Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs football team may be three games into its schedule, but the players and coaches feel the season is just beginning.
The Sailors' (3-0) true season the all-important league schedule starts Friday night as the team sets foot in Glenwood Springs to meet the struggling Glen-
"It really counts now," running back Joe Liefer said.
"It's something that counts for playoffs. It's not something where you can say 'we can get them next year,'" he said.
The Sailors are one of eight teams that will face-off Friday night to begin a month-and-a-half long quest for the Western Slope League title.
Opening weekend includes two of the state's top ranked teams, Rifle and Palisade, which are the only two teams that defeated Steamboat last year during the regular season.
"Palisade and Rifle are the teams to beat," said Mark Drake, Sailors head coach.
"Palisade has as many returning starters as anybody. Rifle has a great program down there."
In preseason polling, the Rocky Mountain News ranked Rifle as the No. 2 3A team in the state, followed by Palisade at No. 5.
"We have one of the toughest leagues in the state. There's a lot of good teams," Sailors defensive end Wes Adams said.
With 12 starters returning this year, Palisade is the only other team beside Steamboat to enter league competition undefeated.
Palisade has won all three of its games, beating Grand Junction (21-14), Montrose (35-11) and Florence (15-12).
After a 36-33 loss to Palisade last year, which occurred on the road, the Sailors will have revenge on their minds when they face the Bulldogs Sept. 28 at the local school's homecoming game.
"Last year, we should have beat them. The penalties killed us," Sailors defensive end Mike Radford said. "(Palisade) players said it was their toughest game."
Rifle comes into this weekend with a 2-1 record. In a 28-19 battle, Rifle lost to Fort Morgan, at team the Rocky Mountain News ranked No. 4 in 3A football.
The Bears, who returned only 6 starters and lost 18 seniors, have scored wins against Salida (46-12) and Denver North (20-14).
Steamboat defeated Salida earlier this year, 35-6.
Moffat County, which is 1-2, is another league game on the minds of the Sailors. With the intense rivalry between the two schools, the Oct. 12 showdown will be up for grabs regardless of team records.
Drake said the Bulldogs from Craig are always a tough team to beat.
Moffat County's lone win came against Green River, 20-10. The team lost to Faith Christian 41-16, and Chaparral 40-6.
With a 1-2 record, Battle Mountain is the only other league team with a win under its belt. Delta and Glenwood Springs have lost two games and Montezuma-Cortez has lost three.
Though the Sailors might have fewer starters returning than most, both Liefer and Radford agreed Steamboat will stack-up well in league play.
"We might have less experience playing," Liefer said. "But we have just as much talent as anyone in the league."
After coming off a lackluster 24-7 win against Highland, Liefer said the team has talked about increasing its intensity for league play.
"We want to blow them out of the water. Make plays, make things happen. Not the flatness we had in preseason," Liefer said.
With a total of 32 penalties and three turnovers for the season, clean games will also be crucial to the Sailors' success in the league.
"Penalties, mental mistakes, we need to work on our play timing more," Sailors tackle Steve Mahosky said.
"The offensive line needs to win every play."