For Basalt High football, a return to normal also means continued success on the field
The Longhorns open the season Friday night at home against Woodland Park
The players are happy for the return of relative normalcy to the field this fall. And for the Basalt High School football team, normalcy in recent years also means a lot of winning, as the program seems to reload, as opposed to rebuild, from season to season.
“I definitely feel a lot more excited this year, for sure, just to have a normal year,” BHS senior running back Gavin Webb said. “We’ll be a lot better than what people think. I think our team bond is a lot more strong this year. We are wanting to have fun and are all willing to put in the work.”
Webb said last spring’s team — the Longhorns were among the roughly 20% of the teams statewide to have opted to play in the spring as opposed to last fall because of the pandemic — played with a “chip on our shoulders” due to the high expectations. While those expectations are certainly high again this fall, they feel tempered a bit despite plenty of returning talent.
Basalt went 5-2 in the COVID-altered spring season. After rolling through Salida and Steamboat Springs to start the season, BHS shocked a lot of people by routing mighty Rifle, 38-7, although the Bears would get the last laugh as they went on to win the Class 3A state title. The Longhorns’ only regular-season loss came 21-14 to Glenwood Springs, with wins over Aspen and Montezuma-Cortez closing out the slate.
Basalt’s season ended with a first-round playoff loss to Sand Creek, 27-22, as injuries began to stack up on the Longhorns.
“It feels a lot nicer. It’s definitely a lot hotter than spring. I feel like I prefer the spring conditions rather than the fall,” BHS senior lineman Ryan Zheng said of the return to normal. “We still have a few things to tighten up, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to do it before Woodland Park. We are looking pretty good this year.”
Basalt opens its season at 7 p.m. Friday at home against Woodland Park, a fellow 2A program that plays out of the Tri-Peaks league alongside La Junta, Lamar, Manitou Springs and powerhouse The Classical Academy. The Woodland Park Panthers played last fall, going 2-4 overall. They were 6-4 overall in fall 2019.
“We were so happy for our seniors last year to get the season. But I think things such as team dinners to our normal start to the school year to being back in our normal Western Slope conference, I think those are all things we are looking forward to,” said longtime BHS coach Carl Frerichs. “We are pretty excited.”
Basalt enters this fall ranked preseason No. 5 in Class 2A, a list topped by Eaton. Rifle is No. 2, followed by TCA at No. 3 and Resurrection Christian at No. 4. Behind Basalt is Delta at No. 6; the Panthers joined Moffat County as the only 2A Western Slope League teams to have opted in for the fall last year, while the other four teams played in the spring in a combined 2A/3A league.
The Longhorns graduated a pair of first team “Season C” all-state players from the spring in quarterback Matty Gillis and receiver/defensive back Rulbe Alvarado.
But returning are Webb, who was the third player to earn first team all-state honors and led the team in rushing, as well as junior Trevin Beckman (RB/LB) and senior Sam Sherry (WR/LB), both of whom were honorable mention all-state selections from the spring.
Taking over at quarterback for the Longhorns is junior Kade Schneider, who will look to replace the efficient and effective Gillis as the team’s leader.
“He’s probably got the best arm I’ve ever seen for a quarterback,” Webb said. “But we’ll see how he does under pressure. It’s totally different from throwing good balls under pressure in a game, so we’ll see how he does. I think he’s going to do really good.”
Basalt’s line, notably on the offensive side, has the chance to be a strength with plenty of experience coming back. The group is led by the senior trio of Zheng, Jack Hamm and Gage Reuss.
Like all teams on the Western Slope, the Longhorns like their odds to compete for a state title as long as they can remain healthy, which wasn’t the case back in the spring.
“The three keys to any season are eligibility, injuries and buy in,” Frerichs said. “That injuries piece I know in the spring was a huge thing for us and we are getting healthier and healthier every week. The other thing is kids are stepping up and really doing a nice job.”
After Woodland Park on Friday, Basalt will host Battle Mountain next week, a game that was moved to Thursday, Sept. 2, again at 7 p.m. BHS also has road games at Faith Christian (Sept. 10) and Glenwood Springs (Sept. 17) on the calendar.
The WSL slate begins Oct. 1 at home against Moffat County, followed by an Oct. 8 trip to Coal Ridge. After a game at Delta on Oct. 15, BHS will finish out the regular season with back-to-back home games against Rifle (Oct. 22) and Aspen (Oct. 29).
The Skiers open their season at 5:30 p.m. Friday at home against Colorado Springs Christian.
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Peter Arnold’s playing career ended after high school, but his time on the ice continues a few decades later. A longtime USA Hockey official and new Aspen resident, Arnold is searching for the next generation of hockey referees among the youth ranks here in the Roaring Fork Valley.