Longhorns hope to finish what they started | AspenTimes.com

Longhorns hope to finish what they started

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

BASALT The Basalt football team is hoping for a happier ending this time around.Missed opportunities and deflating losses defined last year’s 3-6 campaign, and they continue to dominate conversations one year later.A season-ending three-game losing streak culminated with a 26-20 loss to Hotchkiss. Basalt, leading 13-6, fumbled in the Bulldogs’ red zone at the end of the first half, resulting in the tying touchdown. The Longhorns proved on multiple occasions they could compete with the league’s best – but only for three quarters. They trailed by less than one touchdown against rival Roaring Fork and Olathe, then 2A’s third-ranked team, after three only to walk off the field with lopsided defeats.”It’s frustrating when you play a great game and come up short, but the kids realized they were right there with everybody in the [2A Western Slope],” Basalt coach Forrest Grosh said Tuesday.”We proved we can play with the best teams until the fourth quarter,” standout linebacker and fullback Willy Klein said. “This year, we’ve been conditioning more, and we run a mile every morning. There’s no reason why we can’t improve.”If they are to contend for one of the league’s three playoff berths – Roaring Fork, Olathe and Gunnison advanced in 2006 after posting 6-1 league marks – The Longhorns will do so with a host of new faces in key positions. Basalt’s graduating class included 14 players, among them quarterback Tucker Hinchliffe, tailback Tony DiBacco and wideouts Rory Johnson and Ryan Gawrys – all first-team all-conference selections. Only four of the 14 started on defense.

Matching the departing skill players’ production will not be easy. Hinchliffe racked up 1,039 pass yards, fifth best in 2A, and 338 yards on the ground. DiBacco averaged nearly 7 yards per carry and Johnson 17.6 yards per catch. In addition to his 11 catches, Gawrys picked off five passes as a safety.Klein isn’t concerned.”We’re strong and confident with ourselves on defense, and we have a lot of receivers and running backs. We’re just as good [as last year], if not better,” the senior said. “The coaches have said this is the most talented team they’ve seen in a while. We’re looking strong, we’re looking fast and our O-line is big.”Hinchliffe’s likely replacement is junior Dillon Buck, who impressed coaches and teammates during summer camp in Wyoming with his maturity, grasp of the offense and decision-making. Senior Travis D’Anna, who returns after sitting out last season with a broken foot, all-conference honorable mention safety Matt Schoeller and junior Dalton Jacobson will share the load at tailback. Senior wideouts Andy Mayer and junior Taylor Mills have emerged as the top options in the passing game. Basalt returns junior tight ends Cody Kosinski and Taylor Niko-Foreman – an honorable mention last season. Senior and fellow honorable mention Morgan Frothingham will anchor both the defensive and offensive lines.And, if Tuesday’s morning practice is any indication, much will ride on Klein’s shoulders. The fullback and linebacker, who compiled 130 tackles – the second-highest total in 2A – and an all-conference selection last season, was catching passes out of the backfield during a scrimmage. Then No. 33 took a hand-off on a fourth-and-goal from the one and bulldozed his way into the end zone.Grosh expects his team leader to make plays in the backfield on both sides of the ball this fall.

“He definitely is our catalyst. His energy gets us up and going,” Grosh said. “He has a tendency to get down after bad plays, so he needs to work on his consistency, but he’s a huge leader.”Klein said he’s been working to put miscues behind him and focus solely on upcoming plays. He’s hoping to do the same with last season’s disappointing finish. Basalt opens play Aug. 31 in Meeker.League scheduling has been kind to the Longhorns. They play five of their nine games at home, including bouts against league stalwarts Gunnison on Sept. 21 and Roaring Fork on Oct. 19. Their road schedule includes visits to Aspen on Sept. 14 and to Olathe on Oct. 12. “We won’t overlook anyone this year – we can’t afford to,” Grosh said. “Each week will be a battle. We don’t have a lot of depth but, if we stay healthy and play for all four quarters, we could make the playoffs.”Klein shares his coach’s optimism.”We want to get to the playoffs, it’s been our goal for a long time,” he said. “If we play to our ability, we’ll be there.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

2006 record: 3-6 overall, 3-4 2A Western SlopeKey departures: QB Tucker Hinchliffe, RB Tony DiBacco, WR Rory Johnson, WR/S Ryan Gawrys, WR/CB Chris Fitzgerald, OL/DL Pat RedfernKey returners: LB/FB Willy Klein, RB Travis D’Anna, S/RB Matt Schoeller, QB Dillon Buck, TE Taylor Foreman-Niko, OL/DL Morgan FrothinghamCoach speak: “It’s frustrating when you play a great game and come up short, but the kids realized they were right there with everybody in the league [last year]. … The attitude of the kids is good this year, and we’re all out here the for the same goal: to compete and win football games.” – Forrest Grosh

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