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Optimism abounds at Grand Valley

Phil Sandoval

PARACHUTE – Optimism has never been a word associated with Grand Valley High School football – until now.

A winning record at summer camp, along with a brand new, on-campus football stadium has sparked a positive feeling for the Cardinals heading into the 2002 season.

“Right now there’s a buzz among the kids,” said third-year coach Mike Johnson. “We went to camp at the University of Wyoming, went 15-1 and took second place.”

Johnson said that it was the first time a Grand Valley football team had ever played in a championship game. The experience, the coach said, boosted the players spirits.

“As small as summer camp might be, that was the biggest game they ever played,” Johnson explained. “That was huge for the program. I think that we’re rounding the corner … if we can put a couple of strides in to it we’ll be on our way.”

And with eight returning starters on offense and seven returnees on the defensive side of the ball, Grand Valley has a legitimate shot at earning one of three state playoff berths the revamped Class 1A Western Slope Conference has.

“We’re really excited about it,” Johnson said of the new nine-team league that include new members Soroco, Meeker, Paonia and Rangely.

“In the past, we’ve been stuck playing Hayden, West Grand and Plateau Valley twice a year. It didn’t give us a whole lot of opportunity to be ahead of one or two league competitors.”

The coach said the new format of the 1A WSC, “spreads the league out, where you can be somewhere in the middle and feel good about yourself.”

Adding to the Cardinals good feeling are three all-conference selections from last year.

Sean Carlson, a 6-foot, 2-inch, senior is a two-way starter. Carlson is a tight end on offense and a defensive tackle. Fellow seniors Sam Hughes (5-11, 175) and Christian Hegtmeier (6-0, 190) give the Cardinals leadership and experience.

Hughes, a two-year all-conference pick at defensive back has been shifted to linebacker this season. Hughes is also a starting tailback.

Hegtmeier, who has gained speed after losing 50 pounds, is also a linebacker. When Grand Valley shifts to offense, Hegtmeier could see time at either offensive guard or fullback.

Senior Tim Arnold returns as the Cardinals’ quarterback. He inherited the job midway through the 2001 season after starter Clay McKinley went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Other players Johnson is counting on for a good year are senior Matt Lofton, Paul Belden, Sean Potter and 6-4 transfer student from Texas, Chris Johnson.

“We’re trying to build something here,” Johnson said. “We put together a few wins, like we really hope to, I think we’ll start to get community involvement. That’s one thing the football program hasn’t had.

“We get support from our school, but no one has ever believed in us. We have a chance – if we work hard and do the right things this year to set a new tradition. And that’s what we’re going to do.”


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