Sailors shoot for 3-0 record

Steamboat hopes to remain undefeated as it faces Berthoud tonight

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Linemen learn they will receive little praise when a quarterback completes a 40-yard pass or when a running back tallies more than 100 yards in a game.

Defensive linemen often shoulder the blame when they fail to put pressure on the opposition's quarterback or when they allow an opposing team's running backs chunks of yardage up the middle.

Linemen have the thankless job in football, be it in high school, college or the NFL. But Steamboat Springs coach Mark Drake said the solid play of the Sailors' relatively inexperienced offensive and defensive lines is a major reason Steamboat is off to an impressive 2-0 start this year.

Senior Michael Herbert is the lone returning starter from last year's offensive line. This year, he has been joined up front by senior Taylor Leary, juniors Chris Baumann and Kevin Dombey, and sophomore Vince Grippa.

Senior Kris Gayer and junior Wayne Buelter contribute on Steamboat's defensive line, where Baumann and Herbert also made significant contributions in 2002.

Much is made of quarterbacks developing a timing with their receivers and running backs on passing routes and handoffs, but the offensive and defensive lines function as a unit, relying on each player to execute his specific assignment for the play to succeed, particularly on offense.

One missed block is the difference between a sack and an 8-yard gain or a 25-yard pass completion.

Heading into a 7 p.m. game today at Berthoud, the Sailors have amassed a combined 811 yards in two games, scoring a combined 91 points. Names such as David May, Lonny Radford and Brad Bonner show up in the statistics, but the line is at the heart of Steamboat's explosive offense.

"That's one thing I think we really need to focus on," Drake said. "For those kids to come around and do what they are doing ... I hope we can continue getting better and better. We are still young and inexperienced."

While the Sailors' early season mark isn't necessarily a surprise, the lopsidedness of the victories was unexpected. Mixing the run with the pass, Steamboat kept Sierra's and Eagle Valley's defenses off balance, while the Sailors' defense prevented the Stallions and Devils from repeated scoring drives and countless big plays.

"Part of it is great chemistry with the players and coaches and the players just stepping up," Drake said of the early season wins. "It's amazing what you can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit."

Tonight's game (1-1) marks Steamboat's final nonleague chance to bring everything together before opening the league season Sept. 19 against Montezuma-Cortez.

Drake said he's looking for consistency on offense, defense and special teams. While it's easy to look at a scoreboard and see 56 points -- as the Steamboat (2-0) players did against Eagle Valley on Sept. 5 -- there are many areas where the Sailors can improve.

Drake said he's spent the week emphasizing the positives Steamboat has accomplished thus far, but with the reinforcement of game film, he has been able to point out areas where improvements need to be made, such as sustaining blocks, running crisper passing routes and winning the leverage game on the lines.

Also on Drake's to-do list is reminding his Steamboat team to expect a different Berthoud team than the one the Sailors routed 49-6 last season.

The Spartans return seven starters on each side of the ball, in addition to receiving a roster boost by adding a number of junior varsity players who went undefeated last season.

After going 1-9 last season, Berthoud is already 1-1. The 7-0 defeat came at the hands of Eaton, the defending Class 2A state champs. Berthoud rebounded by defeating Mesa Ridge, 26-14. Last season, the Spartans lost to both schools.

"After talking to coaches, it seems as if Berthoud is a much better ball club," Drake said. "They seem physical and don't seem to have one go-to guy."

And as the Sailors know first-hand, being balanced and tough goes a long way toward succeeding.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208

or e-mail mmawdsley @steamboatpilot.com

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