Aspen football hoping to take next step in ’09
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – “I’m not going to cheat you by slacking on you,” Aspen football coach Mike Sirko said to his players who, with sweat pouring from their faces and hearts pounding under their pads, huddled at midfield at the conclusion of a recent practice.
“Many of you have been in this system for three years. The expectations should be higher now.”
So much for success breeding complacency.
A year after ending a 33-year postseason drought, the Skiers set a school record for wins (eight) in 2008 and returned to the 2A state playoffs. Under the leadership of Sirko, one of the state’s most decorated coaches, they’ve quickly transformed from pretender to contender in the competitive Western Slope.
Don’t expect Aspen to make itself comfortable just yet. There’s still much to accomplish, chiefly winning a playoff game.
“We can’t take anything for granted,” Sirko said. “Momentums occur and everybody starts the season undefeated. We all feel we can win them all. … I tell the guys, ‘This is a whole new year, a whole new team. What do you want to accomplish? How do you want to be remembered?'”
Quarterback Anderson Cole’s answer is simple.
“We have to try and be perfect – that should be our top goal,” the senior said. “We can’t be happy just being [in the playoffs]. We can’t be happy with 8-3. We have to get to 14-0.”
It will not be easy in a league where parity reigned in 2008. Three teams, including eventual state champion Olathe, had eight victories. Seven of eight teams won at least four.
Despite the loss of key seniors – among them tailback Beau Seguin, who piled up nearly 1,500 rushing yards and scored a school-record 32 touchdowns – Sirko calls this year’s squad his “most seasoned” yet.
Thirty of the team’s 53 players are upperclassmen, Sirko said, and many who played pivotal roles in last year’s playoff push return. Among them are three 2008 first-team all-conference selections (Cole, lineman Andrew Goldberg and tailback/cornerback Nicky Ufkes) and two honorable mentions (linebacker Taylor Mayer and wide receiver/safety Walker Moriarty).
Cole threw for 1,200 yards during his junior season and, before a largely regrettable performance against fifth-seeded Florence in Aspen’s playoff opener, threw 12 touchdowns and completed nearly 66 percent of his passes.
He’ll be joined in the backfield by Ufkes, who proved to be a capable and electrifying replacement for Seguin during stretches last season. The junior finished second on the team in both rushing and receiving yards, and picked off four passes on defense despite being undersized. Ufkes, sophomore Quinn Morehead, who spot started at corner last year, and Moriarty will anchor an athletic secondary.
The development of the defensive and offensive lines – which include Goldberg, the team’s leading tackler in 2008, three-year starter Nick Codd and emerging talents Dane Christensen, James Britvar and Jonathan Woodrow, among others – will ultimately determine whether Aspen competes for a league crown, Sirko said. Its a group that has as much promise as any Sirko has coached here.
“I feel really good about our skill. We’re a couple positions away from being really solid all around,” Sirko said. “We have to have a few guys develop on both sides of the ball. Then, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
“It’s going to take not only a belief, but staying healthy.”
Scheduling appears to be in the Skiers’ favor. Aspen, which hasn’t lost a home game the last two seasons, hosts perennial powers Olathe and Grand Valley.
The Skiers host Lake County, a team they pummeled, 63-6, last season, at 7 p.m. in Friday’s season opener.
“It’ll come down to winning the ones we’re supposed to, and again winning the majority of those we’re not supposed to,” Sirko said. “We’re going to have to surprise some people. I don’t know if that’s possible. I think everyone knows we’re kind of for real now.”
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Katelyn Maley was the first across the finish line on Saturday at the Norris-Penrose Event Center, winning the Class 3A girls state championship in 18 minutes, 39 seconds. She came in more than 34 seconds ahead of second place.