ASPEN - Aspen High quarterback Tucker Beirne made quite the first impression during his freshman season. As it turns out, it also was his last.
The highly touted signal caller will be leaving the Skiers and enrolling at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, according to Maxpreps.com, which first reported the development Monday.
Both Tucker and his father, Dave, delivered the news to Aspen coach Mike Sirko in phone calls late last week.
"I knew that something like this could be in the works, but I wasn't really worried about it," Sirko said Tuesday from Pennsylvania, where he is attending a family wedding. "If it was meant to be and he was here, great. If not, you have no choice but to move on.
"I wish him the best, and I'm excited about the opportunities we have down the road. At this point, all I'm worried about are the players we have here."
Dave Beirne, who did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday, told Maxpreps.com that the entire family will be relocating to Florida in the next few weeks. Tucker is expected to enroll at the Catholic, all-male private school in January.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound quarterback generated considerable attention after taking part in prestigious camps and all-star games across the country. In July, he was one of 50 players selected to take part in the U.S. National Development Program.
He assumed the starting role with the Skiers this fall despite being just 14 years old.
In his first game, Aug. 26 against visiting Delta, Beirne completed 15 of 20 pass attempts for 198 yards and four touchdowns. One week later, at Moffatt County, he threw for 325 yards and four scores - all to All-State senior wide receiver Quinn Morehead, who hauled in 20 of Beirne's 27 completions. The duo hooked up for a 37-yard, game-winning score with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The learning curve proved steep at times, however. Beirne and Aspen were overmatched in Hotchkiss, and later dropped back-to-back games to Coal Ridge and Olathe, which cast doubt on the Skiers' postseason chances. They regrouped on the final Friday of the regular season, however, mounting a fourth-quarter comeback to top valley rival Roaring Fork and secure a fifth consecutive 2A playoff berth.
All told, Aspen finished 7-4 and 5-2 in Western Slope play. Beirne wound up tallying 2,013 passing yards and 22 touchdowns.
Replacing that production will be difficult, but Sirko sees Beirne's departure as an opportunity for the Skiers to return to their roots.
"In the old days here we controlled the football on the ground and tried to run the clock out. I think we're going to go back to some of that. I don't feel like this really is a setback," the coach said. " We have a 1,000-yard rusher [Casey Hornburg] coming back and three offensive lineman. ... Things happen for a reason. This is a chance for us to go back to doing the things we're comfortable with, that we enjoy doing.
"These types of things happen all the time. I've had kids who turned out to be All-Americans transfer because their dads lost jobs or whatever. I could've had [1996 Heisman Trophy winner] Danny Wuerffel at Rampart. He was living in Colorado Springs - his dad was a chaplain at the Air Force. He got transferred to Florida and, of course, the rest is history."
Beirne will be vying to fill the starting job vacated by Explorers quarterback Garrett Fortner. The senior helped guide Columbus to a 10-3 record and a berth in the 8A state semifinals last season.
"We're OK with [the decision], and they're OK with it. ... Other people might be upset, but now we have to move forward," Sirko said.
"We're all about the team, about everybody getting a piece of the pie and not having one person stand out that much above everybody else. I feel good about the team concept. ... Our goals haven't changed. We always want to make the playoffs, win the league and have a chance at a state title. That will always be in the back of our minds."