Glenwood Springs Demons football adds size, numbers in bid to shake up 3A football league
Co-captains talk about recent evolution of the program
When the call went out over the summer from new Glenwood Springs High School head football coach Thor Jensen that the program needed to beef up its player numbers, team leaders talked it up.
Senior co-captain and veteran lineman Alex Cruz, in particular, knew some extra size on the line could make a big difference if the Demons were to make a play for a top spot in the 3A League 3 (formerly Western Slope League) this season.
“I have a strong connection to my gym, 24/7 Colorado, and I knew some guys who workout there who could be a big help,” he said. “I started asking around and encouraged them to come out and play football.”
Some of those recruits had never played football before, and others hadn’t played since middle school or pee-wee football, he said.
“Now, they’re on the team playing line, and they’re doing pretty well,” Cruz said.
That extra size and protection up front has made a huge difference for playmakers and team co-captains, senior wide receiver and back Reece McMillan and junior quarterback Joaquin Sandoval.
“With the new offense and a strong line, it’s a super fast pace,” Sandoval said. “You have to get rid of the ball quickly and be able to read the defense.
“Now, it’s definitely more of a smart game, and coach knows what he’s doing, so we just have to trust in the process,” he said. “That takes time for sure, but we have to be patient.”
On the right track
Trust in the process paid off for the Demons the past two weeks, as they won their home opener in convincing fashion, 41-27, over 3A rival Conifer and pulled off the 34-27 win over perennial 2A powerhouse Rifle in last week’s cross-county rivalry game.
A 21-13 overtime loss at Grand Junction to start the season on Aug. 25 was a learning experience for the team, McMillan said.
“Switching coaches is definitely a challenge for any team, but we knew we needed to have patience and to work with what we’ve got,” he said. “It’s been a good transition, and we’re looking great.”
McMillan and Sandoval also did their part to talk it up among some of the younger students. The result is a varsity roster with more than 50 players, and a fanbase that’s jazzed about the season prospects.
The 2-1 Demons travel up Colorado Highway 82 on Friday night to take on the undefeated Basalt Longhorns, who come in ranked fourth in the state among 2A teams. Glenwood hasn’t quite cracked the top-10 in the 3A rankings but has been getting some votes.
“We’re always looking to have more kids come out for football which, unlike other sports, the more the merrier,” Jensen said. “Numbers make the world go around in football, so we can have the skill positions and special teams without moving guys around as much.”
His co-captains and the team as a whole have also been willing to buy into a new system and exercise patience in learning some new things, said Jensen, who replaced former Glenwood coach Pat Engle when he stepped down after last season following four years at the helm.
“They learn, and they’re willing to put in the time,” Jensen said. “I think we’re finally where we want to be with our offense right now, as long as they have the ability to stick with what’s going on, stay patient and trust that this is going to work.”
Patience has been a theme for the Demons and a lot of high school sports teams for the past three years — a stretch of time that saw altered seasons and challenging playing conditions during the pandemic.
For the 2020-21 school year, Glenwood Springs opted to play in the one-off spring season in a reformatted league that combined several 2A and 3A teams from the Western Slope that didn’t play in the optional fall season.
The short-schedule season saw Glenwood win the league at 7-1 — the only loss coming in the playoffs to eventual spring season champion Rifle.
A return to the traditional fall season and the normal slate of 3A league teams for the 2021-22 year resulted in a lackluster 5-5 output and no trip to the playoffs.
Still, McMillan said he knew the team had a lot of potential.
“We basically had two seasons of football in a matter of six or seven months, and it just felt good to be out there playing,” he said. “We worked hard every day, and a lot of it was just getting back into that mindset.
“This season, we have goals just like we do every season. We know what we want to do and what we want to accomplish.”
That delay in Sandoval’s freshman season might have worked to his advantage from a player development standpoint.
“It’s all about strategy and development, being smart and having a high IQ for football,” said the junior standout who is a threat both passing and running, managing the plays and looking for interceptions on the defensive side of the ball.
He had a pick-6 interception against Rifle last week.
“Last year was a little bit rough, but I think this year we’re coming in with a different mindset,” Sandoval said. “We know what we want, and it’s all about the team coming together to make that happen.”
Sandoval, who transferred from Basalt to Glenwood Springs schools his eighth-grade year, said he is ready to play for bragging rights against some of his former youth league and middle school teammates on Friday.
“Definitely, it’s become kind of a personal game for all of us,” he said. “It’s a fun rivalry, and it’s always fun to go up there and show them what we can do.”
Making a play for the title in the tough 3A league, where Durango and Summit are the favorites, will take teamwork, Cruz said.
“We’re not a one-man team; it takes all 11 of us out there on the field,” he said. “We just have to play hard, play together and trust each other.”
Jensen notes the team has two more non-conference games Friday and next week, when 4A Grand Junction Central comes to town for the Demons’ homecoming game. Then there’s a bye, and the first league game at home Oct. 6 against Battle Mountain.
“Right now, we just need to get through the next two games, hit the bye week and get people healthy before we start that league schedule,” Jensen said.
Glenwood Springs @ Basalt, 7 p.m.
Roaring Fork vs. Clear Creek, 7 p.m.
Rifle @ Delta, 7 p.m.
Coal Ridge @ Salida, 7 p.m.
Grand Valley vs. Vail Christian, 6:30 p.m.
Glenwood Springs @ Front Range Tournament vs. George Washington, Wheat Ridge, Littleton and Sheridan
Roaring Fork vs. Liberty Common, 9 a.m.
Basalt @ Montezuma-Cortez, 11 a.m.
Glenwood Springs, Coal Ridge, Rifle and CRMS @ Demon Invitational, CMC Spring Valley soccer fields, 9 a.m.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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