Nothing like a couple of long road trips early in the season for some team bonding.
The Aspen Skiers will open the 2013 high school football season with three consecutive road trips, actually, including this week’s season-opening journey to Ignacio.
“This will be a dress rehearsal (trip) for us,” Aspen head coach Mike Sirko said. “We’ll be right back down there in two weeks.”
The Skiers, after a nononference game at Ignacio (7 p.m. Friday), will make the short trip to Carbondale for another nonleague game Sept. 6 against Roaring Fork.
The Aspen football team will open the Western League season Sept. 13 at Pagosa Springs, which is just a short drive from Ignacio — this week’s destination.
“We’re excited about the season,’ said Sirko, starting his seventh season as the AHS head coach. “We are really down in numbers. We’ll have ... 25 kids for the first game.”
With limited numbers, Sirko and his staff have had to resort to creative practice routines.
“We’ve been practicing against barrels,” Sirko said with an enthusiastic laugh that has accompanying him for 38 seasons of high school football. “With the numbers, the kids we do have are a good bunch.”
He said the Skiers will have to be a team of interchangeable parts with their limited numbers, led by seven seniors. Ten juniors bolster the roster along with a half-dozen sophomores and five freshmen.
“All of our seniors will be out there because we need them to be out there,” Sirko said. The underclassmen also will be rushed into duty in a season that features a thunderous start to the Western League.
After the long trip to Pagosa Springs for the league opener, the Skiers will play their home opener Sept. 20 against powerhouse Bayfield — a team that has been to the state semifinals two consecutive years. The Wolverines were the state runner-up in 2011.
Then, the Skiers will host Olathe on Sept. 27 before hitting the road to Gunnison on Oct. 4.
Aspen will host Coal Ridge on Oct. 11.
The Skiers will close the regular season against two more playoff teams from a year ago — at Grand Valley on Sept. 18 and home against rival Basalt on Oct. 25.
Aspen has reached the state playoffs six consecutive years under Sirko.
“We’ve had to change our offense again (to match up with personnel),” Sirko said.
Tyler Tick, a junior, will step in as the starting quarterback.
“Tyler is really responding well,” said Sirko, who mixes nine returning starters on offense and defense.
“We started a lot of sophomores last year,” he said.
Sirko said Evan Morris and Ryan Fitzgerald will be back to support the offense and defense.
Matt Ferguson will play tight end in his first season with the AHS football team.
Wyatt Young, a fullback, will carry behind the likes of Chris Ryerson and Shea Strutz.
All-league linebacker Luke O’Callaghan is back this year along with Nicky Cottrell.
Sirko also said JJ Ready is back. He’s a two-year starter at right tackle. He’ll also play inside linebacker on defense.
Henry Woodrow will see duty at free safety as well as tight end, Sirko said.
“And Ben Belinski is another senior who’s been with us all four years. He’ll play outside linebacker,” Sirko said.
The numbers game has limited the Skiers in the preseason, but Sirko said they are ready to get started at Ignacio against the Class 1A Bobcats.
“They should be improved for sure,” Sirko said, adding that the Bobcats return a two-year starter, 6-6 Adison Jones, at quarterback. He’s expected to lead the Ignacio passing attack in Friday’s opener.