Plenty of workhorses available and expected to carry the load in Western Slope football
There’s something beautiful in the violence of smash mouth football at its purest form, which happens to be at the high school level.
For a large majority of the local schools in Garfield County (from Basalt to Grand Valley), the offensive schemes are quite simple in that they look to run right at you and impose their will on you over the duration of 48 minutes every Friday night.
While it can certainly be dangerous in light of recent happenings across the country when it comes to the safety of the game, these schools are tried and true in their football philosophies sticking to what works with great results.
What makes the schemes so unique in today’s football world is the fact that they’re old school. You will be hard-pressed to find run-and-gun offenses in this valley where quarterbacks are asked to throw the football 30-35 times a game like you’ll see on the Front Range, whether that’s at the high school, college or professional level.
In this valley, you’ll find the purest form of football — one that made the game of football so great in the first place: it’s my will against yours, so try and stop me.
Due to that mentality, the smash mouth style of football played right into our 2016 Garfield County Football Preview special this fall, as the Glenwood Springs Post Independent focuses in on the “workhorses” in the valley with Coal Ridge’s Cameron Chacon, Glenwood’s Jake Townsley, Grand Valley’s Levi Nolan, Rifle’s Blaine Vance and Roaring Fork’s Aldo Pinela all expected to shoulder a heavy load on both sides of the football this year for their respective schools.
Last season just two players in the valley rushed for more than 1,000 yards, mainly due to the depth at the position on each team and the distribution of carries throughout a game.
Both players hailed from Rifle, but Tyler Bosshardt (1,255 yards, 12.8 yards-per-carry) graduated, which leaves senior running back Blaine Vance as the go-to guy, per say, in the backfield once again for the Bears.
Last season as the down back in the Wing-T under Head Coach Damon Wells, Vance rushed for a team-high 1,341 yards (7.3 ypc) to go along with 13 touchdowns and seven 100-plus yard games.
With the graduation of Bosshardt and fellow Wing-T backfield teammates Ty Leyba and Ethan Strouse, Vance will once again be a centerpiece of the Bears’ offense. But much like Wells and his staff preaches throughout the year, Vance and the rest of the team knows that no player is bigger than the program.
That still doesn’t take away the fact that Vance is one of the best running backs coming into the 2016 season that has not only experience at the high school level, but high-end production as well.
No. 27 in blue and yellow is what you would label a “bell-cow running back” for the Rifle program.
“It’s pretty cool knowing that, but it’s also up to our linemen to make the holes for me to run through,” Vance said. “My job is easy when our system is smash mouth football; we’re like an 80 percent rushing team. Everybody keys on our rushing game, but the Wing-T is an all-around offense. You can do pretty much anything out of it.”
Sticking to the team mantra of Rifle Tough, Vance exemplifies that each and every Friday night as he plows through the line churning up yardage as the Bears move methodically down the field. Knowing that he’ll likely be called on a bit more in big spots, Vance isn’t worried because he’s prepared all offseason.
“I haven’t really changed anything about my routine to prepare for a heavier workload,” Vance said. “We have weights every morning throughout the school year and into the summer and guys have been in there non-stop. For me it was all about being consistent and staying on schedule and I feel like I’ve done a good job of that, so I think I’m ready for the fall.”
TOWNSLEY RUNNING THE SHOW
Despite a down year last season for the Glenwood Springs Demons, one significant bright spot emerged as junior quarterback Jake Townsley stepped up in a big way to carry a heavy burden offensively, not only as a passer, but as a runner as well.
The Demons were decimated with injury last fall, but the one constant seemed to always be Townsley. Now heading into his senior season with a full year of starting experience under his belt, much more will be expect of No. 12 in the red, white and black of Glenwood both through the air and on the ground.
Running a heavy read-option system, Townsley plays a significant role in the development of each play. Although not much has changed in terms of personnel, the senior signal caller is feeling much more comfortable in the offensive system under head coach Rocky Whitworth.
“I’m playing with all the same kids,” Townsley said. “We lost a few last year including [Will] Osier and a few others, but it’s mostly all the same for me. I really don’t have any excuses to fail this year, especially with a full year under my belt in this system. I love the offense we run here under Coach Rocky and I love that I get to control at lot of things in this offense.”
Headlining a group of just five seniors on the Glenwood football team this fall, Townsley will take on a significant leadership role as well after being named a team captain to go along with his standing as a senior leader.
That responsibility will be added not only on the field, but off the field in the classroom as well. But with the levelheaded demeanor that Townsley projects, the added responsibilities won’t hinder his performance on the field one bit.
The key, though, for Glenwood is to keep their standout players on the field this season. Last year was tough to get anything going consistently as injuries ravaged the depth chart week after week.
Knowing just how important he is to the offense, Townsley hit the weight room hard this offseason to prepare for the rigors of the season and the added punishment he’ll receive as the dual-threat quarterback.
“I’ve been lifting a lot and working on footwork and vision,” Townsley said. “Last year I just did a lot of looking straight ahead and didn’t really see what was in front of me, so that was a key to work on. But outside of that I was able to work on all of that at Western football camps. I went down to CMU for a camp, so getting some play time in the offseason was really nice and definitely helped me.”
Just how much the offseason preparation helped Townsley won’t be seen until the Demons take the field against the Conifer Lobos, September 2 at 7 p.m. at Stubler Memorial Field, but based off of preseason workouts, Townsley looks like a much-improved leader and player for Glenwood.
TAKING OVER THE LEADING ROLE
Last season for Roaring Fork, junior running back Aldo Pinela played a co-starring role with fellow running back Tyler Spence for the Rams.
Now, with the departure of Spence due to graduation, along with fellow backfield mate Finn Featherstone, Pinela finds himself at the center of a solo act for the Rams heading into the 2016 season.
Starting quarterback Hayden Bernot returns for his senior season under center and will likely add an option on the ground for the Rams and Head Coach Jeff Kelley, but based off of his play the last two years in the blue and gold, Pinela is in for a significant increase in usage.
Pinela touched the ball just 92 times combined last season (77 rushes, 14 receptions) for Roaring Fork, but as the main man this season in the backfield, one could expect that number to push over the 100 mark during his senior season.
“It’s a blessing to try and be able to be the guy to carry the team,” Pinela said. “Obviously I can’t do it by myself, but I need to be a leader this year and help younger guys step up around me. But there’s a trust with my teammates that they’ll step up and do just as much for me as I’ll try and do for them; it’s that trust that I don’t have to do everything and can just go out there and play.”
As one of the more dynamic athletes to come through Roaring Fork, Pinela isn’t focusing on what he can do individually for the Rams, but more of what he can do collectively with his teammates, which he hopes results in a winning record for the Carbondale high school that hasn’t had a season above .500 since the 2006 season in which they went 8-2.
The Rams came close last season in Kelley’s first year, finishing 4-5, but now the goal for Pinela and his teammates is a playoff berth.
“We want a winning season; that’s the goal for us,” Pinela said. “It would be cool to have a winning season at Roaring Fork, not only for the players and coaches, but for the community, fans and alumni. They deserve to see that too. For me personally, that’s been the big motivating factor this offseason and what’s driven me to be the best that I can be.
“I know there are other players in that room that feel the same was as I do.”
Should the Rams reach that goal, it will come largely on the production Pinela provides out of the backfield. That alone would pay off in a big way for the senior ball carrier, solidifying all the hard work he’s put in during his time at RFHS.
“It would be something else,” Pinela said. “It would give us that sense of pride, knowing that we put in all that work over the last four years. It would mean everything to see our goal come true.”
BOUNCING BACK IN BLUE
Cameron Chacon had a tough season last year, and it wasn’t due to anything he did on the field.
The junior running back was expected to have a big season as the lead back in Year One under Head Coach Trorie Rickert, but Chacon dealt with a number of injuries throughout the year before really coming on strong at the end of the season.
Now, fully healthy and gearing up for his senior season at Coal Ridge High School, Chacon has earned the right to be a leading workhorse in the Titans’ backfield as the blue, black and white look to make a push for the playoffs under Rickert.
While he’ll share the backfield with junior running back Jacx Power, Chacon will make arguably his biggest impact defensively lining up at outside linebacker on an improving defense that allowed 27.2 points per game.
“I’m mostly looking forward to lining up at outside linebacker and controlling the running game in front of me,” Chacon said. “Obviously I’m excited to get to run the ball again this year and show what I can do in this offense, but the coaches are going to limit just how much I play this year considering what I went through last season.”
As an athlete with size that thrives in space, Chacon can make a significant impact on both sides of the football in his senior season. Being in space is what Chacon loves most about football.
“I love this game so much,” Chacon said. “I’m so excited about this season that I really can’t put it into words. Defensively I like being a big contribution to the whole team. Being on the outside, knowing that people rely on me, I have a direct factor into what the opposing running backs and receivers do.”
It’s funny though how on one side of the ball Chacon will be looking to run past guys trying to stop him, while on the other side of the ball he’ll be flipping roles all in the name of helping the Titans win and win big this year.
Outside of that, it sure seems like the Coal Ridge football team is just glad to have their No. 3 healthy and back on the field for the fall.
YOUNG GUN FIRING UP CARDINALS FAITHFUL
It’s been a trying last few years for the Grand Valley Cardinals, but with second-year head coach Tim Lenard putting together some serious foundational work in Parachute for his program, it appears that brighter days are on the horizon.
Ending last year on a high note thanks to a 52-21 win over Lake County in Leadville that snapped a 26-game losing streak dating back to Oct. 26, 2012 against Coal Ridge, the Cardinals have been shuffling along.
But in that streak-snapping win, the future of the program was made very clear, and then-freshman running back Levi Nolan played a big part in that picture becoming clearer.
That day Nolan rushed for 189 yards and two touchdowns to lead Grand Valley to the win, capping off a great individual season for No. 6 in red and black. Now heading into his sophomore season, Nolan will again share the backfield with fellow sophomore Jonathan Pena and junior Jeff Holbrook.
However, with his performance throughout last season (81 carries, 428 yards, 4 TDs, 5.3 ypc) Nolan is poised for a breakout year this fall, putting his name on the map with the rest of the top running backs in the Western Slope League.
But due to the added depth that Grand Valley now has, expect to see Nolan moved all over the field to help him get as many touches as possible, whether that’s as a running back or as a receiver.
“I love them both, man,” Nolan said. “I like going out and making that good catch, and I like tucking it in and going ahead and smashing into defenders. Either way works for me, I just want to contribute as much as a I can offensively.”
Last season he might have been an unknown “secret” weapon of sorts for the Cardinals, but as the season progressed he became a significant threat as playing time increased, which led to teams game-planning to slow him down. Much of the same will be expected this season.
With all of the success he had last season as a freshman, Nolan knew coming into this year that he had to take that next step as a player.
“It was a whole new offense for me last season coming in as a freshman,” Nolan said. “So this offseason I had to work on reading the holes and making sure I made the right decision. On top of that I had to work on my footwork and balance to make me a more well-rounded player.”
Now heading into his second full season with plenty of experience under his belt, Nolan feels much more comfortable in the offense under Lenard and his staff. That comfortability could play a significant part in leading Grand Valley back towards prominent success as a team, while also pushing him closer to individual success. Based on the way he closed the 2015 season, 1,000 total yards isn’t out of reach at all for the sophomore in 2016.