Aspen football coach honored in 1st season | AspenTimes.com

Aspen football coach honored in 1st season

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

The votes are in.

And the winners are …

All-conference football honors were announced this week in the Western Slope North League after the very first season of play under the new configuration of teams.

Head coach Ryan Triece of Aspen High School, in his first season, was voted the co-coach of the year by his coaching colleagues. Triece shared the coaching honor with Kyle Sager, the third-year coach at Coal Ridge High School.

"I was surprised," Triece said. "I was really bummed about how we ended our year. But we had lots of challenges this year. And we had good representation on the all-league team."

The Skiers finished the season 4-5, tormented by an increasing number of injuries as the season progressed.

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Aspen lost three of its final four games, just missing the playoffs after seven consecutive appearances in the postseason.

An agonizing 28-22 loss at rival Basalt in the final game of the season sealed their fate.

"All in all, we had some high points this year," Triece said. "We just weren't able to make plays in key situations."

A huge 34-14 victory over playoff-qualifier Moffat County was one of the highlights along with a big 34-24 victory at Roaring Fork.

The Skiers also beat Class 3A Steamboat Springs 23-14 this season when senior tailback Ryan Fitzgerald ran for a season-high 183 yards.

Fitzgerald, for the second consecutive year, was voted to the all-league first team. He again led the conference in rushing in spite of missing parts of two games with a troublesome leg injury.

The AHS senior totaled 1,500 yards this year, averaging 167 yards per game.

He gained more than 3,100 yards in his final two seasons at Aspen High School.

"He was the heart and soul of this teams," Triece said, adding that Fitzgerald played through the painful leg problem.

"I don't know of anyone else who would have been able to play under those circumstances. He's a tough, tough player," Triece said of Fitzgerald, who was a close second in the player of the year voting. Matt Hamilton of Moffat County was named the player of the year this season.

"John Heaphey was a unanimous choice as kicker/punter of the year," Triece said. "That was great to see. He'll have an opportunity to play in the all-state game."

Heaphey is a senior. He won all-conference honors in two sports again this fall. Heaphey was voted to the all-conference soccer team as well.

Fitzgerald, too, is a likely invitee to the all-state football game next summer.

Aspen senior Evan Morris, the Skiers' leading tackler, also was voted to the all-league team this year.

"He led us in tackles. He was way above everybody," Triece said. "And obviously what he did on offense was huge for us."

Senior Harry Ferguson, the versatile offensive weapon for the Skiers, was named to the all-league team.

"That was very deserving. He scored some key touchdowns for us," Triece said of the wide receiver/kick returner.

Nik Morgan, a junior, was also named to the all-league team. He played a substantial role on defense. And he filled in at tailback to spell Fitzgerald.

"That was nice. He was named mostly for his defensive work," Triece said. He led the team with four sacks and was second in tackles.

Five Aspen players were named to the all-league honorable mention list.

Wyatt Young

Shea Strutz

Tristan Niskanen

Jake Ferlisi

Nicky Cottrell

"Nicky was very instrumental at tight end for us," Triece said, adding that his work at linebacker was critical.

"Wyatt was third in tackles. And he also played fullback," the AHS head coach said.

"Shea was a force in the middle. His play … allowed the linebackers to make all those tackles."

Ferlisi, a junior, will return next season along with Niskanen.

"He (Niskanen) had some big defensive moments for us," Triece said, adding that Niskanen was second in the lineman of the year voting to Basalt's Jake Levy.

dstrode@aspentimes.com