West Ranch High School football head coach Chris Varner got a pleasant surprise at a spring 2020 practice, one that would change the future of his program.
At that practice was Ryan Staub, who grew up in Stevenson Ranch before choosing to follow his older brother, Jared, to Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth. Less than two years later, Staub was back in his hometown and looking to make his mark as a Wildcat.
“I guess at the time, it was just the best fit for me and my brother, my family,” Staub said of choosing to go to Sierra Canyon. “And things happened and I came back to my hometown school and it was the best decision I ever made. And I never looked back since.
“I think it worked out pretty good in my favor.”
Staub, who eventually became the team’s starting quarterback, threw for more than 5,000 yards combined in his junior and senior seasons. He earned the Foothill League’s Offensive Player of the Year as a junior in 2021 after throwing for 2,414 yards and 21 touchdowns, and his performance drew the interest of multiple Division I universities.
“He was in high demand,” Varner said. “He had I want to say like 25 schools that came out. He was obviously a big interest for them, and it was just exciting.”
Staub eventually chose the University of Colorado, indicating his commitment in a tweet on Jan. 31, 2021. The decision to commit prior to his senior season was key for Staub, who went on to throw for more than 3,000 yards and 37 touchdowns – against just five interceptions – as he led the Wildcats to an undefeated regular season and the program’s first Foothill League title. Staub would go on to earn the Foothill League’s Player of the Year award.
“You don’t have to feel like every game or every play is a chance to try to have to prove yourself,” Staub said. “You already feel like you’ve proven yourself. It’s definitely a lot of confidence that it brings and a lot of security, and you don’t have to worry about a questionable future.”
But as Staub’s star kept growing, Colorado’s stock was dropping, and fast. The Buffaloes went 1-11 in 2022, winning their lone game in overtime over the University of California, 20-13. Karl Dorell was fired as the head coach on Oct. 2 following the team’s 0-5 start.
It would be just over two months before the Buffaloes finally named a new head coach, and what a splash they made, announcing that former Jackson State University head coach Deion Sanders, a two-time Super Bowl champion and 1994 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, would be the new head coach.
Sounds great, right?
For some, yes. For others, no. Luckily, Staub was one of those few recruits that Sanders decided to keep, and on Dec. 12, Staub officially committed to Colorado.
“Being in the Pac-12 and being a dream school of mine, being a beautiful place and a fun school to go to,” Staub listed as some of the reasons for choosing Colorado. “And then having tons of talent and tons of recruits coming there now, it makes it even more appealing.
“Nothing told me that it wouldn’t work out. The only sort of uncertainty was those first couple of days after the whole coaching staff got hired, me and along with the other about 20 commits hadn’t heard anything from the coaches. That was very uncertain and very scary because you didn’t know what your future was. You didn’t know. And on the fourth day after getting hired, we all started getting phone calls, and fortunately, mine was good news.”
Staub initially got his call from Chandler Dorell, the director of player personnel at Colorado, confirming that he was indeed being kept on as a recruit. Just a few days later, Staub made a trip to Boulder, Colorado, and it was there that he got to meet his future head coach for the first time.
“It was pretty cool,” Staub said. “It’s obviously a cool experience to meet a football legend like that, but at the end of the day, he’s just gonna be my coach.”
Staub may know where he’ll be playing and studying, but his fight to be a starting quarterback at the college level will continue, or so it seems. When Sanders was named the head coach, he announced that his son, Shadeur, would be transferring from Jackson State to become the Buffaloes’ new quarterback.
It’s a challenge that Varner has seen Staub overcome before when he first transferred to West Ranch and won the Wildcats’ quarterback job.
“Ryan has a confidence that isn’t arrogance,” Varner said. “Ryan’s a smart kid, he’s gonna go in there and he’s gonna do what he should, and that’s just kind of get a feel for what’s going on … He’s coming in at a time where everything’s new, so I think he can write his own script.”
Staub’s love of football was formed at an early age when he would watch the big college and NFL games on TV. Shortly after he began playing himself, he found that having a good arm, along with being a natural leader, meant being a quarterback.
“I think it just fits my personality,” Staub said.
And while his role model in life is his father, Craig, the quarterback Staub tries to model himself after is Baker Mayfield, the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner while at the University of Oklahoma and the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick by the Cleveland Browns.
“Sort of a chip on his shoulder and having a dog mentality,” Staub said. “Always kind of being the underdog and being doubted as a two-time walk-on. He proves himself every time. Heisman Trophy winner. Even in the NFL, he faces adversity, he always just seems to kind of climb back and, at the end of day, kind of be victorious in his own way.”
Varner has known Staub since he was 11 years old when Varner’s son, Austin, was on the same youth football team as Staub. Staub went on to become Varner’s ball boy before the two revamped their relationship as coach and quarterback.
“He’s always been an affable, intelligent, respectful kid,” Varner said. “He just learned more words as he got older. But he’s generally been that same happy-go-lucky talker.”
Staub has apparently also always been highly intelligent. He was in Varner’s AP psychology class as a senior, and upon graduation this past semester, he finished with a 4.08 weighted grade point average.
“It’s almost like a feather in your cap to be able to say [to recruiters], ‘Not only is he a tremendous athlete, football player, but he’s also a great kid, look at these grades,’” Varner said. “He’s the whole package.”
Staub, though, was happier to report that some of his teammates have been doing even better than he did in the classroom.
“We had a lot of kids with well over a 4.0 GPA, and I think that’s just such a good reflection on not only the kids, but especially coach Varner,” Staub said.
Based on those reports, it’s no secret how the Wildcats became a powerhouse in the Foothill League as well as the Southern Section, to an extent.
Of course, they still had to prove it on the field, and the game that may have sealed the Wildcats as the top team in the Foothill League was when they beat Saugus on Sept. 23, 43-6. That game — on top of winning the Foothill League, Player of the Year, etc. — holds a special place in Staub’s heart, for both competitive reasons and personal reasons.
“I think it’s special,” Staub said, “because they got us the year before … And so we kind of returned the favor and flipped the tables on them a little bit. But also a little bit of the sort of personal side of it for me is that they had banners up in the stadium about me and they had student section chants and all this sort of stuff to kind of make it just even that much better.”
With Staub now gone, it’s natural to assume that West Ranch won’t reach quite the same stratosphere as this past edition.
Not so fast, Staub thinks. He has seen what new quarterback Jackson Presley, a midseason freshman transfer from Alemany, can bring to the table. He knows what it takes to succeed at the high school level. And Staub thinks Presley will settle in just fine and lead West Ranch to even more success.
“At West Ranch, we’ve had three consecutive DI quarterbacks in a row,” Staub said. “Starting with Weston Eget, went to New Mexico State. Walker, his brother, went to San Jose. And me, I’m going to Colorado. [Presley] is looking like he’s the fourth one to be a DI quarterback, so I think that’s huge just for our program. I think we’re starting to really show that we produce quarterbacks.”
Produce and develop. Varner saw a much-improved Staub as he and the Wildcats were getting ready prior to Staub’s junior season, and he only sees more improvement coming on the way.
“He’s always been a natural athlete. He’s a good baseball player, too,” Varner said. “There was no question ever about his potential or his athleticism … The kid, he’s not shy going into the weight room. He’s one of our strongest benchers, squats like an animal and isn’t scared to put in the work. I always knew that the physical capability was there, it was just, ‘Was the effort [going to be there]?’ The answer can be the same with any athlete: Do they have the effort to see this come to fruition? And he more than did, obviously, because God gave him some tools and he took it around with him.”
Those tools are soon to reside in Boulder, where Staub hopes to make his mark on the college game.
“You know, you’re in high school and you’re the top dog, but you go to college, you got to work your way up the ranks,” Staub said. “I think I’m looking forward to that competition because that’s what’s gonna make me better at the end of the day. And it’s fun to compete, and it’s not going to come easy. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of time and a lot of probably months and years, and it’ll all pay off one day. So I look forward it.”