By Dave Hart

MUSKEGON – Korey Ringer’s job became a lot more important for the West Michigan Ironmen this season.

In 2016 he was the starting running back and a key member of the Ironmen attack, helping the team advance all the way to the American Indoor Football league’s championship game.

Ringer wasn’t the focal point of the offense. The AIF was predominantly a passing league, so the Ironmen were largely dependent on veteran quarterback Alex Carder throwing to standout receivers like Corey Johnson, Donovan Campbell and Justin Mott.

Korey Ringer

But that changed this season, when the Ironmen left the AIF and joined the Champions Indoor Football league. Carder and the receivers still play big roles, but the running game is much more prominent in the CIF, making Ringer’s performance crucial for the team.

He has responded by becoming the most productive running back in the CIF, much to the delight of Ironmen fans.

Through eight games, Ringer leads the team and league with 470 yards on 96 carries, with a pretty amazing 19 touchdowns.

Remember, those 470 yards were gained on an indoor football field, which is only 50 yards long.

“This league is more of a running-type league,” said Ironmen Coach Ty Lynk. “It’s more of an outdoor game indoors. There is more man-on-man type blocking. There are more run-blocking schemes.

“His running takes some pressure off Alex (Carder) and our offensive coordinators. Once he gets the ball in his hands he’s electric, and he knows how to play in limited space.”

Ringer will play a key role as the Ironmen begin their final push for a postseason playoff spot, beginning on Saturday at L.C. Walker Arena against the Bloomington Edge at 7:05 p.m.

The final home game of the season will be May 12 against Omaha.

Ringer looks for the open lane while carrying the ball against Sioux City. Photo/Joe Lane

Having the next two games at home could be good timing, because Ringer has done some of his best work at in front of West Michigan fans.

Two weeks ago the Ironmen upset previously unbeaten Sioux City 76-31 at L.C. Walker Arena. Ringer was dominant in the victory, rushing for 110 yards on 17 carries with four touchdowns.

He ran for 89 yards and two touchdowns in a 56-34 win over Bloomington at home on April 8. He also had an 89-yard, four touchdown performance in a 50-47 home loss to Kansas City on March 18.

“I would not be able to do it without my offensive line,” said Ringer about his current success. “This league’s game style has presented an opportunity. There are extra defensive backs, and the other team cannot bring both linebackers in.”

“This type of game is still new to all of us.”

Ringer, who is from Dayton, Ohio, played football at Ferris State University during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

He did pretty well with Coach Tony Annese’s team, rushing for 398 yards and three touchdowns in 2012 and 291 yards with three TDs in 2013.

Ringer broke a bone in his forearm during his senior year at Ferris in 2013. It was a devastating injury that forced him out of football for a couple years.

Ringer gets up after a play against Sioux City. Photo/Leo Valdez

“It was tough,” he said about his time away from the sport. “I didn’t know where to go with my life. I knew playing football was something I still wanted to do.”

Ringer broke into arena football in 2015, playing for a team in Arizona. He signed a contract to play for a team in Green Bay in 2016, but did not make the squad.

The former coach of the Green Bay team helped him land a tryout with the Ironmen, and he fit in perfectly. Suddenly Ringer’s career is looking up again.

“It was a no-brainer to pick West Michigan,” Ringer said. “I chose to stick to Michigan. Ohio raised me but Michigan made me.”

The last four games of the regular season will be critical for the Ironmen as they battle for the playoffs.

They are currently 3-5 and in fifth place in the CIF Northern Division, a half-game behind Bismarck for the final playoff spot.

The top four teams in the division make the playoffs.

The Ironmen have been on an upward trajectory lately. After starting the season in their new league 0-3, they have won three of their last five games.

Ringer said it’s up to him and his teammates to keep improving and get the job done.

“We need to realize with this game, every snap counts, and we have to win every snap,” he said. “It’s not about my personal goals. It’s about figuring out a way to get the offense going. To make the playoffs we all have to do our jobs.”