Rifle duo sign letters of intent to play college football
Following distinguished careers at Rifle High School as part of the football program, senior fullback/linebacker Tanner Vines, and senior center/defensive tackle Wyatt Warfel will have new homes next season, signing National Letters of Intent with Colorado Mesa University and Western Colorado University Wednesday afternoon inside Jack Smith Gymnasium in front of family, friends, and coaches.
“These two are great talents, and they’re going to be great contributors no matter where they go,” said Damon Wells, Rifle’s head coach. “They’re going to lift, they’re going to go to class, they’re going to graduate. They’re just great young men and I couldn’t be happier for them.”
The senior duo helped lead Rifle to a 9-2 (4-1 2A Western Slope League) record during the 2018 season, winning the 2A WSL championship in Rifle’s first year at the 2A level. As a team, Rifle went to the 2A state playoffs and defeated Eaton 27-0 at home in the first round before dropping a 21-14 decision on the road to Resurrection Christian in the second round.
Individually, Vines won the Back of the Year award after rushing for 2,230 yards and 21 touchdowns, marking the second consecutive season he rushed for more than 2,000 yards. He added seven receptions for 79 yards on the year. He later added Second Team All-State honors in 2A. Vines finishes his Rifle career with 4,422 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns, starting just two seasons for the Bears.
As for Warfel, the senior started three years at center for the Bears and earned Second Team All-State honors in 2A with Vines, while also earned First Team All-Conference honors two straight years, as voted on by league coaches.
“Wyatt was really our rock these last three years,” said Wells. “He was a guy that we didn’t really have to worry about, and we didn’t have to worry about the position and who was going to start there. We’re definitely going to miss him; he did a lot on the field, and to be really honest with you he did a lot more off the field as far as the culture is concerned.”
Warfel will head to Western as an offensive lineman. The big center said the Western coaching staff recruited him as a center, but that they’re looking for tackle help. Warfel added he hasn’t played tackle in years, but will take a crack at learning the position to get onto the field faster. Regardless, Warfel was quick to point out what a great fit Western’s program is for him moving forward.
“I just felt it was the best fit for me,” said Warfel. “I like where it’s located, I like the football program, and I like how they how handle their kids with academics and sports.”
Warfel becomes the second Rifle football product to head to Western in the last three years, joining former All-State running back and safety Ty Leyba, who is currently a running back with the Mountaineers.
Despite having some familiarity with Leyba, Warfel will miss the brotherhood at Rifle, and the relationships built with friends and coaches. He’s well prepared for the collegiate level though coming out of Rifle.
“They’ve just taught me how to be a good person,” said Warfel. “The coaches here have taught me how to be mentally and physically strong, and how to handle certain situations. I couldn’t have asked to come from a better program.”
At Western, Warfel plans on studying business administration in hopes of later opening his own business after graduation.
VINES HEADS TO THE MAVERICKS
Capping off a terrific career at Rifle with a number of individual accolades, Vines now gets a crack at the collegiate ranks just down the road in Grand Junction with the Colorado Mesa Mavericks. Vines committed to the Mavericks late in the process after receiving some interest from a few other Colorado schools.
“They have a great campus, and when I went down there they just really cared about my education and helping me financially,” said Vines. “I have a few friends down there and I really liked the culture within the program. It was an easy decision from there.”
Vines said telling his friends, family, and coaches was a really exciting moment for him, especially knowing that he achieved a goal of receiving a college scholarship to play football.
“Tanner is the personification of the reason why kids should have a belief in themselves and work hard,” said Wells. “He didn’t start in middle school, and didn’t start right away in high school. But he was kid that always believed in himself and told us what he was going to do when he got the chance. To be quite honest with you, I didn’t really believe it, but he did. He showed up every single day willing to work, willing to be coached, and he fulfilled every single goal he set for himself.”
The senior is the typical Rifle story: a talented player sitting behind other talented players as an underclassmen before then receiving his opportunity and flourishing. Vines stepped in three years ago in a playoff game for an injured Blaine Vance and gave the Bears a glimpse of what they had. Fast forward two years and it’s really hard to put into words just how dominant Vines was as a fullback in Rifle’s wing-T offense. Vines rushed for 8.6 yards per carry, cracked 100+ yards 21 times in 28 career games, and scored 41 rushing touchdowns, carrying the ball 515 times in his career.
“These last two years were pretty crazy; I couldn’t have done it without Coach Wells and my teammates” said Vines. “I always wanted to be able to go play college football and have great seasons, but I never thought I would do it as well as I did. Looking back now I think I could have done better in those two seasons; there are things I wish I could have done better and different but I’m really blessed to have played at Rifle and been in the culture I was in these last few years. I don’t think I could have had this success anywhere else.”
Vines added that the Mavericks coaching staff expects to use him as a running back, which will be a slight change of pace for the former fullback. For now, Vines is preparing for the position change with Wells and Jeremy O’Donnell, Rifle’s defensive coordinator.
Off the field at CMU, Vines – much like Warfel – will study business administration. He was quick to add he is still trying to figure out what exactly he’ll study in business.
That said, there’s nothing left to figure out when it comes to how much the two talented seniors have meant to the Rifle program these last few years.
Now they’ll look to leave their mark on their respective college programs, much like they left an indelible mark at Rifle.
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