Steamboat Springs A quick glance down at the roster indicated problems from the get-go.
Of the 30 people out for football at the beginning of the season in Hayden, 21 or 70 percent were freshmen and sophomores.
Regardless of a school's size or the coach's past successes, inexperience and size limitations are hard to overcome.
Heading into tonight's season finale against Rangely at Hayden Field, Tigers first-year coach Scott Parker believes the team has made strides in the right direction.
Big plays, particularly late in recent games, indicate the players have familiarized themselves with the new schemes of Parker and assistants Shawn Baumgartner and Leif Jacobsen.
"They've also grown more confident in themselves," Parker said.
Hayden's defense has amassed eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries in the past three games.
Two of the three contests against Grand Valley Oct. 4 and Soroco Oct. 18 ended well for the Tigers. The other game was a blowout loss to West Grand, which has established itself as the class of the Western Slope League.
Parker said he is not surprised it has taken took the underclassmen a while to adjust to the tempo on the high school level, considering some jumped from middle school football to the varsity. Parker believes the progress made at the end of this season bodes well for the next.
But before Parker and the Tigers can think about the 2003 campaign, they would like to finish 2002 on a winning note against Rangely, particularly for the five Hayden seniors that endured a coaching change and a rough season in their final year.
"They've provided great leadership," Parker said. "It was a really easy transition."
The seniors include Kelly Bruchez, Blair Brown, Alan Stark, Chris Bray and Alan Lighthizer any day.
"They've meant everything," Parker said.
The Tigers enter tonight's game at 4-4 overall and 2-4 in the league. Hayden is two points from being alone at 3-3 in the Western Slope, good for fourth place behind West Grand, Paonia and Meeker.
Instead, the Tigers will fight to finish 3-4 and tie Plateau Valley/De Beque for fourth since it's likely both Plateau Valley/De Beque and Grand Valley will lose to Meeker and Paonia, respectively.
Rangely, at 2-6 overall and 2-4 in the league, is vying for the same thing.
The postseason was a goal of Hayden's, but the additions of Rangely and particularly Meeker and Paonia have made the struggle even harder given West Grand's dominance in the league prior to the trio's arrival.
Three teams are all the Western Slope is automatically allowed to send to the playoffs, meaning the Tigers have work to do to close the gap.
"We have to get stronger," Parker said. "And that comes from being in the weight room."