Lowering the boom
RIFLE – The natural gas boom on the Western Slope is bringing more than jobs, rigs and money to the area. It has also brought football players.Six high school players have transferred from Texas to Rifle in the last seven months when their families were relocated to Colorado for jobs in the gas industry.They range from three freshmen and a sophomore, who play on Rifle’s younger teams, to senior Caleb Powell and junior John Saldaña, who are suiting up for the varsity squad. The fact that the players, who all came from different towns and didn’t know each other, ended up in Rifle is no coincidence. They wanted to join a team who won the state championship in 2004 and finished as runner-up last season.Powell and Saldaña hadn’t heard of Rifle’s winning ways. But Powell’s dad and Saldaña’s stepdad had. They found out about the team when they visited Rifle before moving there.”Whenever they first got here, I thought the guidance counselors might say, ‘Let me tell you about our football program.’ And then parents said, ‘Oh, we know. That’s why we are here,'” said Rifle’s second year head coach Damon Wells. “Because in the (gas) industry, evidently, you could move to Meeker, Glenwood, Parachute or Grand Junction, but they researched enough and said ‘Our boys are going to Rifle.'”All six players had lived in football-crazed Texas their whole lives before being uprooted and coming to Colorado. The transition hasn’t been easy, especially for Powell, who moved toward the end of his junior year. Keeping football as a constant in his life made the move manageable.
“(Football) helped a lot,” Powell said. Powell, along with his brother Logan, came to Rifle in February, the first two of the six to transfer. One thing that has made the move easier is the friendly atmosphere at Rifle.”I think these kids walked into a better situation than they probably realized. They walked into a situation that was welcoming,” Wells said. “It’s no credit to (the coaching staff) at all, it’s a credit to all of the kids we’ve had. But I think the reason we have been able to play in back-to-back state championships is: We weren’t better than Niwot (the team Rifle beat in 2004 to get to the title game). We didn’t have more talent then they did, but our kids are so damn close. Everybody clings to everybody else.” Logan, who hopes to be a future quarterback for the Bears, said playing with Rifle isn’t the same as playing in Texas.”It’s different,” he said. “For me, I have grown up in the same town and played with my friends my whole life and just playing with different people has been different.”According to Wells, Caleb has had the biggest impact on the team thus far. The fullback/linebacker started in the Bears’ season opener last week. Caleb came from Shallow Water, Texas, a town similar in size to Rifle. Coming from a state known for its high school football, Wells was surprised to hear what the difference between Colorado and Texas football is.”I was having a conversation with Caleb the other day, and I said, ‘How does it compare?’ and he said, ‘Well, we get coached a lot more here,'” Wells said. “And then I said, ‘What about the level of competition,’ and he goes, ‘It’s the same.'”
Houston Martin, a freshman linebacker/wide receiver, has noticed other changes off the field.”It’s different. First thing is the scenery and it’s not as hot,” he said. “I like the heat. … I miss Texas.”Caleb, along with Saldaña, is hoping that his football skills can carry him into college, where he can get an education and avoid working out on the rigs like his older brother.For now, Caleb and Saldaña will focus on their first home game when the Bears play Delta on Friday night.These Texas transplants came to Rifle because of a boom-and-bust industry, but they can rely on football to provide them with stability. Knowing that every day they have a team to practice with and every Friday Caleb and Saldaña have a team to play against, the duo can do the thing they enjoy most in this world.
Six players have transferred to Rifle’s football team from Texas after the oil boom brought their families to the Western Slope:Caleb Powell, senior linebacker/fullbackJohn Saldana, junior offensive lineman/defensive endCharles Maxwell, freshman outside linebacker/wide receiverSteven Garza, sophomore fullback/linebackerLogan Powell, freshman quarterback/defensive backHouston Martin, freshman linebacker/wide receiver
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