Aspen High football healthy and determined
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Bad timing.
Ask Aspen’s Walker Hill why he was relegated to the sideline during last year’s 2A opening-round state football playoff game against Eaton, and the senior can think of no better words to explain his plight.
The Skiers had already clinched their first postseason berth since 1974 when they traveled to Gunnison last October to square off with the Cowboys for the de facto Western Slope championship. Hill, injured groin and all, was in the lineup that afternoon. The linebacker and tight end had no idea it would be his last appearance of the season.
During the first half, Hill landed awkwardly, slammed his helmet against a hard surface abutting the grass and sustained a concussion, Skiers coach Mike Sirko remembered Thursday.
Consequently, Hill was on the sideline during his team’s final regular-season victory over Coal Ridge six days later. And he could do nothing but watch as a mature, playoff-tested Eaton Reds squad systematically wore down Aspen last November.
“Helpless would be the word,” Hill said Thursday. “It was tough watching everyone fight, seeing the guys break down, guys you struggled with since two-a-days.
“I wish I could’ve been out there.”
He’ll finally get that chance, one he thought might never come. The 12th-seeded Skiers, who closed the regular season with three straight wins to nab one of the state’s four wild-card playoff berths, kickoff against No. 5 Florence at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Huskies finished 9-1 in their first season since dropping down from 3A. They won a state title in 2005.
Standout running back Beau Seguin has been dreaming of Saturday ever since last fall’s trip to the plains ” perhaps earlier. Just two days after Hill went down in Gunnison, Seguin underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum and extensive nerve damage in a left shoulder he dislocated in September against rival Basalt.
“The overall feeling is very depressing,” Seguin said in August. “I didn’t practice or play, I just watched. That’s the worst feeling in the world.
“It’s just something you have to deal with. I tried not to get down on myself. It was my junior year. I knew I had one more year to prove myself.”
He did just that. Seguin piled up nearly 1,500 yards on the ground and set a school record with 30 total touchdowns thus far this fall. He is riding three straight 200-yard rushing efforts into Saturday’s game.
Now, Seguin is eager to prove himself on high school football’s grand stage.
“This opportunity may never come again for me. … We have to make every moment on the field matter,” he said Thursday. “I want to make this trip worth it. Every play, I want to do something spectacular.”
“This is just surreal, being back here again,” Hill added. “I know we’re all excited. … This is our last hurrah. We have to give it up. Why wait?”
First, the team will take part in an abbreviated pre-game practice this morning before boarding a bus around noon for the nearly six-hour drive.
Sirko’s primary focus during the final few practices? Reiterate the fundamentals and instill confidence, he said.
“We need to remember what got us here,” the coach added. “If we execute and play to our strengths, we don’t have to get real tricky with them.
“There’s no magic here. It comes down to getting a few breaks and taking advantage and forcing the other team to make some mistakes they don’t usually make.”
Those mistakes caught up with Aspen a year ago. After fullback Travis Van Domelen bulled his way in for a 7-yard score on his team’s first possession, the Skiers blocked a field goal and again drove the ball into Eaton’s red zone. But they missed a field goal and wound up punting on four of their last five first-half possessions as quarterback Seth Lobato and the Reds offense went to the air to dominate the Skiers, 30-7.
Saturday, Sirko expects his revamped defensive line and linebacking corps will have to contend with a formidable Florence running game.
“They can throw the ball, but they like to run a little option and get in their shotgun and run some scissor stuff with their QB,” Sirko said. “They also get under center and run the counter, the iso, the trap. They’re a pretty basic football team, but that’s probably what makes them so good.”
Huskies quarterback Heath Benker and tailback Bret Leader paced an offense that outscored opponents, 378-156, with 1,900 combined rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. Florence’s greatest attribute might be its experience; its roster includes 22 seniors (Aspen has eight) and 19 juniors, Sirko said.
“We knew coming in when we got the 12 seed that even though we belong, we’d get a pretty tough team,” he added. “I’m not so sure we didn’t end up with the toughest.
“I tried to tell our guys that we belonged, that we have some tradition, too. … They’re a team that is coming down from 3A and probably figured the move would be easier on them. We need to show them 2A is pretty darn tough, too.”
To pull off the upset, Sirko said his defense must neutralize Florence’s size advantage by having every player run to the ball. On offense, sustaining drives will be paramount. Few wrinkles have been added to the playbook; instead, the Skiers will rely on a balanced offensive attack that averaged 40 points a game.
“We need to control the football,” Sirko said. “Offensively, we can’t do what we did at Olathe. Our defense was out on the field the whole time. If that happens again, they will wear us down.”
Seedings suggest Aspen is a prohibitive underdog. But don’t tell that to Seguin. Not when his senior year is on the line.
“We might be the underdog, but that doesn’t mean anything to me,” he said. “It’s about how each team shows up. It could be one versus 16, but if 16 shows up it’ll be a hell of a game.
“We’ve been here. We know what to expect. We have to give it everything we’ve got.”
After spending last year’s final two games from the sideline, Hill is healthy and motivated.
This is Aspen’s time, he said.
“I can’t wait. I won’t sleep tonight,” Hill added. “We’re ready. … They’re definitely underestimating us, and I hope it bites them in the back.
“Everybody loves a Cinderella story.”
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