Fresh faces, new coach has Titans gearing up for rebirth

A Coal Ridge Titan quarterback hands the ball off to another player during an early evening practice at the school.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

For the third time in three seasons, the Coal Ridge Titans’ football program turns to a new face at head coach, bringing in Paul Downing this summer to help reboot a program that has experienced ups and downs since 2010, winning no more than four games a year. However, last year’s head coach, Bob Frederickson, helped the Titans achieve their best finish in seven years, going 5-4.

Frederickson stepped down after the season, forcing the Titans to search for a new head coach.

Downing steps in as an experienced head coach, having served as the head man at Highland High School in Ault for two seasons.

“I’ve had four different coaches in my high school career, but I think we’ve learned to adapt here,” said Oscar Salazar, Coal Ridge’s starting quarterback. “We’ve learned to not treat it as a bad thing, but a positive thing, because it affords everyone a new opportunity.”

Unfortunately, Downing steps into a young program that was hit hard by graduation, as 13 senior starters depart, leaving the Titans very young heading into the 2018 season, as just six seniors with varsity experience return.

Aside from the six seniors with experience, more than half of the roster is either new to the school, or are freshman.

“We had a team meeting one day and I said to the guys, “Raise your hand if you’re either new to the school, or you’re a freshman,” Downing said. “A large majority raised their hand, so we’ve got our work cut out for us, but this is a foundational year.”

While many on the 40-man roster for the Titans are fresh faces, guys like senior Oscar Salazar, senior Adrian Garcia, senior Brady Sasco, senior Colby Noffsinger, and senior Jan Hernandez give the Titans veteran leadership, on and off the field.

“It’s huge to have guys like that back,” Downing said. “They’re so committed to this program, you can’t ask for much more from them. They’ve been at everything we’ve had in the offseason, and they’re even recruiting for us in the hallways at school trying to get kids to come out and be part of this program.”

“We’re really young,” Salazar added. “We lost a ton of talent from last year, but we have some key guys back. We’re excited to see what we can do. I’m expecting big things with this group. We’ve worked hard throughout the offseason. Now we just have to grow and put that experience we’ve gained to the test this year.”

Although Coal Ridge returns veteran players at the skill positions, the Titans have to replace four of the five starting offensive linemen, which has caused the Titans to focus on installing the new system throughout the early portion of training camp.

“We’re raw right now,” Downing said. “We’re in that rough stage right now, in terms of sorting out our lineups, getting guys in the right spot, things like that. But I really like our skill positions right now. The work is a line in progress, but we’re coming along.”

As the season inches closer, the Titans know that they face one of the toughest schedules in the state, squaring off with the likes of Basalt, Rifle, Moffat County, Delta, Paonia, Meeker, and Hotckiss, to name a few. Known last season for its high-powered offense, Coal Ridge should be able to move the football with the amount of talent returning in the backfield and at receiver, but under Downing the defense will need to take a step forward for the Titans to make that next jump in the 2A Western Slope League.

“They did some things well last year, but I think there’s a lot of room for improvement still, in terms of technique and how they read the play,” Downing said. “If we can be just a little bit more fundamentally sound, we should be able to sit there and play our technique and do fine with stopping people. That’s the goal; I’m not saying we’re there yet, but that’s the goal to reach right now.”

With a new coach coming in and installing a new system, culture and expectation level, it’s hard for Downing and the Titans to focus on wins and losses right now. That’s not to say they aren’t concerned with results because you play to win, but in a transition year the Titans are focused on grasping what the new coaching staff is teaching, building a foundation for the program moving forward.

“We don’t have a number on that. I have a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario for this group,” Downing said. “But I really just hope they grasp what we’re teaching, and if they can do that we’ll be able to do well. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but we have a very tough schedule. There’s no doubt about that.”

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