play in the contest to cut the lead to 22-20.
Than, with 2:09 remaining, Balsiger and Yarbrough teamed up again, this time for a 16-yard touchdown strike that proved to be the game-winner in the Wolves' 26-22 victory.
'I knew that if I ran a good route, Matt would get me the ball,' Balsiger said. 'That was probably the most hard-nosed game we've played.'
'Brian made a lot of huge plays for us,' Hastin said. 'He and Matt were a great combination. Brian always produced for us.'
In the state championship game, the Wolves fell 34-13 to Aloha. Balsiger had six catches for 87 yards in that game, including a spectacular catch on the sidelines in front of the Warriors' bench. The Aloha players, coaches and fans yelled in protest, thinking Balsiger was out of bounds - until the replay was shown on the big screen, with Balsiger getting a foot inbounds.
'I knew I was in. I knew I got my left foot down,' Balsiger said. 'That was really cool.'
And so was Tualatin's season. The Wolves went 13-1 on the campaign - marking the best season in school history.
'Being part of the best team at Tualatin is definitely cool, especially with all of the tradition here - with players like Bubba Lemon, Kyle Johnson and Luke Staley,' Balsiger said. 'We had a lot of experience this year. We had one of the hardest-working senior classes and we had a lot of team camaraderie. We all got along.'
Back to basketball
Following his standout football season, Balsiger decided to return to the basketball for his senior season on the hardwood.
'I just said 'why not?'' Balsiger said about returning to basketball. 'I knew it would be good for me conditioning-wise, and I had a lot of good friends on the team. And I love coach (Rick) Osborn.'
While Balsiger had many big games for the Tualatin boys basketball team, one stands out in particular to him - a 59-56 overtime win over rival Tigard in a Pacific Conference game played Jan. 21 at Tualatin High School.
Balsiger played every single minute of that game, scoring 17 points and pulling down six rebounds.
'It was awesome to be part of that,' Balsiger said. 'It was the most fun basketball game ever. It just went back and forth the whole way - they scored, we scored. It was probably the biggest crowd we every had. It just sent chills up my spine.'
The whole Tigard-Tualatin rivalry seemed to be special to Balsiger.
'There's so much respect there,' he said. 'Each time, both teams give it their all. But we all care about each other.'
Always there to watch Balsiger in those games against Tigard, as well as the other Tualatin games, is his supportive family, including his parents, Steve and Renee Balsiger.
'I don't remember a game where someone from my family wasn't there,' said Brian Balsiger, whose younger sister, Lauren, just finished her freshman year at Tualatin High School. 'The support they gave me was really important. It's definitely cool to see that.'
Balsiger's family won't have to travel far to see him play college football, as he'll join the Portland State University squad in the fall.
'I'm really looking forward to it,' Balsiger said. 'Everyone can still support me at Portland State.'
'He's definitely determined and he's got the skill set to be a Portland State Viking,' Hastin said.
If nothing else, Portland State should know that it's getting a receiver that is willing to put in all the hard work and preparation that is needed. And, who knows, there just might be some more records waiting to be broken.