Dave Close takes over struggling Roaring Fork football program | AspenTimes.com

Dave Close takes over struggling Roaring Fork football program

Joshua Carney/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Roaring Fork High School and Aspen play in a 2016 football game in Carbondale.

The 2017 season was one filled with frustration and heartache for the Roaring Fork High School football program. The Rams didn’t win a game all season, and found themselves playing under the mercy rule in all but one game last fall.

That led to a coaching change after the program dropped down to junior varsity-only competition for the next two years.

In steps 47-year high school football veteran coach Dave Close, who returns to Roaring Fork for a second go around with the Rams. From 1987-96, Close served as coach of the Rams before moving on to Aberdeen High School in Idaho. Since then, Close has coached all over Colorado, including stops at Bayfield, Pagosa and, most recently, Buena Vista, where he helped guide the Demons to the Class 1A state championship in 2015.

Despite all the success, Close is stepping into a program that is at rock bottom, in terms of results and interest, at least from the high school perspective.

“Roaring Fork has a proud football tradition,” Close said during a recent phone interview. “I coached in Carbondale for 10 years, so I have some familiarity, but times sure have changed here. We’re looking to bring that culture back to the area and drum up interest in football once again.”

Close said the interest in the job first started last year when he was in Glenwood Springs for a preseason scrimmage. At the scrimmage, Close caught up with some Carbondale friends, who told him what was happening with the program. Seeing such a proud, historic program fall on tough times led to Close taking on the challenge of completely rebuilding, starting from the ground up.

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By taking on the role of high school head coach, Close said he’s going to incorporate the middle school program into the high school system, meaning he — along with his eight assistants (Jeff Carter, Mike Conklin, Eric Bollock, Larry Williams, Larry Black, Dave Cardiff, Ray Cooney and Cesar Bencomo) — will coach both the high school and middle school programs at the same time.

Practices will be held together, as the varsity program practices on one side of the field, with the middle school practices on the other side of the field. During those practices, Close and his assistants will aim to teach the fundamentals of the game while providing the kids with a structured system.

“It might be nuts to coach both programs,” said Close, who will travel over Independence Pass each day from his teaching job in Buena Vista.

Although it’s quite a tough challenge to not only rebuild a high school program but go the whole way down to the peewee level to rebuild Carbondale football, Close is enthusiastic about what lies ahead for him and his assistants.

“We will have to work with the peewees,” Close said. “We’re going to focus on the fifth- and sixth-grade football players, making sure we keep them in Carbondale and feed them into the Roaring Fork system.

“Too often, we’ve seen kids play for Basalt, and when it comes time to enter middle school, they want to stick with their friends they’ve played sports with, so they go to Basalt. We need to do a better job here of keeping them in Carbondale, and creating interest in football at the peewee level.”

Aside from the peewee level, Close will have to keep upperclassmen interested in the rebuilding of the program, despite those upperclassmen — specifically seniors — being ineligible for junior varsity competition.

“CHSAA put in a new rule this year that seniors can’t play junior varsity football,” Close said. “The seniors, and even this year’s juniors, will have to bring a tremendous attitude every day. While the future of Roaring Fork football doesn’t really depend on them moving forward, the work they put in this year, and the enthusiasm they have for the rebuild will go a long way toward keeping the underclassmen interested in seeing this thing through.”

Fall sports practices start Aug. 6, as CHSAA moved up the official start date one week. That could come in handy for the Rams, who can use the extra week, but with a number of kids in the valley holding down jobs in the summer, it will be tough for Close and his assistants to get enough kids out for both the middle and high school programs.

“Our biggest concern right now is that we won’t have enough kids,” Close said. “Those first few weeks are vital. We would like to have 15 in high school and 15 in middle school, but from people I’ve heard from, we won’t have many kids until school starts (Aug. 20). We’d like to have 25 at the high school level this year, but that might be a stretch.”

Close emphasized to the Post Independent that it’s important for kids who are interested in playing this year to know the Rams will play JV only, meaning they won’t see a single varsity game all year.

It won’t be as rough physically, and the Rams won’t be overmatched this year like they were last fall every Friday night.

Roaring Fork will hold practices from 5-8 p.m. each night once the official season starts Aug. 6.

On that same day, Roaring Fork High School will hold free physicals all day at the high school for fall athletes.

The 2018 and 2019 seasons will be lean years for the Rams, but Close has a goal of getting back to varsity action in 2020, when he hopes the Rams win at least half of their games.

“I’d hate to see the program die completely without giving it a try,” Close said. “We have to develop the fundamentals and the enthusiasm. If we can do that, we have a shot at rebuilding this thing.”

jcarney@postindependent.com

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