Bigger, better Rams hope to make a little noise in Class 1A |

Bigger, better Rams hope to make a little noise in Class 1A

Michael McLaughlin
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Kelley Cox Post Independent

CARBONDALE, Colorado – As the Roaring Fork football team ran through several padless conditioning drills at practice last week, head coach Tory Jensen looked right at home going through the exercises with his players.

There was obvious optimism in his body and voice, and it translated through the whole team.

The turnout numbers are strong for the Rams for the first time in several years, and the talent is falling into place as the season opener against Basalt this Friday approaches.

“This is the highest number of players we’ve had in a long time,” Jensen said. “We also have the biggest freshman turnout we can remember.”

After successfully coaching the Rams from 1997 through 2004, Jensen returned to take the reins of the program again in 2011. During his sabbatical from head coaching duties, Jensen and a group of dedicated Carbondale parents worked at developing the local youth football programs.

With 18 freshmen turning out this year, the youth movement is beginning to pay dividends. Jensen has been trying to give his freshmen their own space and keep them from getting knocked around by the bigger, older kids, but talent has dictated that several frosh will make their way onto the varsity roster and see playing time.

While numbers are up on the gridiron, overall school enrollment numbers dictated that Roaring Fork will be dropping from the 2A Western Slope League to the 1A classification this season.

A good move, says the coach.

“We needed it,” Jensen said. “We can either be the smallest school in 2A, or one of the bigger schools in 1A. It gives us a leveler playing field. Besides, once you get to the top teams in 2A and 1A, there’s not much difference.”

Jensen points to the Hotchkiss game as a Super Bowl of sorts for the Rams, pointing out that the Bulldogs have been longtime rivals of Roaring Fork, going back several decades. He predicts a knock-down, drag-out game at Hotchkiss on Oct. 12.

Jensen looks at the 2011 season as a learning experience for his players. The Rams overcame a rough 0-3 start in their nonleague games, losing to three playoff-caliber teams before starting conference play.

Despite the slow start and knock to the team’s confidence, the Rams continued to improve each game. Their playoff fate wasn’t decided until the last game of the season, a heartbreaking 24-14 fourth-quarter loss to Aspen.

“It was right there,” Jensen said. “We were six minutes away from the playoffs, playing real well at the time and going in the right direction. Losing that game was tough.”

It was even tougher knowing the Skiers were in a similar position and advanced to the postseason.

“That Aspen game left a bad taste in our mouths,” said senior Brandon Cruz. “It definitely was not the way we wanted to end the season.”

This year, the Rams not only have more athletes trying out for football, they have “The Beast.”

Trae Moxley is a 6-foot-5, 255-pound senior who will be the main individual focus for every team that lines up against Roaring Fork.

Moxley is bigger, faster, stronger and more athletic than last season, and at times in 2011, he was simply too much for any opponent to handle on either side of the ball.

Teammates describe Moxley as an intimidating powerhouse. Cruz, a 6-foot-1 linebacker and an All-2A Western Slope League honorable mention in 2011, lines up often against the Colorado State University signee-to-be in practices.

Not too fun, Cruz said.

“Trae is ‘The Beast,'” he said. “We’re lucky he’s our go-to option. There’s nobody like him [Moxley] in this area.”

Jensen sees Moxley as a true game-changer and a nightmare for opposing coaches. When Moxley plays as a receiver, Jensen can move him into several positions across the line of scrimmage, and he knows defenses will have to adjust to him.

As big as Moxley is, he now has to look up to junior lineman Mitch Brown, a 6-9, 290-pounder who also continues to improve day by day.

Junior quarterback Tanner Nieslanik said the team is coming together day by day and looking for more players to develop into leaders.

“As a group, we’ve been playing together since middle school,” Nieslanik said. “We have good chemistry. Now we just need to believe in what we’re learning and execute it. We really respect Coach Jensen. He’s a true hands-on coach, and he knows what he’s doing.”

Cruz said Nieslanik is learning to embrace his position as an offensive leader.

“Tanner is stepping up,” Cruz said. “He’s working hard and taking control in the huddle. You can see him grow as a leader.”

For the seniors, there is a common goal that has eluded them while at Roaring Fork.

“We’ve got to stay focused to make the playoffs,” Cruz said. “State is our goal. As a team, we’re bigger, faster and stronger. I know we can make it happen.”

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