Hayden High School’s Jorge Valdez boots the ball on a kickoff Wednesday during practice. The Hayden football team will open its season with a game at 6 p.m. today in Denver against Holyoke.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Hayden High School’s Jorge Valdez boots the ball on a kickoff Wednesday during practice. The Hayden football team will open its season with a game at 6 p.m. today in Denver against Holyoke.

Hayden High School football opens Friday in Denver

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2011 Tigers football schedule

— On paper, this year’s Hayden High School football team looks like a gutted mess, with the skilled playmakers who guided the program to last year’s state quarterfinals having graduated.

Still, the 2011 Tigers can turn plenty of heads this fall, coach Shawn Baumgartner said Thursday as his team went through the final preparations for Friday’s season-opening game at Holyoke.

The names will be different, with the squad relying on untested talent and a large class of juniors, but he said another strong season is well within the team’s grasp.

“We’re not young, but we’re inexperienced,” Baumgartner said. “A lot of kids who played JV last year, they’re getting ready to step up into that varsity role.”

The 2011 season will swing on how quickly those players adjust to the varsity level.

Junior Jake Hockett, for instance, is the lone returning player from the offensive line.

Junior Ryan Domson returns as one of the team’s most experienced players. He started several games at running back as a freshman and filled that roll all through last season.

He’ll be joined in the backfield by fellow junior Mark Doolin, who is set to take over at quarterback.

“I really saw him mature mentally this summer,” Baumgartner said about Doolin. “He’s really taking off, flying around offensively and defensively like he didn’t last year. He knows this is his time … but he has to learn to become more vocal. He’s always taken that back seat, but now, as the quarterback, he has to step up.”

Hayden’s schedule is both a blessing and a curse. The team opens its season at 6 p.m. Friday at Valor Christian High School in Denver against Holyoke.

Long road trips will be the norm. Hayden will travel for its first five games, including two against schools in larger classifications.

The blessing, though, comes in the teams the Tigers will face at home. They open their home slate Sept. 30 against Paonia and also will play Hotchkiss and Meeker in Hayden.

“At least we have the three toughest teams in the league at home,” Baumgartner said.

Despite entering the season with 13 juniors and just four seniors, it would be easy to assume 2011 is a rebuilding year for Hayden.

That’s not the plan.

“We’re not playing this year for next year,” Baumgartner said. “We’re playing for right now. We’ve had sophomore-dominated teams before and found ways to win, and we can win again this year.”

— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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