Aspen football’s seniors go out in style | AspenTimes.com

Aspen football’s seniors go out in style

Jon Maletz

Aspen senior running back Jackson Davis eyes Basalt senior Ben Pollock during their battle in October. Davis and senior teammates Jyace Stutsman and David Goldberg were named to the Western Slopes All-Conference team. (Aspen Times file)

A season that once looked promising did not end how many had hoped.Following a convincing 38-0 win in their season opener against Norwood, the Aspen Skiers came out on the losing end seven consecutive times. A 41-3 loss to Hotchkiss in the season finale was a most unwelcome exclamation point. When Aspen seniors Jackson Davis, Jyace Stutsman and David Goldberg left the field during a late-fourth quarter timeout, they drew cheers from an appreciative crowd. It may not have shown on the scoreboard, but the three’s contributions did not go unnoticed.”When I took them out of the game for the last time, 80 percent of the players on the bench had tears in their eyes,” Aspen head coach Travis Benson said. “All three were huge leaders out on the field. You can’t separate one from the other.”When coaches gathered to vote on All Western Slope selection, they decided they couldn’t separate the three either. All three were named to the all-league team. Junior Whit Fuller and sophomore Tucker Eason garnered honorable mention.

Jackson and Stutsman have been there from the beginning. Four years ago – Aspen’s first year as a varsity program – Jackson was a skinny kid in pads, Benson remembers. The freshman, who played corner sparingly in 2001, looked anxious during his time on the field, as did Stutsman.Three years later, Jackson had become the team’s backfield cornerstone, drawing the attention of defensive schemers up and down the valley. Despite being the lone target in an offense that was one-dimensional for much of the season, Jackson continued to produce. At 6 feet 1 inches and 175 pounds, Jackson used his instincts and power to hit holes and wear down the defense. “He’s a great athlete, but it was his smarts that got him a lot of the way,” Benson said. “He’s gonna be greatly missed because of his football intelligence.”Against Summit, Davis distinguished himself as the most explosive athlete on the field. He broke free for a 38-yard run to put the Skiers on the board. On Aspen’s next defensive possession, Davis – the rover – Davis used his instincts and vision to step in front of the pass attempt, and run the interception back 80 yards for a score. It is that unique vision and his ability to read coverage that make Davis a suitable linebacker at the next level, Benson said. Davis is planning on playing football at Rhode Island’s Bryant College. Stutsman distinguished himself as the undisputed vocal leader of the team, Benson said. Stutsman entered camp as an awkward freshman, and left his senior year as a polished athlete. When the Skiers occasionally decided to mix in the pass, it was Stutsman who stepped up to make some big plays. When Davis needed a big block on the perimeter to break free, it was Stutsman who sacrificed his body. “I think he’s the best blocker in the league compared to tight ends or offensive linemen,” Benson said.

Goldberg – a hockey player who played just two years of varsity football – was a defensive stopper from the linebacker position. While his athletic abilities and impression progression drew recognition, it is his heart that Benson said stands out. Such a trait will suit him well if he decides to pursue football at the collegiate level. “Playing at the next level comes down to having more heart than anything else,” Benson said. “There are a lot of guys who are truly athletic and there are a lot of juniors and seniors sticking it out.”Davis said after the Hotchkiss loss that he wished he had a few more years left to play high school football. Ambassadors Davis, Stutsman and Goldberg helped steer the team during an period of transition. The football experiment at Aspen High School, though in its initial stages, looks promising.Eason, who played fullback for much of the year, helped lead the way for Davis. Fuller had a strong season on all sides of the ball, but it was his special teams prowess that led to votes, Benson said. Because of Aspen’s 1-7 record, they were hamstrung when it came to the number of votes available to nominate players for postseason awards. If the Skiers had one more player on the list, it would’ve been junior offensive lineman David Clark, Benson said.

The Skiers return four-fifths of their starting offensive line, which makes both Benson and sophomore quarterback Barry Maniloff smile. With Maniloff, Clark and Dillon Morehead expected to step up an assume a leadership role, the team is seemingly in good hands. For Aspen, progress has been about more than wins and losses. With a strong foundation – built by players like Davis, Stutsman and Goldberg – players continue to believe. They continue to look toward the future. “We are a new program and these players will come out and bloom in the next few years,” Stutsman said after the Hotchkiss loss. “I look forward to coming back and watching them play.” Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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