3A Western Slope outlook

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Palisade

Last year's record: 10-2

Returning starters: 14 (seven on offense, seven on defense)

Players to watch: OL Alex Hays (two-year starter, first team All-league, honorable mention All-state, signed with Wyoming), QB Jake Watt, WR Tanner Whaley

Analysis: After a change in its off-season lifting program to focus on hip strength, Palisade looks to rebound from its 2005 semifinal loss to eventual champion Florence. The team should get an early test when it plays Steamboat in week 3. Palisade lost two defensive lineman and three offensive lineman to graduation. The perennial powerhouse should fill in starters where it needs to and again find itself near the top of the Western Slope League standings.

Moffat County

Last year's record: 5-5

Returning starters: 10 (five on offense, five on defense)

Players to watch: QB Andrew Drake, MLB/FB J.T. Haddan, OL Blake Kawcak (three-year starter), OL Cory Pike (three-year starter)

Analysis: Moffat County mis-sed the playoffs for the first time in head coach Kip Hafey's tenure last year. The Bulldogs also fell out of the Top 10 for the first time in 50 weeks. Under Hafey, Moffat County is always competitive. Its season will hinge on how Drake makes the transfer from running back to quarterback.

Delta

Last year's record: 0-10

Returning starters: 18 (nine on offense, nine on defense)

Players to watch: LB/TE Lane Varner (two-year starter), LB/TE Garrett Riegel (two-year starter)

Analysis: Last year, Delta took its lumps in the Western Slope League. This year, it should be much improved. Delta returns plenty of players from last year's squad, but the team may still be a year away from competing with the top squads in the Western Slope League. Look for Delta to again finish at the bottom of the league.

Eagle Valley

Last year's record: 10-2

Returning starters: 12 (six on offense, six on defense)

Players to watch: QB Mike Medsker (honorable mention All-league), RB Brendan Dest, FB/LB Nick Whitehead

Analysis: In only its second year in Class 3A, Eagle Valley made it to the state quarterfinals last year, where they lost to Steamboat Springs. The team graduated its starting backfield but will insert running back Brendan Dest, who placed second at 179 pounds in the state wrestling tournament. Last year, the team had a small, quick offensive line. This year, it will be significantly bigger across the front. The defensive line also will insert bigger bodies in place of small, penetrating lineman. Despite losing a lot of players in skill positions, look for Eagle Valley to be near the top of the league.

Montezuma-Cortez

Last year's record: 2-8

Returning starters: 12 (six on offense, six on defense)

Players to watch: QB Darren Wayman (four-year starter), RB Tim Halper (honorable mention All-league)

Analysis: Montezuma-Cortez lost only one starter on the offensive line and returns the most experienced quarterback in the Western Slope League. The team will run the same offense and defense as last year with most of the same personnel. Montezuma-Cortez should improve on last year's record if its players can stay healthy. Expect the team to battle for the last playoff spot.

Glenwood Springs

Last year's record: 3-7

Returning starters: 10 (five on offense, five on defense)

Players to watch: OL/DL Nate Forristall (honorable mention All-league) CB/WR Connor S/WR Jackson Alex Mcpherson, QB Dakota Stonehouse (started last four games as a freshman)

Analysis: Glenwood returns only five seniors to what will be one of the greenest teams in the league. On the defensive side of the ball, the team should be small but active. Offensively, the squad will change philosophies to build around its skill players. With an influx of players at running back and wide receiver, look for more of a spread formation. This year is a rebuilding year for Glenwood Springs, so look for the team to finish at the bottom of the Western Slope League.

Rifle

Last year's record: 9-5

Returning starters: Eight (four on offense, four on defense)

Players to watch: RB/LB Tyler Thompson (first team All-league, second team All-state)

Analysis: Though Rifle hasn't been the beast of the league during the regular season, come playoff time, it dominates. Two years ago, Rifle won the state championship, and last year it finished second. This year, Rifle has six players coming to the team from other schools, so how well they perform is still up in the air. After winning their championship, Rifle lost 21 seniors and still went on to finish second in the state the next year. This year, Rifle lost only 10 seniors, so expect the team to be very competitive. Something to note is that the loser of the Palisade-Rifle regular season game has made the state title game the past four seasons. Expect Rifle to be right near the top of the league again.

Battle Mountain

Last year's record: 2-8

Returning starters:16 (eight on offense, eight on defense)

Players to watch: QB Bart Cuomo, OL/DL Mitch Gray, OL/DL Jamie Hijmans

Analysis: After struggling for the past couple years, Battle Mountain returns the most experienced team in the Western Slope League. It should be strong on the offensive line as it returns three starters. Cuomo has led the team for the last two years. If he can get help from the skill positions around him, look for Battle Mountain to fight for a playoff spot.

Steamboat Springs

Last year's record: 10-2

Returning starters: Nine (five on offense, four on defense)

Players to watch: DL Lane Shipley (first team All-league, first team all-state), LB Westin Cofer (first team All-league, first team All-state), QB Tanner Stillwell (three-year starter), RB Jay Hanley

Analysis: See preview story on page 1C

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