Community profile: One-kneed Nieslanik closes Glenwood High football career on the run
In what would turn out to be his final football game as a Glenwood Springs Demon, Blake Nieslanik dominated.
The senior running back and safety racked up more than 200 yards of offense and reached triple digits both in the air and on the ground in the season finale Nov. 5 in front of the home crowd at Stubler Memorial Field.
He also broke up two pass attempts and intercepted another, leaping high in the air over the Battle Mountain competition. He received two touchdown passes, on one hauling in Joaquin Sandoval’s pass in triple coverage and breaking three tackle attempts as he scrambled for the final 27 yards to the end zone.
The Demons won 48-14 — much of the fire coming from Nieslanik, who did it all with a black brace and athletic tape covering his right knee and a scar.
Nieslanik underwent surgery less than two months prior to repair a meniscus he tore in the first game of the season.
The team was just starting its campaign for a second straight playoff push and were already down an essential cog in the Demon machine. If he would return before season’s end, no one seemed to know — except Nieslanik.
“There was just no way I was going to let my senior season just go down the drain,” Nieslanik said.
At first it was week-to-week. Nieslanik kept working, keeping his body — specifically his legs — ready for when his mid-leg hinge would be back to form.
Four weeks passed, and Nieslanik’s doctors realized the damage was more extensive than originally thought. Surgery was needed.
Mere weeks after the procedure, Nieslanik was back in uniform.
In the four games Nieslanik played, the Demons went 3-1. In the six games he missed, they were 2-4.
He collected more than 100 yards of offense in each game following his return and patrolled as the last line of defense on the other side of the ball. Maybe more importantly, the Demons got back their field general.
“He brings this team up so much,” Sandoval said. “He’s just such an athlete on the field. He doesn’t have to say much, but when he does it hits people. They know that he’s going to put everything he can into it, and that means everyone else is going to.”
Glenwood hosted Battle Mountain for its 10th and final game of the season. If they had any chance of reaching the playoffs, the Demons needed a win. Nieslanik’s touchdowns and interception all came in the first half to propel the team to a 21-6 halftime lead and a 48-14 final score.
It was their highest scoring game of the season, but it would turn out no winning margin would be enough to get Glenwood Springs into the playoffs. Their season concluded, and Nieslanik’s career — along with those of other key seniors like Teddy Huttenhower, Ray Rosenmerkel, Evan Heyl, Sam Spence and others — went with it.
According to MaxPreps — which does not have a complete dataset — Nieslanik finishes his prep football career with 18 touchdowns, 12 on the ground. With the two touchdown catches in the season finale — which had not been entered into MaxPreps at the time of writing — that number reaches at least 20.
He collected more than 2,000 yards of offense in his career, more than half of which came in his breakout junior campaign when he rushed for 1,009 yards and averaged nearly 10 per carry.
A low player turnout for the fall season resulted in only 27 players suiting up for varsity in the team’s first game, many of them forced to play on both sides of the ball. Nieslanik did so even before the roster crunch.
“He’s the best football player I’ve ever coached,” Glenwood Springs head coach Pat Engle said. “It’s his mind. It’s his heart. It’s his work ethic. That kid shouldn’t have come back after a full knee surgery, but he did because of how hard he worked in the weight room.”
Nieslanik is hoping his football career continues after high school. He’s currently sending film to collegiate coaches with the ultimate hope of landing at Montana State. He won’t play basketball this season and may opt to run track instead of play baseball in the spring, depending on football offers or scholarship opportunities.
On the gridiron, Nieslanik’s impact won’t soon be forgotten.
“I just wanted to show kids that it doesn’t matter what the stats are,” Nieslanik said. “If you show up Friday night, fly around and play your hardest, you’re going to have a good game.”
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