Senior quarterback R.J. Peshek has Aspen football on the playoff brink | AspenTimes.com

Senior quarterback R.J. Peshek has Aspen football on the playoff brink

R.J. Peshek made many mistakes in his first two seasons as Aspen High School's starting quarterback.

His 24 combined interceptions — 16 coming in 2016 as a junior — were a big reason why the Skiers finished 2-7 overall each of those years.

But as a senior this fall, Peshek has grown into something else entirely. Mostly, he's become the catalyst to Aspen football's resurgence on the field, one that has the Skiers at 7-1 and on the doorstep of its first playoff appearance since 2013.

"It's the competitor in him. He's not one to be underprepared," second-year AHS head coach Karson Pike said of Peshek. "You can really grow from that, no matter if you are the quarterback or anybody, coach included. He really took ownership of his mistakes from last year watching the film and what he could do better knowing this is maybe the last go-round."

Peshek is one of nearly a dozen seniors set to play at 7 p.m. Friday for possibly the final time on the AHS turf when Moffat County (4-4) visits for senior night. At No. 10 in RPI, a loss wouldn't officially cost Aspen a spot in the 16-team playoff, but it would leave a lot of doubt ahead of the bracket's unveiling Sunday.

A win over Moffat all but guarantees a 10th game for the Skiers.

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"I'm feeling good with the success we've had this year and the team we have this year," Peshek said. "It went by so fast. I remember as a freshman coming out here and listening to the seniors say how fast it went by and not believing them. I'm here now, and it's gone by quick."

Peshek grew up around Aspen football. His father, Chris Peshek, is a longtime AHS assistant who even served as the varsity team's interim head coach in 2015 prior to Pike's arrival. Chris Peshek grew up in Nebraska where football is king, leaving R.J. little choice but to follow suit in loving the game.

Being raised in a football family with a football father had a lot to do with R.J. developing into the senior leader he is.

"We've shared a lot of fun times watching games together at home and watching film together, but more importantly enjoyed a lot of special times on the field," Chris Peshek said. "As a freshman he actually had to step in for a couple of games and play quarterback. He was a deer in the headlights at that time, but I think that allowed him to step in as a sophomore."

Aspen football was a consistent playoff presence under former coach Mike Sirko, whose final season in charge coincided with the team's last playoff appearance in 2013. Instability plagued the program for a couple of seasons until Pike's arrival a year ago. AHS struggled in Pike's first season, going 2-7 for the second straight year, but lost only one varsity senior.

The team expected to take strides this fall, but no one predicted this level of success.

"We had to come out and we had to have a couple of rebuilding years before it actually kicked in," R.J. Peshek said. "I knew we had talent coming up. (Pike has) done everything he could. This is probably the first year I've been in high school where every kid has bought in."

So much of Aspen's success this fall has been because of its senior quarterback. With a career-high 1,932 yards passing, Peshek ranks second in Class 2A, behind only Bodie Hume of Sterling (2,060 yards). Peshek's 681 rushing yards is 17th in 2A. He has rushed for 14 touchdowns from the quarterback position while throwing for another 23 with only six interceptions.

As a junior in Pike's high-octane, option-based offense, Peshek threw for 11 touchdowns to go with his 16 interceptions.

"He's always making sure everyone does their best and is running their routes crisp and the O-line is blocking right," Aspen junior receiver Noah Hollander said of Peshek. "He has the ability to run and he has the ability to pass well. He's really good at reading the option and he's working well in the offense. It's perfect for him and all of his skills."

Hollander has benefited immensely from Peshek's growth, as he leads 2A with 892 yards receiving. He has 11 receiving touchdowns.

Aspen's only blemish this season is a 48-22 homecoming loss to Basalt (7-1, RPI No. 6), which clinched the 2A Western Slope League title after last week's 47-0 rout of Moffat. At No. 23 in RPI, the Bulldogs are likely only playing for pride when they face the Skiers Friday.

For Aspen and R.J. Peshek, the game is the culmination of a long journey from the trials of back-to-back 2-7 seasons to what they hope will be a trip to the elusive postseason.

"You grow up a lot on the field," Pike said. "It's been great to watch the kids turn sacrifice into success."

AHS last beat Moffat County in 2014, winning 34-14 on senior night. The Bulldogs won 46-11 in 2015 and 48-22 in 2016.

Also Friday night, Basalt High School hosts Roaring Fork in its regular-season finale.

acolbert@aspentimes.com