Bears still focused on task at hand
Post Independent Sports Editor
Head coach: Damon Wells (Ninth season).
Last season: 12-2 overall, 7-0 class 3A Western Slope League (First place), lost to Pueblo East in 3A state championship game.
Returning starters, offense/defense: 4/5
Base offense: Wing-T
Base defense: 3-4
Key returners: Joe Kosht, Sr., C/OL; Gage Johnston, Sr., OL/DE; Ty Leyba, Sr., RB/FS; Tyler Bosshardt, Sr., RB/SS; Ethan Strouse, Sr., QB/DB; Blane Vance, Sr., RB/LB; Takoda Cheney, Jr., OL/LB.
Could make a splash: Jacob Boone, Jr., WR; Ramon Salvadriz, Soph., RB/LB; Drake Montgomery, Jr., RB/LB; Connor Gould, Soph., OL/LB.
Potential key games: Some fans long ago marked down Rifle’s Aug. 28 season opener at Bears Stadium against Grand County out of Moab, Utah not just because its the season opener, but because Wells has to sit out because the team is on restriction. Other than that, there’s plenty of games on Rifle’s schedule worth planning ahead to watch. Rifle will play a Thursday night road game against Palisade at Stoker Stadium — a team the Bears haven’t beaten in two years in games that have gone down to the wire. Then, the Bears host Glenwood Springs on Oct. 30 in the annual rivalry game they haven’t lost since 2010.
Editors note: The Post Independent’s annual Garfield County Football Preview comes out Friday, Aug. 28.
Regardless of what the status of Rifle High School’s football team is at the start of the 2015 football season, Damon Wells couldn’t be prouder of his players.
“I think that goes to show how great the kids in our program are,” said Wells, who is entering his ninth year as the Bears’ head coach. “They don’t care. What they care about is what’s happening today and how we can help them be as good as they can be. This is their year.”
Rifle’s football program has had plenty of seasons in recent memory that could have been considered “their year.” After all, the Bears have won four consecutive Class 3A Western Slope League titles in a league many have argued is the toughest small-school league in Colorado.
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But the program was placed on restriction by the Colorado High School Activities Association in December 2014. That means the program is ineligible for the postseason unless CHSAA reverses its decision, which historically has happened with football programs near the mid-point of the regular season.
Instead of worrying about what kind of decision CHSAA officials will make, however, Rifle’s players are worried more about what they can control.
“It was explained to us early on, but we were able to focus on football after that,” said Ethan Strouse, a senior who will be the Bears’ starting quarterback this season. “All that we’ve been focused on is getting ready for the season and focusing on what we need to do in the field.”
Strouse steps in as one of the seven new starters on offense for a Rifle team that, last season, played in its second state championship game in three years. Defensively, the Bears bring back just five players from a defense that allowed just 141 points in the 14 games it played last season.
But that doesn’t concern Rifle much.
“Just because a kid didn’t start doesn’t mean he wasn’t part of the program or didn’t do anything at all for us last year,” Wells said. “We took some freshmen with us to Pueblo last year, and they had a chance to play in front of 11,000 people in a state championship game. I’m pretty confident they know what the expectations are around here.”
Those expectations aren’t changing this season, either — especially with the core group of players who are returning from last year.
Two of the more experienced linemen — seniors Gage Johnston and Joe Kosht — will anchor what has proven to be one of the better offensive lines in Western Colorado in recent years. That line has helped pave the way to a Rifle running game that has averaged at least 336 rushing yards per game the past four seasons. Also returning are two of Rifle’s featured running backs from 2014 in junior Blaine Vance (844 rushing yards) and senior Ty Leyba (544 yards).
Moving to slotback from wide receiver is senior Tyler Bosshart, who had a team-high 32 catches last season with seven TD receptions. The move to slotback by Bosshart came thanks to the addition of 6-foot-6 junior Jacob Boone, who will play only wide receiver for the Bears.
Defensively, junior Takoda Cheney, who also plays offensive line, will be joined at linebacker by sophomores Ramon Salvadriz and Connor Gould along with junior Drake Montgomery. Wells also mentioned senior defensive end Nate Qualls as a player to watch for this year.
People will definitely be watching Rifle when it plays its season opener against Grand County out of Moab, Utah. Wells will have to sit out that game as part of the restrictive status Rifle was placed on, which will leave one of the Bears’ assistant coaches to take the helm. He will, however, be back on the sideline Sept. 11 when the Bears go to Craig to play Moffat County.
In the meantime, though, Rifle’s players headed into the season simply focused on how to get better — and how to stay on top.
“It keeps us on our toes,” Strouse said. “There’s always that feeling that everyone is coming after us. So for us, we want to do our best to be the best.”
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