A Family Affair
PUEBLO — Joe Kosht has memories of Rifle High School football from long before he ever strapped on a blue and gold uniform.
The senior center for the Bears watched Rifle’s run to the 2004 state title when his older brother, Mitch, was the starting inside linebacker. Then two years ago, Joe, then a sophomore, played with his brother Nick on the team that went to the state title game.
“What was really cool was how during the semifinal game, we got to go in and play together,” said Joe, who played alongside Nick when the outcome of Rifle’s eventual 56-6 victory over Pueblo East had long been determined. “That was really fun. And to think it was against Pueblo East. Who knew?”
Indeed, no one could have predicted two years after their semifinal matchup that the Bears (12-1) and Eagles (10-3) would play each other again with even more on the line. But when both teams play each other in front of a packed house at Dutch Clark Stadium starting at 1 p.m. today, there will be more reunions than just the two teams that met on the field two years ago.
Rifle will have plenty of players from teams past in the stands, many of whom will have younger siblings who’ll be in uniform during today’s game. All total, close to a dozen players who suit up today have older brothers who either are, or have played, for Rifle in the past. And of those, six of those older siblings have played in state championship games.
“We know that we’re just kind of leasing the legacy of this program and that it was around long before any of us were here,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “And it will also be around long after all of us are gone. That’s all because of good families and good people that have been through here.”
In all, Rifle is 2-3-1 in state title games, winning outright titles in 1973 and 2004 and tying Louisville for the Class A crown in 1961. Pueblo East, which opened in 1959, is playing in its first state title game.
This year, a couple of freshman get to watch their older brothers play. Cameron Shepherd gets to watch his older brother, three-year starting linebacker Austin, from the sidelines. In the same boat is Connor Gould, who will suit up for the game with his brother, senior offensive lineman Alex Gould.
There’s not a good chance that those pairs of brothers will get to play together unless the score near the end of the game is one-sided. However, that’s not something unheard of over the years.
Senior offensive lineman Austin Boone got a chance to play next to his brother, Eli, on one defensive play when the Bears were winning handily during his sophomore year.
“We didn’t do much, getting to go out and play with my brother is something I’ll always remember,” Austin said.
Then after Eli graduated, Austin moved from tight end into Eli’s position on the offensive line, also taking Eli’s jersey No. 55.
“That was kind of continuing the family legacy,” he said.
Senior Cody Rice, a tight end and outside linebacker for this year’s Rifle squad, was a sophomore when his older brother, Adam, was Rifle’s starting quarterback during its run to the state title game. Adam and Eli had made their way back to Rifle this week and spoke to the team after practice on Wednesday to talk about the experience they had playing for the state title.
For Adam, however, there was another motivating factor for coming back to see his alma mater play for another title.
“For the first time, I’ll get to see my brother play,” said Adam, who is a sophomore at Baylor University majoring in journalism. “I’ve been away at school, so I finally get a chance to see him play in his last game.
“I’m so proud of these guys for getting here,” he continued. “I’ve known most of these guys forever, and I’m so happy for them that they also get this experience.”
And from the looks of it, a lot of those fans and siblings will be trying to experience the game in person. Joe Kosht, for example, said on Wednesday that his brothers were flying in from Boston and San Francisco to watch today’s game in Pueblo. And with streaming video feeds and radio broadcasts, it’s a good bet there’ll be people following the game from around the nation.
“After every game, we get messages from people in Florida, California, Pennsylvania, and all over the country,” Wells said. “I said a long time ago that our football program isn’t nearly as important as we think it is, but it’s way more important than we think it is. I don’t know another way to put it.”
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