VERDIGRIS — One mustn’t be perfect to be a perfect parent, but Eli Runyan believes his mother and father come close to that distinction.
The Verdigris senior lineman certainly trusts in himself and his abilities, but having positive reinforcement at home is a major plus, especially for the development of young men in high school like himself.
For Runyan, no person has influenced and inspired him more than his parents, Bryan and Leslie.
“They told me every day that I can do whatever I want to do,” Runyan said.
That inspiration stems from the solid foundation his parents built for him through their successful careers in the workforce.
As parents, setting a good example and teaching children strong values is half the battle, and Bryan and Leslie have certainly excelled in doing that for Runyan and his younger brother, Ben.
Bryan is the captain of the Tulsa Fire Department, and Leslie is the Chief of Human Resources Officer at Tulsa Federal Credit Union.
Although demanding jobs, they haven’t interfered with the Runyan’s family life.
Runyan recalled several instances in which his father sacrificed his off days to help his son improve his football intangibles.
“Every day he wasn’t at the station, if I wanted to go work on something, he was always willing to help me work,” Runyan said. “He was always willing to take me to camps over the summer, and that really helped improve me this year.”
Those small sacrifices led to Runyan becoming the starting nose guard and defensive end for the Cardinals.
However, those roles weren’t simply handed to Runyan. He had to earn them the old fashion way—through hard work, determination and never backing down from a challenge.
The challenges were many and not far between.
At 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds as a freshman, Runyan said he knew he wasn’t the biggest, strongest or even the fastest at his positions.
His adolescent growth continued, though, and he found himself thrust into a starting role as a sophomore following an injury to a teammate.
The experience was grand, but it didn’t last long.
His comrade returned after four weeks and retook his place as a starter, relegating Runyan back to the sidelines.
“After he came back, I went back to not playing much on Fridays,” Runyan said. “That offseason and the offseason before my senior year definitely helped me. I had to push myself in the weight room every single day, and I had to do stuff on my own every single day just to see the field because there’s a lot of talented kids over here.”
Around that time, Runyan suffered a labral tear of the shoulder, an injury he has yet to fully recover from.
He was cleared to play his junior year, but the injury bug visited once again earlier this summer during a football camp at Bixby.
This time it was a rotator cup injury to the opposite shoulder, but luckily for Runyan, the recovery period didn’t span into the regular season.
“I battled through a lot of shoulder injuries that have kept me on my toes and kept me in and out of the loop playing wise,” Runyan said. “I’ve had to overcome that mental obstacle of knowing if I was actually good to go or if I was just going to hurt myself worse and screw myself in the long run.”
The struggles weren’t done there, though.
Runyan experienced yet another shoulder injury in the regular season finale against Berryhill on Nov. 8, forcing him to leave the game early.
Runyan again wasn’t impaired for long, and he managed to play the entirety of Verdigris’ 41-6 victory over Idabel in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs on Nov. 15.
“Being able to come back and get cleared for Idabel was huge for me,” Runyan said. “It’s just a matter of how much pain I can take at this point. I don’t think I’m going to make it any worse, so it’s just if I’m going to be man enough to play with it.”
Staying healthy is now a crucial objective for Runyan as the seventh-ranked Cardinals continue their postseason run.
With No. 4 Perkins-Tryon (10-1) on deck for Friday’s quarterfinal, he will perhaps need the shoulder and upper-body strength from his 6-1, 210-pound frame more than ever.
The Demons boast one of the most talented offensive and defensive lines in the state—comparable to those of Sperry and Berryhill—and their only loss came in a 28-21 decision to defending champion and top-ranked Heritage Hall on Oct. 11.
“We’ve been the underdogs since this season started,” Runyan said. “We’re not unused to this feeling right now. We’re definitely gonna have to come locked in and ready to go against a really, really good team.”
Regardless of the result, Runyan will return home to a loving family that continually inspires him to new levels of success.
“I had to work my butt off to even see the field, but (my parents) pushing me every day and always having them at home has definitely pushed me to be a better football player,” Runyan said.