Tough call yields results for Glenwood Springs Demons |

Tough call yields results for Glenwood Springs Demons

Jeff Caspersen
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Special to the Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Eleven years ago, the Friday night lights at Stubler Memorial Field beamed dim.

Glenwood Springs High School football, once a storied program, had taken quite the hit.

Numbers were at an all-time low. Thirty-eight players were out for football, a number that might have been promising had that been the size of the varsity roster.

But it wasn’t. That was the program-wide total.

The players the Demons did have weren’t collectively big enough to escape a brutal Western Slope League schedule unharmed.

Then-head coach Craig Denney had a decision to make.

He could expose his players to a potentially demoralizing season or abandon varsity play for a season and rebuild.

He chose the latter, and the varsity Demons disappeared for a bit. Junior varsity was the top of the program in 1997.

Watching that same program reach the summit of Class 3A football on Saturday, Denney knew more than ever that the gut-wrenching decision he made back on Aug. 20, 1997, was the right call.

“I definitely think it was the right thing to do at the time,” said a reflective Denney, standing on the turf at Legacy Stadium in Aurora shortly after Glenwood beat Fort Morgan 23-14 to win a state title. “For the program, it was a good thing. After that, it takes a while. You’ve got to have a class like this, with big numbers and good athletes who love each other.”

Big numbers and good athletes are precisely what the Demons piggybacked to the state crown in 2008, completing the renovation of what was once a tattered program.

“At this level, I think we suited 43 today,” Denney declared. “What a great game, a great day.”

As Denney noted, it took a while to get to this point. It took loads of work, and not just from within the program.

Three Rivers Youth Football, the feeder program for local middle and high schools from Parachute all the way to Aspen, is thriving. It’s where the bulk of the 2008 Demons got their start.

And you better believe the present-day Three Rivers players are taking note of the Demons’ efforts.

A common scene in these recently wrapped playoffs: Youngsters sporting Three Rivers jerseys soliciting autograph from their high school idols.

Winning is quite the recruiting tool.

These are scenes Glenwood Springs assistant coach Jared Walter, who played for Denney on that JV squad 11 years ago, never fathomed seeing.

“Ten years back, I had my doubts we’d be here,” he admitted in the aftermath of Saturday’s win. “Not only to be here, but to win it. There’s a program now. There’s community support behind it.”

Like parents regularly bringing meals to practices or throngs of Demon fans trekking all the way to Aurora to take in the state championship game. Glenwood also had a massive contingent of fans at Berthoud in the quarterfinals, the Demons’ only other road playoff game.

“Football is one of those sports that encompasses so much,” said Glenwood’s present-day head coach, Rocky Whitworth. “Everybody can take part ownership in it and, believe me, they deserve it. They have worked and done so much for the kids to be at this spot.”

Whitworth found himself floored by the scene in Aurora.

“I could almost feel the emotion of the crowd boiling down onto the field,” he said. “It’s been extraordinary how the community has taken this team into their arms and helped them.”

If Saturday’s win is any indicator, the glory days of Glenwood Springs football appear to be here to stay, even with some 20 seniors on their way to their post-high school lives.

The infrastructure and community support are there, and winning tends to breed more winning.

“This program was so far down that it was literally gone,” said Whitworth, who just finished up his fifth season at the helm of the Demon program. “And football is a tough program. If you don’t have a strong infrastructure you can’t survive. So we built some foundations here, and it worked.”

With the foundation restored, the future appears bright for Glenwood football, although it’ll be hard to top what happened on Saturday.

Stability is what guided the Demons to that 3A summit, Walter stressed. He would know. He passed through the program at its least stable point.

“When I was a senior, we had four seniors that played all four years,” he said. “On the field (Saturday) we suited up 18 seniors. That’s huge. Those kids went all the way through and they had pee wee football. They’ve grown together, been playing together. They’ve grown to like the game for 10 years, whereas we had six. Out of that, we had four seniors. That really says it right there as far as how the program has grown.”

And it’s grown, quite literally, from nothing.

Watching young autograph seekers on the turf at Legacy Stadium, Walter predicted a big future for football in Glenwood Springs.

“This will really help solidify the program,” he said. “These kids can’t wait to strap on the red helmet.”

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