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Football in his future

Aspen Times writer

By Steve BensonAspen Times Staff WriterDusty Stutsman endured a number of beatings in the shadow of the Maroon Bells. The former star running back of the Aspen High football team – perennial underdogs in the Western Slope conference – Stutsman routinely carried the ball up to 35 times a game behind one of the league’s smallest offensive lines. Sometimes it was painful to watch as Stutsman took one handoff after another up the gut, disappeared into a swarming wall of tacklers, and emerged after the whistle with a crooked helmet and a face mask clogged with turf. “I would just limp back to the huddle,” said Stutsman, who graduated in spring. “By the end of the game my whole body hurt, everything would just cramp up so bad.” Sometimes it seemed futile – Stutsman ran as hard in the fourth quarter, when Aspen was usually down by three or four touchdowns, as he did in the first. But when you’d least expect it, Stustman would flatten a linebacker, turn opposing defensive backs into fools with his speed, and glide 70 yards for a touchdown. Then it would all make sense. Stutsman revels in his underdog status, loves a challenge, and lives to carry the football. Now, as most of his peers have thrown in the towel on organized sports to embark on the four-year journey that is college, Stutsman sweats through workouts in the Aspen High weight room, quietly preparing for a two-year stint at California’s Santa Barbara City College and football at the next level. Born to runStutsman started playing football in the sixth grade, and he hated it. Then he was asked to play running back. “I scored three touchdowns, and they were our only touchdowns,” Stutsman remembered. “From then on I was, like, this is what I’m doing.”Over the years, despite playing on an Aspen High team that lost far more games than it won, Stutsman’s love for the sport intensified. “This is a young man that has had this passion for a while,” AHS head football coach Tom Goode said. “He’s very focused.” So focused that he passed up a good four-year college – Colorado State University – for a two-year junior college in California, just so he could play football.”I think this is the best thing I can be doing for myself,” Stutsman said. “I’m going to go and play hard, see if I like it, and move on – maybe to the next level.”The next level is Division 1-A, or major college football, which recruits hundreds of players from the junior college ranks every year. There are more than 100 junior colleges in California, and some of those, including Santa Barbara City College, can act as pipelines to D-1 programs – particularly into the PAC-10 and Mountain West conferences. In fact, some junior college players have the talent to play D-1 football, but not the grades, so they begin their playing careers at the junior college level.Last year, 165 players from California’s junior colleges were recruited and signed by D-1 schools – 43 were selected from the Western State Conference, which includes Santa Barbara City College. None, however, were selected from Santa Barbara City College. The odds of moving on to D-1 may be low, but that doesn’t bother Stutsman. “I have a chance to play immediately [at Santa Barbara] since it’s only a two-year college,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to a four-year college because I probably wouldn’t play at all the first couple years.”I wanted to start at a smaller level and work my way up.” Goode thinks Stutsman is making the right decision. “Going to junior college is probably great for Dusty because he can make a statement immediately as a freshman,” Goode said. “When he gets a chance to play, he will be looking for a chance to shine.” And Goode believes Stutsman, who has been called undersized for a college running back at 6 feet and 185 pounds, has the talent to make an impression. “There is nothing small about him when you look at his strength and speed [he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, which is D-1 caliber],” Goode said. “He can hold his own by all means, he can do anything.”Furthermore, Goode knows Stutsman is mentally prepared. “They will get 110 percent out of him all the time, he’s never going to take a play off,” he said. “He’s that way to begin with, and this will make him even more hungry.” Stutsman recently returned from a week of workouts with his future teammates in Santa Barbara, where he feels he made “a good impression.” “Being down at sea level was completely different,” he said. “I could lift more than ever, and in running [drills] I could go longer and harder than most of the kids.” Unfortunately, Stutsman discovered that close to 10 running backs would be battling for playing time this fall.”It looks pretty grim, but we’ll see,” he said. Plus, most of the kids are coming from state championship football teams, and schools that had more kids per class than all of Aspen High put together. “It was a little intimidating,” Stutsman said. “But it pushed me, too, it inspired me to do better.” A player and a gentlemenMuch of Stutsman’s success has sprung from his tireless work ethic. Every day after work – hard labor for his dad’s company, Stutsman-Gerbaz Earthmoving – he can be found in the gym, where he lifts and trains for about two hours.”He’s a coach’s dream,” Goode said. “He comes into the opening season in better shape every year. You can’t ask for somebody to come in with that frame of mind.”He knew he was playing with a program that was probably not going to be conference champs, but he tries to bring everybody up to his level.” Stutsman attributes much of that to one of his classmates, Ben Westfeldt, who will be playing football at Grinell College in Iowa, a Division 3 program, this year. Westfeldt played alongside Stutsman in the offensive backfield for years, but he didn’t get the ball much. Instead, his primary role was to open holes for his counterpart. “I feel so bad for the guy because he would block so hard for me and he never got the ball,” Stutsman said. “He never scored a touchdown.” That streak came to an end last year, when Aspen hosted football powerhouse Roaring Fork High. Down 44-0 in the fourth quarter, Aspen drove down to the Rams’ goal line, and Goode called a play that would give Westfeldt the ball. “I just remember going through the hole and being like, ‘He’s scoring,'” Stutsman said. Westfeldt got into the end zone on what Stutsman referred to as the “most rewarding play in my football career.” Stutsman said he told the referee that same story after the game and “he started crying, and then I started crying – because it’s Ben, he was my inspiration, he’s the man.” Goode said that’s another rare quality that Stutsman possesses – as good as he is, he’s always thinking about the other guy.”He’s one of the nicest guys you can run into,” Goode said. “There was not one game this year that the ref had not come to me after and said ‘My gosh, not only is he a great athlete, but when he runs people over he helps pick them up after the play. He’s a gentleman.’ “So why wasn’t Stutsman more heavily recruited by any of the region’s larger schools. Goode thinks it’s because Stutsman played for a losing team in a small league in the western part of the state. “Western Slope 2-A football is not necessarily going to get a lot of [attention from recruiters],” he said. He sent films to Colorado State University and attended its camp last summer, where he felt he performed well. Goode said they told him Stutsman was undersized and he just didn’t fit in their plans. “That’s too bad, because I think in two years they might be sorry,” he said. Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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