Aspen High football opens season at home Saturday with Bayfield rematch
2019 AHS SCHEDULE
Sept. 7 vs. Bayfield
Sept. 13 vs. Meeker
Sept. 20 at Cedaredge
Sept. 27 vs. Grand Valley
Oct. 4 vs. Delta*
Oct. 11 at Moffat County*
Oct. 18 vs. Rifle*
Oct. 25 at Coal Ridge*
Nov. 1 vs. Basalt*
The Aspen High School football team had the defending state champions on the mat last season. Playing at Bayfield in the second game of the season, the Skiers held a surprising 8-7 halftime lead only to eventually lose 20-8 to the 2017 state champs.
“The offense had its struggles at points. The defense played exceptional in the first half,” AHS coach Travis Benson recalled Thursday of last year’s game. “You could see Bayfield just start getting to that ground game and running the ball effectively, which just wore our kids down a little bit more.”
The Wolverines were the No. 1 seed in the 2A playoffs last year, but lost to No. 9 Faith Christian in the quarterfinals. Aspen finished 6-4 overall and lost as the No. 12 seed to No. 5 Salida in the first round of the playoffs to cap off Benson’s first season in his return to a post he also held in 2005 and 2006.
On Saturday, Gary Heide will bring his Bayfield team to Aspen in what is expected to be another good matchup between the teams. This will be Aspen’s 2019 season opener and its first game on its new turf field. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.
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“It’s a great test to see where we are at, where the program is,” Benson said. “They lost last week but they also played a very good football team and Bayfield, when you have success like that historically, it tends to resonate for quite a few years. They are well coached.”
Preseason No. 6, Bayfield (0-1) dropped out of the CHSAANow.com poll this week after a 42-13 loss to San Juan (Utah) in its season opener on Aug. 30. San Juan is a traditionally strong program and has six Utah state championships to its name. Aspen went from No. 9 to No. 7 this week despite not having played.
“They had probably one of the better defenses we faced all year, so I expect the same thing,” AHS junior quarterback Tyler Ward said of Bayfield. “They are going to come out hungry. They got beat pretty good, but they are going to want to beat us just as bad as ever. It will be a good game.”
Ward is a key reason for Aspen’s lofty preseason expectations. As a sophomore in his first varsity season, Ward led all of 2A with 2,202 passing yards to go with 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in the Skiers’ up-tempo offense. Returning alongside him this season is 2A’s leading receiver from a year ago in senior Max Ufkes, who had 920 yards and 10 touchdown grabs.
Aspen did lose a couple of key offensive weapons in Noah Hollander and Trey Fabrocini. Hollander, who had 751 yards and 10 touchdowns receiving last fall, graduated. Fabrocini, who led the team with 696 yards rushing to go with eight touchdowns and was one of the best linebackers in the state, decided to transfer for his senior season to play for Fisher Catholic High School in Lancaster, Ohio.
Benson, however, isn’t worried about the team’s depth when it comes to offensive playmakers.
“It’s a pretty impressive bunch when you can go really two whole levels deep and still field, in my opinion, one of the best receiving corps in the state,” Benson said. “The confidence the kids have has less to do with last year and more the preparation and the hard work that they’ve put in all year to get to this point. We’ve had the strongest weight room turnout that we’ve had in the last four to five years.”
Adding to the equation is an offensive line made entirely of seniors. Not all of them started a year ago and size is lacking, as it traditionally is across the board in Aspen, but the athleticism and leadership abilities of the line does stand out.
“Yes, we are a little smaller than some teams, but I think we got a lot of power, we have a lot of strength, and we really go for it 100% of the time,” said AHS senior right tackle and defensive end Aidan Ledingham. “A lot of leadership on that O-line — a lot of leadership on the offense. We are all of the same mindset. We all have that same dream, that same goal, to get to. So we are feeling really good.”
Aspen is one of three 2A Western Slope League teams currently ranked. Defending WSL champion Rifle (1-0), which AHS actually beat last season, is No. 4 this week. Delta (0-0) is No. 5 and Basalt (0-0), which plays Friday at Olathe to open its season, sits only a few spots outside the top 10.
Coal Ridge, which is coming off a challenging 1-8 season, is 1-0 after beating Olathe 35-14 last week. Moffat County, the sixth and final member of the 2A WSL, opens its season Friday at Summit.
“We really worked hard all offseason. We all have the same goal coming into the season, so I hope we can continue to work toward that,” Ward said of competing for the WSL title. “That was one of our goals last year and that’s going to be one of our goals this year. It’s going to be the same way it was last year. It’s going to be a tight race until the end. Hopefully we’ll be able to put ourselves in a good spot to compete for that.”
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Wayne Hall took a job as an air traffic controller at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport in 2003 thinking he would stay for a short time. Instead he stayed for nearly 17 years and was promoted up to the position of air traffic manager. He reflected on the experience upon retirement.