Saturday, August 20, 2005
Steamboat Springs football players wore white jerseys with no names and no numbers.
Until the boys lined up at their positions Saturday, it was impossible to tell who was who at the Sailors' intrasquad scrimmage.
That is the team-first attitude Steamboat hopes will carry it back to the elite of the Western Slope League.
"This group meshes together," junior lineman Lane Shipley said. "We lost a couple good guys, but it's a lot more about the team, like we had two years ago."
That season ended with Steamboat making a run to the Class 3A semifinals. Last year, Steamboat missed the playoffs after opening the season 0-5. The Sailors ended the year 4-5 after winning their final four league games.
"We want to get back to where we were at the end of last year," junior quarterback Tanner Stillwell said. "We all want to come out and play hard."
Stillwell said the team's work ethic has been strong. Second-year coach Aar--on Finch agreed.
"Where we are, I'm pretty happy," Finch said.
Steamboat went to team camp in Wyoming this summer, and the linemen finished second at the King of the Mountain camp at Mountain Vista High School.
The Sailors welcome back three starting linemen: Ship--ley, Vince Grippa and Zack Sa--vage. Upperclassmen Justin Howard, Tyler Robinson, Alex Centner and Tucker Campbell are in the mix to protect Stillwell.
"We put a whole new blocking system in," Shipley said. "But we have a smart group of linemen. That's why we can run a complicated offense."
Steamboat, as usual, doesn't have a lot of size, but the Sailors are athletic and quick, including their lines. Where Steamboat may have the biggest question mark is in the backfield. Last year, Brad Bonner played nearly every snap and got a majority of the carries en route to an All-League season. He is gone.
But Stillwell is back. At nearly 200 pounds, he has the arm and legs to help carry the Sailors, but Finch said players have stepped up to try to fill those running back spots. Walker Hammond was the front-runner for one of the starting jobs, but the speedy senior has mononucleosis, and his return date is uncertain.
One disappointment this sum--mer will be not having the full team available for the season-opener at 1 p.m. Saturday against Class 5A Aurora Central, Finch said. Several Steamboat players, including veteran Thomas Allen, were on the sidelines with injuries Sat--urday. Finch is hoping to have everyone healthy when league play begins Sept. 9.
At the same time, Finch said, Steamboat is using this opportunity to build depth, particularly on defense.
The Sailors run a unique 3-5 scheme, and defensive coordinator Lonn Clementson and new assistant coach Benny Tollar were hooting and hollering with every play during Saturday's scrimmage. If the Sailors execute and hit opponents as hard as they were hitting one another Saturday, they likely will be a difficult team to run against, especially to the outside.
In the Western Slope League, as is the case at every level, stopping the run and forcing teams into third-and-long situations is key.
This year, Palisade is an easy pick to win the league. Defending state champion Rif--le and Moffat County have to replace many linemen and skill players, giving teams such as Glenwood Springs and Steamboat a chance to finish near the top.
"We always have a good, strong league," Finch said.
Steamboat opens league play against Palisade, Rifle and Moffat County in three consecutive weeks. It is a challenging schedule, but the Sailors, assuming they stay healthy and get their injured seniors back, should be able to compete with all three teams.