Special To The Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Ryan Moeller had the satisfied look that comes from a hard day’s work.
Saturday was yet another in a meticulous, spectacular and dominating performance by the Rifle Bears.
Moeller was happy, satisfied and content. And not ready to call it a season. Another step toward the ultimate goal of a Class 3A state title.
In Moeller, one can see a development of a player through three years of excellence. As a sophomore he was good and full of potential. As a junior, he was very good but still growing as a complete football player.
Now, as a senior, Ryan Moeller has reached his potential, possibly surpassing it. On Saturday, he rushed for 279 yards and four touchdowns. He returned an interception for a fifth score.
Saturday’s 42-0 demolition of the Erie Tigers was a mere 356 days since the last time Moeller and a number of the 2012 Bears were last on the playoff football field.
Tears, disappointment and torment were the prize on that day of the quarterfinals.
Rifle lost to Windsor, the eventual state champion, 36-15.
For Moeller, a tweaked hamstring limited his playing time and effectiveness. For much of the game, he looked on helplessly as his teammates gave a gallant effort.
He was left dazed in disappointment.
What if? The two most agonizing words in sports.
Ryan Moeller the senior is better, different, more mature – determined and focused.
He refuses to think about that game 356 days ago.
“You can’t dwell on the past,” he said after the Erie game. “If you start thinking like that, then you start playing timid and you can’t do that.”
Timid? Ryan Moeller? Not a chance.
In college football, people talk about Heisman moments.
On Saturday, Moeller had a Heisman moment. In the end, Erie players were demoralized, their fans stunned, and the Rifle players and fans more energized than a bolt of lightning.
On the play, Moeller was drilled after 10 yards. He tossed the would-be tackler aside and kept going. Five more Tigers were discarded by the Moeller Express before he was finally shoved out of bounds at the 2. A jaw-dropping, spectacular 41-yard run.
Later on, he had another Heisman moment after he returned an interception 37 yards for a TD, diving the final two yards into the end zone.
Moeller, the senior, is the supreme football player. His athletic skills are better but he’s now a vocal leader and the consummate teammate.
“I feel like we have a lot of leaders. We all lead by example. It’s not just one person, it’s infectious,” he said.
Moeller is unquestionably one of the top players in 3A football. But his focus and philosophy is the same as every one of the Bears.
They play like underdogs. They play with a chip on their shoulder. They play with heart and let their work ethic, camaraderie and effort push them.
“I think we tend to overprepare. We prepare to be the underdog,” Moeller said.
For head coach Damon Wells, he smiles and says that he can’t talk too much about his talented and determined seniors – otherwise he might cry.
He’s not opposed to shedding a few tears for such a special group of kids, but these tears won’t come until the season is over.
Senior leadership has been a huge key to the Bears’ 11-0 mark on the year.
“We preach to every senior that every group leaves a legacy,” Wells said, “and, my goodness, what a legacy this group has left. And they’ve done it strictly through hard work.”
Wells never looks beyond the next week. Stay humble and hungry. Even through a season of total domination, Wells knows that one loss and the season is over.
There are no extra-credit points for domination.
“One thing that people should be sure of is that we will never be overconfident.”
On Saturday, they will return to the quarterfinals, on the same field where Windsor booted them from the playoffs last year.
Now, the 2012 quarterfinals will feature the undefeated Bears and the 7-4 Roosevelt Rough Riders.
One bad game and the 11 victories won’t mean much for Rifle. Right now, the 2012 Bears are right where the 2011 Bears were.
They want more. They want it all.
Hard work, preparation, determination – the Bears are hungry and humble.
They have more work to do and more opponents to chew up before that hunger is satisfied.
Saturday is just another game in their quest to be the best.
Hungry and humble, hard work and heart. These Bears aren’t ready to hibernate.
There’s no greater legacy than winning a state title.
– Dale Shrull is a freelance sports writer for the Post Independent.
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