Eagle Valley hopes the skill of its defensive backfield and linebacking unit can help ease the transition for 10 new offensive starters in the opening games of its 2003 schedule.
Eagle Valley faces Steamboat Springs at 7 p.m. today at Gardner Field.
Despite Eagle Valley's losses on offense, Steamboat Springs football coach Mark Drake doesn't expect much of a drop in talent when the Devils hit the field.
For one, Eagle Valley boasts one of the largest rosters in Class 2A. Enrollment numbers in the district have increased enough that the Devils may be on target to rejoin Steamboat's league in the next year or two, Drake said.
Secondly, the Devils, coached by former Sailor John Ramunno, finished 11-1 last season. Eagle Valley lost to Eaton in the state semifinals after an undefeated regular season capped off by a league championship. One of the wins was a 28-20 victory over Steamboat. In that game, the Sailors were outplayed in the secondary and on the lines, Drake said.
A 37-7 win over Battle Mountain last weekend proves the Devils are capable of putting up points -- and shutting others down.
Battle Mountain is playing an independent schedule in an attempt to build numbers and confidence before rejoining the Western Slope league next fall. Still, Eagle Valley's large margin of victory was impressive for a first game of the year.
Equally impressive was Steamboat's performance in its season-opening win against Sierra on Aug. 30.
In the 35-20 win, Steamboat debuted an offense capable of big plays via the air and on the ground. Defensively, the Sailors did a much better job covering the sidelines than in their game last year against the Devils, holding the Stallions to few big plays.
"I was really pleased with the effort level," Drake said after reviewing the Sierra game tape. "With the little experience we had, the line did a decent job. We do have a lot of room for improvement with the timing and trying to get perfection, but for the first game, they did a relatively decent job."
For a second nonleague game, Drake said it doesn't get much tougher than Eagle Valley. He has respect for the Devils and Ramunno, who played for Drake.
While playing down a class hurts Steamboat if it has to rely on a wildcard bid to earn a playoff spot, facing a team as talented, tough and balanced as Eagle Valley is perhaps a better preparation tool for league play than facing an easy Class 3A or 4A team.