Steamboat Springs High School senior quarterback Austin Hinder throws a pass during Saturday's scrimmage. The Sailors will play Holy Family at home Saturday.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs High School senior quarterback Austin Hinder throws a pass during Saturday's scrimmage. The Sailors will play Holy Family at home Saturday.

Senior-heavy football team dreaming of playoffs

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Football scrimmage

The Steamboat Springs High School football team held a scrimmage Saturday in preparation for next Saturday's season opener.

The Steamboat Springs High School football team held a scrimmage Saturday in preparation for next Saturday's season opener.

2009 football schedule

Steamboat Springs High School

Saturday vs. Holy Family, 1 p.m.

Sept. 11 at Delta, 7 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Montezuma-Cortez, 7 p.m.

Sept. 25 at Eagle Valley, 7 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Palisade, 7 p.m.

Oct. 9 vs. Rifle, 7 p.m.

Oct. 16 at Battle Mountain, 7 p.m.

Oct. 23 vs. Moffat County, 7 p.m.

Oct. 30 vs. Buena Vista, 7 p.m.

Nov. 6 at Glenwood Springs, 7 p.m.

— No coach wants to talk about it, and neither do most players. But a brief walk through the hallways of Steamboat Springs High School is the only reminder needed.

Thirty years ago, Steamboat won its last state football title. The memories of that season still are fresh in the minds of many residents, given the former players and coaches who still call Routt County home. And then there's the state championship banner hanging from the rafters in Kelly Meek Gymnasium.

"I'd like to say it's a dream," Steamboat senior Carl Steele said about this year's chances of bringing a title back to Northwest Colorado. "You just keep it in your mind. We have to make the playoffs before we can think of anything else. But we know we can go far."

Everything is set for Steamboat to go far. The Sailors have 18 seniors on their roster, most of whom took part in workouts all summer.

Starting quarterback Austin Hinder, a University of California-Berkeley commit, and receivers Jack Spady and Joe Dover, considered two of the top receivers in the Western Slope League, give the Sailors top talent at skill positions.

"It's kind of trite, I know, but you have to take it one day at a time," Steamboat coach Aaron Finch said. "You have to get a little bit better each day. We don't have to be a state championship team tomorrow. Hopefully, we get ourselves there by December."

Although the skill positions are premium, the season may come down to how an undersized but athletic offensive line comes together and how a retooled defense plays.

The key on both fronts could be Steele. The senior is a three-year starter on the offensive line, playing center predominately the past two years. At the end of last season, Steele was moved to left tackle to protect Hinder's blind side.

"Normally, I'll play against the fast guys and big guys on the line," Steele said. "But it's OK. I've got speed, too."

Defensively, not a lot will change for Steamboat. The team will run out of its base 3-5 front and blitz from the linebacker positions.

Finch said identifying his linebackers is the tough part. Starters Cody Harris and Mitchell Lekarczyk will be in the middle again this year. Former outside linebacker Jack Spady has moved to safety.

Still, Steamboat should be in a good position this year. Many Western Slope League teams lost a lot of talent through last year's graduation. A top-three spot in the league guarantees a playoff berth, something most Sailors say is the team's top goal.

"We should beat every team in our league with the way things are lined up," Spady said. "But we can't walk in thinking we're going to whip everyone."

Steamboat plays perennial powerhouse Palisade at Gardner Field but has to travel to last season's state champion Glenwood Springs for the final game of the regular season.

The Sailors should be tested early, however, as Steamboat opens at 1 p.m. Saturday at home against Holy Family - a top Class 2A team.

Although people might not see a full-strength Steamboat team until it opens league play, by that time, the Sailors should have a pretty good notion of where they stand and whether those dreams of a golden ball and a deep run into the playoffs are realistic.

"The most important thing about this year is to get the momentum moving," Steele said. "Get the snowball rolling and get it bigger and bigger until we're in the state playoffs."

Western Slope League outlook for 2009-10 high school football season

- Coaches' picks to win the league (could not vote for their own team)

Palisade: 4 votes

Glenwood Springs: 2

Steamboat Springs: 2

Moffat County: 1

- Coaches' picks for league top player (could vote for their own players)

Austin Hinder, QB, Steamboat: 8 votes

Nicholas Stephanus, OL/DL, Palisade: 2

Nick Ciani, LB, Glenwood Springs: 2

Jasen Kettle, RB, Moffat County: 1

Gene White, LB, Delta: 1

Clayton Gerard, LB, Eagle Valley: 1

Parker Robbins, QB, Battle Mountain: 1

Pablo Salcido, RB, Moffat County: 1

Joe Dover, RB, Steamboat: 1

- Delta (5-5 overall last year)

Returning starters: 14 (7 on offense, 7 on defense)

Top players: QB Austin Watson, LB Gene White, OL Duncan Simmons, DL Ethan Kraai

Outlook: Delta welcomes new head coach Ben Johnson to the fold. Johnson, who was an assistant at Olathe for three years and a head coach in Las Vegas for 10 years before that, brings two state titles to Delta. He won one last year with Olathe and one in Las Vegas. The Panthers will be a fast team, but they lack depth. Johnson said initial indications from summer and fall camps are that the team has responded to his style of play. Delta has always had the athletes, and with Johnson leading the way, the team could certainly make the playoffs.

- Montezuma-Cortez (4-6 overall last year)

Returning starters: NA

Top players: NA

Outlook: Chuck Cotter returns for his second year as head coach after spending the previous two years as a coordinator. Montezuma-Cortez runs a newer offense called the spinner series. The offense essentially is a single-wing look out of the shotgun formation. The quarterback sometimes will spin 360 degrees to fake handoffs. Although the offensive line was big last year, it was hit hard by graduation.

- Steamboat (8-3 overall last year)

Returning starters: 14 (7 on offense, 7 on defense)

Top players: QB Austin Hinder, RB Joe Dover, LT Carl Steele

Outlook: Steamboat has the skill guys on offense to compete with just about any team in the state. Behind much ballyhooed quarterback Austin Hinder and a healthy Joe Dover, Steamboat shouldn't have a problem scoring points. The Sailors have 18 seniors on the roster, most of whom worked out all summer. The key might be how an athletic, but undersized, offensive line comes together. Defensively, Steamboat will again run the 3-5 front, led by quick linebackers Cody Harris and Mitchell Lekarczyk.

- Eagle Valley (4-6 overall last year)

Returning starters: Six (3 on offense, 3 on defense)

Top players: LB Clayton Gerard, QB Nick Pietrack, OL Bryce Steggall, LB Seth Williamson

Outlook: Linebackers are the only area the Devils return players. Led by two-time All-League performer Gerard, Eagle Valley returns one of the youngest units in the league. The good thing for coach John Ramunno is the system he has in place has been there for a long time. There aren't many secrets. The offense will line up in a double wing set, and the defense will be physical. Getting off to a fast start might be the biggest key. Last season the Devils started the season 0-5 before finishing 4-6.

- Palisade (9-2 overall last year)

Returning starters: 12 (7 on offense, 5 on defense)

Top players: OL/DL Nicholas Stephanus, OL/DL Zaid Bradfield, RB/LB Sean Dunn

Outlook: Palisade never drifts far from the top of the 3A Western Slope League, and it's hard to imagine the Bulldogs won't be in the mix for a league title in 2009. With 12 returning starters, head coach John Arledge's blue-collar bunch is primed to shine this fall. With players like Nicholas Stephanus and Zaid Bradfield anchoring the lines, look for the Bulldogs to make some noise.

- Glenwood Springs (14-0 overall last year)

Returning starters: 5 (2 on offense, 3 on defense)

Top players: LB/RB Nick Ciani, QB Luke Jacob, OL/LB Chad Montover, RB Tyler Thulson, WR/DB Josh Galvan, WR/DB Trey Fox

Outlook: The reigning 3A state champs lost a huge senior class to graduation and return just five starters. Still, one league coach says the two-time defending 3A WSL champs are the top dogs until someone knocks them off. With 3A player of the year Dakota Stonehouse now at Carroll College in Montana, junior Luke Jacob will assume the quarterbacking duties for the Demons.

- Rifle (3-7 overall last year)

Returning starters: 12 (6 on offense, 6 on defense)

Top players: QB/DB Joe Burgess, OL/DL Jacob Massey, RB/LB James Martinez, RB/LB Tyrel Lenard, TE/FB Caleb Lenard

Outlook: A new coach with big-name college coaching experience and a team-wide hunger to turn things around could be a recipe for success in Rifle. New head coach Ryan Sulkowski is fresh off a stint as a graduate assistant at Clemson University. With the help of a top-notch staff that includes former Rifle head coaches Damon Wells and Anthony Alfini, the former Valdosta State University offensive lineman hopes to, as he puts it, "pick up the program and dust it off."

- Battle Mountain (0-10 overall last year)

Returning starters: 18 (9 on offense, 9 on defense)

Top players: QB Parker Robbins, RB Jon Simpson, OL/DL Mason Babcock

Outlook: Battle Mountain hasn't won a football game since Sept. 21, 2007, and second-year head coach David Joyce hopes to change that. Led by senior quarterback Parker Robbins and a plethora of returning players, Joyce thinks his squad has a shot at returning to respectability in 2009. Such a turnaround would coincide nicely with the Huskies' christening of a new field - and Battle Mountain's new campus - in Edwards. The coach said the Huskies will roll out new uniforms to go along with their new, artificial-turfed digs. "We're trying to kick it off right," Joyce proclaimed.

- Moffat County (4-6 last year)

Returning starters: 19 (10 on offense, 9 on defense)

Top players: QB Matt Linsacum, FB Pablo Salcido, HB Jasen Kettle

Outlook: With a seasoned offensive line, and senior runners Pablo Salcido and Jasen Kettle, Moffat County should be able to continue its power running game. The entire offensive line is unchanged from last year. The defense lost only two starters, and defensive coach Lance Scranton said some of the returning players could switch positions. Last year's secondary returns, unchanged.

The Glenwood Springs Post Independent's Jeff Casperesen and Craig Daily Press' Ben Bulkeley contributed to the Western Slope League outlook report.

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