2009 Steamboat Springs High School football team seniors
Jack Spady, WR/DB
Austin Hinder, QB/DB
Jack Verploeg, TE/LB
Lucas Stover, WR/DB
Bryce Mayo, TE/LB
Joe Dover, RB/WR/DB
Dylan Pivarnik, RB/WR/DB
Cody Harris, TE/LB
Tyler Samlowski, RB/LB
Mitchell Lekarczyk, OL/LB
Keenan Starbuck, OL/DL
Darian Buelter, OL/DL
Hunter Willis, OL/LB
Carl Steele, OL/DL
Andy Aranyosi, OL/DL
Sometimes the memories contradict, one person recalling a victory and another a narrow loss, one a perfect season and another a blemished record.
Others readily admit they don’t remember much about the start at all.
“The first thing I remember — the only thing I remember — was my first tackle,” senior Carl Steele said about his first real football game. “This kid was running down the sideline, and I was running perpendicular and just laid him out.”
It’s a perfect 13-0 record that has the Steamboat Springs football team one win away from a state championship, but the path this team — and in particular, this senior class — took to the championship game didn’t start with the first game in August. It didn’t start with a summer camp or even last year’s final game.
The road to the championship game is one players, family and fans have been treading down for a long time.
It’s a journey some can barely remember starting.
“I really started thinking about it in fifth grade,” senior quarterback Austin Hinder said. “We’ve always talked about how when we got there, we were going to win it.”
The game starts at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Legacy Stadium in Aurora, a date and place the senior class has been eyeing as long as it’s been playing football.
A special class
This team’s senior class runs 15 players deep, making up nearly half the active roster. Juniors and sophomores have contributed a huge amount to the perfect season, but the core of that run has been a tight-knit group of seniors.
In terms of high school success, it’s a run that really started two seasons ago when a batch of baby-faced sophomores lined up for their first varsity game. That was a 23-14 victory against Kent Denver.
“It was one of the uglier games I’ve participated in as this group’s head coach. But you saw kids out there being athletic and getting things done,” Steamboat coach Aaron Finch said. “That crew, as young as we were, that was significant. We thought, ‘This is building to one of those years.’”
He wasn’t the only one to have those thoughts. The same emotions occurred to other sideline regulars years before any of the class was playing varsity football.
The backbone of the Sailors’ team has been together almost as long as Hinder has been able to throw a spiral. They started as the same unorganized mob of grade-schoolers that swarm every playground in the country.
To many, it was always obvious there was a difference, though one that didn’t necessarily have to do with recess in 3 feet of snow.
“I used to supervise the kids at Strawberry Park (Elementary), and I remember,” said Jane Spady, whose son Jack, a senior, will start at wide receiver and cornerback Saturday. “Even in second grade they’d go out in the field and play football year-round. They’d toss their coats off and be red in the face from running with the ball.”
With age came organization. Fifth-graders and sixth-graders began playing with pads for the first time, and each year the entire class was broken into four teams. Seventh- and eighth-grade teams started playing against squads from other towns in the region.
This year’s senior class always stood out.
“Finch was there watching the eighth-grade team, and my husband went up to him and said, ‘You’re looking at a future state championship team,’” said Marla Harris, whose son Cody, a senior, moved to Steamboat that season and will start Saturday at linebacker and tight end. “Even then it was obvious they were going to be special.”
Pieces of the puzzle
It hasn’t just been that there are a few standout players in one senior class. Coaches and parents say the most astonishing thing about this year’s class is how well they all fit together.
Most are still playing in those same positions they adopted back on the playground.
Hinder was always the quarterback. Joe Dover always lined up beside him as the running back. Spady has almost always been the receiver.
It’s not just those three, either.
“The first day of camp, when the kids show up to get their shoulder pads, they come and we’d ask them what position they want to play,” said Daren Mangiaracina, who coached the team in seventh and eighth grade. “Usually you get 20 quarterbacks, 30 wide receivers and no linemen.
“I still remember. Darian Buelter and Carl Steele came up to me and said, ‘Coach, we’re linemen.’”
Buelter and Steele will start today on the offensive and defensive lines, positions they’ve excelled in throughout high school.
“This is the last game I’ll play with Carl, and that feels weird,” Buelter said, reflecting Tuesday after practice. “We’ve always been next to each other. I’ve always known if I’ve got my assignment, he’ll have his, and we’ll be all right.”
For some, Saturday’s game will be a steppingstone. Hinder will be off to play quarterback at the Pac-10’s University of California, Berkeley. Dover and Spady are looking for a place to play, and several other seniors are considering football in college.
For all, Saturday, no matter the outcome, will mark the end of an era.
“We’ve always had a bond. We’ve always played better when we were together on the same team,” Dover said. “It feels like it was just yesterday I was sitting there as a sophomore thinking, ‘No worries. If we don’t do it this year, we’ll still have years to do it.’
“Now it’s do or die. For a lot of us, this will be the last game we ever play, so I guarantee a lot of these guys will die on that field for the guys next to us.”