Aspen High School football names Travis Benson head coach for the second time
Travis Benson feels he got as much from Karson Pike as the players did, and he doesn’t plan to change a whole lot as he inherits the Aspen High School football program for the second time.
AHS athletic director Martha Richards on Wednesday said that Benson has been selected as the Skiers’ new head coach, pending school board approval. He will replace Pike, who led Aspen in its remarkable turnaround season in 2017 where it finished 8-2 overall and made the Class 2A playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“To get that opportunity for these kids was pretty incredible as well for us as coaches to be able to see not only his X’s and O’s thought process, but his overall management of the program,” Benson said. “When you have something that is working like it did last year, there is no reason to monkey around with it too much.”
Pike stepped down in December after two seasons to become the offensive coordinator at NCAA Division II Bemidji State University in Minnesota.
“He’s going to do a great job,” Richards said of Benson. “Travis is going to put his own stamp on it, but they are going to go down that same path that we so appreciate Karson got us headed down.”
Benson, 40, is no stranger to Aspen football. The 1995 AHS graduate was a standout lineman for the Skiers before starting four years at Division II Mesa State University. His graduating class in Aspen was the last before the AHS football program went dormant for a spell. Benson was among the people to help restart the program in 2000.
After five years as an assistant to Tom Goode, Benson became the AHS head coach in 2005. In his two seasons, the Skiers went 4-13 overall. He resigned after the 2006 season in what was a controversial decision that involved his eventual replacement, Mike Sirko, and his wife Diana Sirko, who then was the superintendent of the Aspen School District.
“It feels the same,” Benson said of returning to the top of the AHS coaching pyramid. “All my interest is to be able to give something to the kids and keep this program moving forward in a way that Karson got rolling again. Keep it on the up-and-up trajectory and moving in a positive direction.”
Pike even voiced his support Wednesday on Twitter, saying, “I couldn’t be more excited for the program or for Coach Benson!”
Benson remained in the area after his resignation, but bounced around as a coach. He was part of the Glenwood Springs High School coaching staff in 2008 when the Demons won the state championship under head coach Rocky Whitworth, who resigned in November after 14 years leading the program.
“It was a great staff to be a part of and to learn from,” Benson said. “To be quite honest, it was Rocky who definitely kept me going in football and kept me interested in the sport, so I owe a lot to him for that.”
Benson returned to the AHS football team as an assistant in 2015 under coach Ryan Triece and then the past two seasons under Pike, where he was primarily the offensive line coach.
“Travis as our head coach is phenomenal,” Richards said. “They help to give you different experiences and different perspectives so when you come back to head coaching, you look at it differently. That’s one of the things he and I talked about.”
Benson’s expected promotion to head coach is part of keeping continuity as well. When Sirko resigned after seven successful seasons in 2013, the program took a nosedive for a few years. The team went 4-5 in Triece’s first season while the 2015 season was marred by Triece’s midseason resignation after consecutive unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that led to his suspension. Assistant Chris Peshek finished the season out as interim coach.
In 2016 came Pike, who brought stability over his two seasons. Benson said he expects the rest of the coaching staff to remain on board for the 2018 season, with Alex Wood serving as his second in command and as offensive coordinator. Wood also was a finalist for the head coaching position.
“I’ve been lucky enough to work with Travis for three years now. Me and him think on the same wave length about everything,” Wood said. “Having the rest of the core group back is huge for the kids and that gives us a chance to continue being successful.”
A native of Steamboat Springs and former football player at the University of Colorado, Wood served as the team’s interim head coach after Pike’s resignation. He plans to continue with the effective spread offense Pike installed in his brief stint in Aspen.
“It’s a great staff. Alex Wood is a phenomenal, phenomenal offensive mind,” Benson said. “He’s probably my closest football friend in this valley. We are both resort kids growing up in the state. We see the program the same way.”
The Skiers are expected to begin their spring camps in June before the season gets going in August.