Steamboat Springs High School football coach Lonn Clementson coaches from the sidelines against Moffat County. Despite losing 21 straight games, Clementson and Sailors are optimistic about the future.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Springs High School football coach Lonn Clementson coaches from the sidelines against Moffat County. Despite losing 21 straight games, Clementson and Sailors are optimistic about the future.

Steamboat Springs football looks forward to a brighter future

Despite historically bad stretch, optimism abounds for Steamboat football

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Steamboat Springs High School football records

(*Denotes playoff year)

2011 — 0-10

2010 — 0-10

2009 — 13-1*

2008 — 8-3*

2007 — 7-4*

2006 — 10-2*

2005 — 10-3*

2004 — 4-5

2003 — 11-2*

2002 — 6-4

2001 — 9-2*

2000 — 8-3*

1999 — 7-3

1998 — 4-6

1997 — 9-2*

1996 — 2-8

1995 — 2-7

1994 — 6-5*

1993 — 5-6*

1992 — 7-4*

1991 — 6-3

1990 — 9-2*

1989 — 7-3*

1988 — 7-3*

1987 — 10-1*

1986 — 5-4

1985 — 4-5*

1984 — 1-8

1983 — 5-4*

1982 — 7-3*

1981 — 4-3

1980 — 8-2*

1979 — 11-2*

Steamboat football participation by class

■ 2011

Freshmen: 17

Sophomores: 12

Juniors: 14

Seniors: 3

■ 2010

Freshmen: 14

Sophomores: 14

Juniors: 9

Seniors: 13

■ 2009

Freshmen: 14

Sophomores: 6

Juniors: 15

Seniors: 18

■ 2008

Freshmen: 23

Sophomores: 22

Juniors: 22

Seniors: 12

— The cyclical nature of high school football hit Sailors coach Lonn Clementson on a Friday night in Battle Mountain.

There, the second-year coach listened as the Huskies’ public address announcer introduced 17 seniors. Clementson could only look down at his roster, see three seniors, and realize how fast things change.

Three years earlier, when Clementson was the team’s defensive coordinator, Steamboat boasted 18 seniors and beat Battle Mountain, 61-21. This night, however, Steamboat would fall, 61-22, the 20th straight loss for a team that was on its way to a second consecutive winless season.

For Battle Mountain, the turnaround was paramount and the 2011 season marked the first time the Huskies had made the playoffs since 1993.

Steamboat was left wondering what has happened in the past two years. Steamboat ended its 2009 season at the Class 3A state championship game, its first appearance there since 1979.

Since that afternoon two years ago, the Sailors have lost 21 straight games. The 2010 season saw the team lose three games by nine points or less. This past season was less competitive. The Sailors were outscored 455-87 and gave up the third most points among 11-man teams in the state regardless of class.

How has a team gone from the top to the bottom so quick?

“It seems to go in cycles,” Clementson said. “You can theorize a lot about why you can’t stay on top the entire time.”

A strong history

Parity makes sports great, and high schools generally go through phases. It’s tough to find a team that’s been at the top for a long time.

“I think you look at most programs in the state of Colorado and the vast majority are

not teams — especially in the public school realm — that are year-in and year-out great,” said Steamboat Springs Athletics Director Luke DeWolfe. “Especially at 3A schools. You might see it a little more in the smaller schools.”

Steamboat football, however, really hasn’t seen those drastic ebbs and flows. Since 1979, the only time Steamboat has won a state championship title in football, the team has just nine losing seasons. In those 33 seasons, the team has made the playoffs 21 times. The Sailors never have gone more than two seasons without making the playoffs, and they won less than three games just three times prior to the past two seasons.

The program has been a model of consistency. Sure, there were ups and downs, but never the disparity of the past two seasons.

The one thing that helps a team in Steamboat’s classification is the steadiness of student participation. In 2008, the football program had 76 players out for football. A year later — the season of the state championship run — that number dropped to 53 players.

The Class of 2011 originally was strong in numbers, with 23 players out as freshmen. That number had decreased to six by 2009 and to just three seniors this year.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Jake Manning, one of the three seniors who played this season. “There were a lot of different reasons. ... I think things would have been different had they played. We had a lot of players and talent.”

That lack of upperclassmen the past two years certainly have played a role in the team’s struggles. The small senior class this year forced Steamboat to go young.

“You’d love to have 15 seniors every year,” Clementson said. “Some years you’ll have 12 and some you’ll have 17. This is one particular class that is short on numbers. You just try and get better with the kids you have.”

The future

Despite the 21 straight losses, DeWolfe said the school’s administration backs what Clementson is doing.

“I think it’s a tribute to him and his coaching staff that things stayed very positive throughout the year,” DeWolfe said. “They really used the adversity they faced as a teaching tool. In the end, high school sports are all about teaching life lessons.”

The team should have better numbers next year, with 14 seniors and 12 juniors making up a large portion of the roster.

Clementson estimated that 75 percent of those rising upperclassmen will have varsity experience. A solid freshmen class also should get total participation above 60 players again.

The team’s schedule should get easier, too. This past season, six of Steamboat’s 10 opponents made the state playoffs.

Despite a historically bad year and stretch, Clementson remains upbeat, emphasizing that the program will turn it around.

“We’ll never focus on the negatives and become a fellowship of misery,” he said. “It’s easy to be a leader and great at what you do — whether you’re a player, coach or fan — when you’re winning. The truth comes out when you’re down. I believe 12 months from now, we’ll be having a very different conversation.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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