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Steamboat Springs Even in a phone conversation, Daren Mangiaracina's excitement comes through.
As the eighth-grade football coach for Steamboat Springs, he is responsible for preparing his players to join the high school ranks. This year, however, the young Sailors played with a savvy beyond their years, finishing 7-1.
"We should have gone 8-0," Mangiaracina said. "We beat Craig both times. We haven't done that since I don't know when.
"We really had a smart team, really disciplined and a pretty athletic bunch."
Mangiaracina is starting to see some of the players he coached in middle school have high school success, and he is hoping for the same from this year's eighth-grade team. He pointed out two particular Steamboat players who had great seasons with the help of teammates.
Running back Joe Dover finished "with something in the ballpark of 22 touchdowns," Mangiaracina said. "This is a kid to look for in the future if he stays healthy. The things he does, you can't coach."
Another player Mangiaracina made note of was quarterback Austin Hinder.
"He's probably the most versatile quarterback I've had," Mangiaracina said. "Football has been instilled in this kid. We threw the ball more than anybody.
"We ran a full shotgun spread offense. We had run it a little bit in the past. We definitely had not run it as well as we ran it this year, by any means."
It didn't stop there. Mangiaracina said he had height and athleticism at wide receiver and size and power at fullback.
"We were solid at the skill positions and had some depth, which was nice to see," he said. "Some games, we would run seven or eight kids at running back. I had some pretty solid linemen, too ... kids who showed up that first practice and wanted to play line. I don't have that often."
The only loss this season was a 28-21 setback to a Meeker team that went unbeaten.
"That's a team that should win state when they are in high school," Mangiaracina said. "Our first-string defense did not really get scored on until the Meeker game."
Steamboat was up 13-0 at halftime before Meeker rallied to win.
"This one was back and forth," Mangiaracina said. "We threw the ball numerous times. The clock ran out, and we got stopped on the 4. We had a chance to maybe win it."
Between seventh and eighth grades, the boys make progress and physical leaps. Consequently, Mangiaracina was able to throw more complex schemes at the players.
"We do the same stuff as they do at the high school, just at a toned down level," he said. "Coach (Aaron) Finch gave me his playbook. As much as we can do to help him out, I will be glad to do."