Jon Mitchell

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September 5, 2012
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From little towns come big stars

Ryan Moeller has gotten a lot of attention lately. Not nearly as much attention as Rifle High football coach Damon Wells feels he deserves, though.

Moeller, the Bears' senior running back, is coming off a junior season where he rushed for nearly 2,500 yards. And going into Rifle's game at Moffat County on Friday, he has 252 rushing yards - all of which came in the first half of the Bears' 45-6 win at Coal Ridge last week.

Wells and Moeller said a combination of Division I and II schools have shown interest, including Wyoming, Colorado, Northern Colorado, Adams State and Colorado Mesa. The frustrating part for Wells and Moeller, they said, is that no scholarships have been offered.

Of course, there's still a long season ahead, by the end of which Moeller may have racked up 3,000 yards, for all we know. Yet, despite that possibility, Wells remains convinced part of Moeller's lack of offers might simply be a case of demographics.

"The Western Slope of Colorado," Wells said, "isn't known for producing top-caliber football talent."

He's right in some respects. Historically, some of the best college talent came from Grand Junction. Andrew Walter was a star quarterback at Grand Junction High School, was a stud at Arizona State and even made a few starts for the Oakland Raiders. Bill Musgrave was another GJHS signal caller who went on to play football at the University of Oregon well before the Ducks became a national power.

But there are not a lot of small towns on the Western Slope who can boast about such things. Rifle is one of those.

It is completely possible for a kid from a town not many have heard of to make it big on the collegiate, or professional, gridiron. That's because it's happened before.

Case in point: Have you ever heard of Tenmile, Ore.?

I was a sports writer in Roseburg, Ore., for six years, and I kept hearing all about this kid who grew up in Tenmile. He was a tremendously talented athlete who sported a crew cut, was a star running back and safety for Douglas High School in Winston, Ore., and even starred on the school's basketball and baseball teams.

He was a shy kid who didn't really like to talk about himself. He came to Tenmile at age 10 to live with his aunt and uncle, Sau and Kelly, and loved the area from the first day he got there. And it was apparent from Day 1 how much athletic talent he had.

It wasn't until his senior year that top-notch programs began drooling over him. Oregon and Washington State wanted him bad. Mike Price, the coach at WSU at the time, not only made the 12-hour drive from Pullman, Wash., to watch a few of his basketball games, but had a jersey with the kid's name already on it when the kid made an official campus visit.

Turns out the kid ended up choosing Southern California and starring as a safety under coach Pete Carroll. From there, he was the 16th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft and, prior to Super Bowl XL, my paper did a week-long series of stories on the home-town kid who made good before his team beat the Seattle Seahawks.

The kid's name is Troy Polamalu.

It's safe to say he's done pretty well for himself as a safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Moeller has the ability to be a Division I college football player, and a good one. But just like anyone out there, it not only takes talent, but patience and, sometimes, a little bit of luck, to be noticed by the big dogs of college football.

Kids who come from small, no-name towns are at a disadvantage when it comes to exposure. It doesn't mean they're impossible to notice. Someone obviously noticed Troy Polamalu from Tenmile, Ore.

I'm certain someone out there will notice, or take more notice, of Ryan Moeller from Rifle, Colo. Eventually, he'll get the attention he deserves.

Jon Mitchell is a sports contributor for the Citizen Telegram and Glenwood Springs Post Independent. He can be reached at (970) 986-2357, or by email at

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The Post Independent Updated Sep 5, 2012 06:24PM Published Sep 5, 2012 06:23PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.