Aspen football moves forward with new coach, quarterbacks as season looms
Aug. 24 at Meeker
Sept. 8 at Bayfield
Sept. 14 vs. Cedaredge
Sept. 21 at Grand Valley
Sept. 28 at Delta*
Oct. 5 vs. Moffat County*
Oct. 12 at Rifle*
Oct. 19 vs. Coal Ridge*
Oct. 26 at Basalt*
*Indicates league game
The Aspen High School football team won’t get to play on its home turf much this season, and that’s a major reason why new head coach Travis Benson wanted Friday’s scrimmage with Glenwood Springs to be open to the public.
“We do not mind spectators, due to the fact that we only have the three home games,” Benson said earlier this week. “That was a big part of trying to get this scrimmage at home. Glenwood was very open to that, so we are excited for Glenwood to come up and we are excited to get after it a little bit.”
The teams will take the turf at 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17 with 7-on-7 drills, among other activities, before the real scrimmage gets underway around 4 p.m. The teams rarely face off on the field as Aspen currently competes in Class 2A and Glenwood in Class 3A.
The Demons, who start the season Aug. 31 against Holy Family, have a new coach in Pat Engle. He took over for former coach Rocky Whitworth after his resignation following a successful 14 years at the helm. Engle was formerly the head coach at Battle Mountain High School from 2003 to 2006, going 8-22 overall.
“It’s a huge, huge, huge opportunity for these guys to be able to finally hit somebody that is wearing a different color jersey,” Benson said. “And everybody gets to that point, because you’ve been going now for the two-week period of just grinding against your buddy.”
The Skiers are only a week out from their first game, an Aug. 24 trip to Meeker, which is preseason No. 5 in Class 1A. This will mark the second stint as the Aspen head coach for Benson, an AHS graduate, who led the program in both 2005 and 2006 and was among those to help restart the program in 2000.
Benson was on the Glenwood coaching staff under Whitworth when the Demons won the 2008 state championship. He’s been an assistant with the Skiers the past few seasons under former coach Karson Pike, who resigned following the 2017 season to become the offensive coordinator at NCAA Division II Bemidji State.
The Skiers had a breakout season in 2017 under Pike, going 8-2 after a 2-7 season in 2016. Statistically, Aspen had one of the best offenses in the state a year ago.
“The only thing that is different is the seniors that left were really big leaders. So right now we need people to step up in those roles, and there are a couple of guys who have been able to step up and be vocal in practice,” Aspen senior Noah Hollander said. “Coaching-wise, it’s different without coach Pike, but I still think we are doing really well and they are doing a great job.”
For the most part, the rest of the AHS coaching staff remained intact from a season ago. The biggest loss was quarterback R.J. Peshek, a three-year starter and the team’s unquestioned leader, as well as linemen Finn Allen and Robbie Francis. Finding a new group of leaders is an important part of the early-season practices for the Skiers.
“They are slowly emerging right now,” Benson said. “That’s where other people now have to rise to that challenge. There are spots to fill, but that’s high school football. That’s football in general. Next man up.”
Who plays quarterback for the Skiers this season is still an unknown. The battle is between junior Jon Haisfield and sophomore Tyler Ward, and it likely won’t be decided until closer to that first game next week.
“Still finding the correct quarterback. I think it will become a lot clearer after the scrimmage,” Benson said. “Both quarterbacks have some great abilities, great skills, and they complement each other very well. It will be interesting to see when we go against a different colored jersey if someone rises to the challenge in particular. But as I’ve told them the whole way through, their job is to support each other and breed competition within that position.”
A difficult schedule
As Benson noted, the Skiers have only three home games this season. After playing at Meeker to open the season and then having a bye because of experiential education week, Aspen will travel to defending 2A state champ Bayfield on Sept. 8. Bayfield also is preseason No. 1 in the classification.
Aspen gets Cedaredge at home on Sept. 14, before heading back on the road for its final non-league game Sept. 21 at Grand Valley. AHS opens 2A Western Slope League play Sept. 28 at Delta. Moffat County visits Aspen on Oct. 5 and Coal Ridge comes to town Oct. 19. In between, the Skiers have an Oct. 12 trip to WSL favorite Rifle, preseason No. 6 in 2A.
The regular season wraps up Oct. 26 at Basalt, the two-time defending league champs. The Longhorns are preseason No. 9 in 2A.
“It’s going to be a tough schedule,” Benson said. “I haven’t looked at every school in the state of Colorado from the bottom to the top, but I’d have to say RPI strength of schedule, we probably have one of the hardest schedules in the state, if not the hardest.”
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Those opting for the spring, like Aspen and Basalt, will begin football practice Feb. 25 and start playing games March 11.