Saturday, August 28, 2004
Last year is done and gone. But the disappointment of a close semifinal loss to Florence in the November snow lingers and inspires the Steamboat Springs football team, particularly its seniors, to go one step further this season.
"When we walked off the field in Florence, we saw what we have the potential to be," senior Charlie Pappas said.
Pappas is the perfect example of potential. Out of nowhere, in his first year as a linebacker, he became an all-state defender for the Sailors last season, a season in which individual goals played a distant second to winning. He and the other Sailors are taking a similar approach this season.
"They've decided they want to be a good football team," first-year head coach Aaron Finch said. "They've allowed us to work them hard. I've been pleased with how hard this group of seniors has been willing to work and how contagious that has been for the team."
There was no shortage of vocal leaders on last year's squad, a class with equal parts flamboyance and talent, and that flair defined the Sailors.
This year's team is different. Other than Pappas, the seniors are a relatively quiet bunch. But they practice hard and fast, knowing every team Steamboat beat last season, and in some cases embarrassed, is that much more determined to upend the Sailors this time around.
"All the pressure is on," senior Brad Bonner said.
No one may have more pressure than Bonner. He is the lone player returning in Steamboat's offensive backfield. Senior Tyler Fosdick was a starter last year, but he has moved to quarterback. Speedy senior Daniel Coloccia is back from Denver. Senior Clay McKenzie and junior Walker Hammond will join him in the backfield. Those three and Bonner, as well as the mobile Fosdick, give the Sailors the powerful and fast ground game they did not have last season.
"Last year was definitely a passing offense," Bonner said. "This year it's the other way around."
Keying the offense is its linemen, a group of players, especially seniors Chris Baumann and Wayne Buelter, that spent the summer bulking up and beating up on other teams at camps. The pair won a lineman challenge in July at the King of the Mountain Tournament in Highlands Ranch.
There are bigger linemen in the Class 3A Western Slope League, but few are quicker and stronger than Baumann and Buelter. They, along with returning starter Vince Grippa, will be responsible for helping a new crop of Steamboat linemen acclimate to varsity play.
"We have similar athleticism this year," said Finch, a former lineman. "But our line is bigger. The offense is similar with new wrinkles we haven't put in yet."
While the offense won't be drastically different from last year's, the defense will be. The basic four linemen-three linebackers set used by many high school teams is gone. In its place is a three linemen-five linebackers set designed to use Steamboat's speed, strength and nasty streak.
"It's hard to run against," said Bonner, who doubles as a linebacker when not carrying the ball. "The coaches have seen from college this defense can be dominant."
And early on, as the Sailors' offense works on its timing, the defense likely will carry the team. There should be no weak link on it. The line, linebackers and secondary are all experienced, tested and can tackle, which will be essential in the new scheme.
"It's a hard-hitting defense," Pappas said. "It's ugly, but it works."
Steamboat's journey to return to the Class 3A playoffs begins at 1 p.m. Saturday in Arvada.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org