Aspen offense looks to shine as football season gets underway Friday vs. MP
2017 AHS football schedule
Aug. 25 vs. Middle Park
Sept. 2 at Arvada
Sept. 8 at Cedaredge
Sept. 22 at Grand Valley
Sept. 29 at Coal Ridge
Oct. 6 vs. Basalt (homecoming)
Oct. 13 vs. Roaring Fork
Oct. 20 at Steamboat Springs
Oct. 27 vs. Moffat County
As the 2016 season went on, the Aspen High School football team slowly found its offensive identity. And what developed was statistically one of Class 2A’s best passing attacks.
“It’s a little deceiving with the options we have. We are still a 60 percent run call team, we just have pass options off of it,” AHS coach Karson Pike said. “I put a lot on the quarterback. We are putting a lot of ownership on the kids with what we do, but the great thing about what we do is it excites them.”
Pike, who grew up in Golden, was a successful quarterback at Central Lakes College in Minnesota. Prior to coming to Aspen a year ago, he was the offensive coordinator at powerhouse Iowa Western Community College. With him he brought elements of the same offense he coordinated in college, albeit on a simplified, high school level.
Having been a power run team prior to Pike’s arrival, it took some time for the AHS players to adjust to the new option-based offense, which is built around speed more than strength.
“Teams don’t know how to prepare for the type of passing we do,” Aspen senior quarterback R.J. Peshek said. “The first time we saw it was spring ball (in 2016) and we didn’t really get too comfortable with it. But toward the middle of the year, we started getting more comfortable with each other and with the offense and definitely started to click toward the end of the season.”
According to a list compiled by coloradopreps.com, Peshek enters the 2017 season as 2A’s top returning player in terms of passing yards, having thrown for 1,630 yards as a junior. His top three receivers from last year — Noah Hollander (489 yards), Ben Appleby (423) and Max Ufkes (384) — are all back this year, with each being ranked in the top 10 of 2A in terms of receiving yards by returning players.
“It’s really nice to have multiple threats on the offense. It makes the field bigger and harder for the defense,” said Hollander, a junior. “R.J. has been developing as quarterback and he’s getting his throws down.”
Despite the impressive statistics, the Skiers still struggled to find wins. AHS finished 2-7 last fall — its first under Pike — for the second consecutive season. A lot of this had to do with the team’s defense, which allowed 34.8 points per game, although much of that was a byproduct of offensive miscues. Peshek finished with 11 passing touchdowns in 2016, but also threw 16 interceptions.
Peshek was also the team’s leading rusher last year with 526 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Even so, the team only averaged 17.7 points per game.
“Last year it was more of a mindset thing. Once we lost a couple of yards or something went wrong we got down on ourselves,” said Ufkes, a sophomore. “I wouldn’t ask for any other quarterback. He’s one of my best friends. He can throw the ball like nobody’s business and he is so accurate. It’s really nice having him back there.”
The Skiers did start to find consistency toward the end of the 2016 season, scoring exactly 22 points in four of their final five games. The exception was a 48-0 loss at eventual league champion Basalt.
The team has many reasons to be optimistic about 2017. The only major subtraction was lineman James Kistner, who is playing for NCAA Division III Chapman University in California this fall. Returning is essentially everyone else.
This will be Peshek’s third year as the team’s starting quarterback. Alongside Hollander, Appleby and Ufkes, the team has Trey Thorpe and Cam Seltzer adding depth at receiver, and is returning its one-two punch at running back in sophomores Trey Fabrocini and Jon Woodrow.
An extensive offseason weight program has put some extra muscle on all the players, most notably on the offensive line.
“We do have high expectations of our pass game and we are kind of unique in that we do so much passing for the league we are in. But we practice it a lot, so we expect it to be much improved,” Pike said. “The challenge for R.J. is completion percentage up and interceptions down. With that will come touchdowns and yardage and things like that.”
The season gets underway at 7 p.m. Friday when the Skiers host Middle Park. The teams also met in the season opener last year in Granby, the Panthers holding on for a 22-14 victory in Pike’s first game as the AHS coach.
Middle Park finished 4-5 overall last year, its first under coach Brandon Wilkes.
For Aspen, Friday’s season opener is a chance to showcase how electrifying its offense can be. But the players also made it clear the only numbers that matter are the wins and losses, and the team wants a lot more than a 2-7 record this fall.
“We are looking to improve on that. I think it’s more about the bigger picture than the receiving stats,” said Appleby, a junior, who will likely miss Friday’s game as he recovers from a shoulder injury. “We are looking definitely higher than we were last year. Obviously the goal is league championship. That’s what we are focusing on, but it’s really one game at a time.”
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The Aspen High School girls soccer team might have been flying under the radar when the playoffs started, but it likely has a massive target on its back now. Only three days after pulling off the biggest upset of the first round, the No. 15 seed Skiers will play at No. 10 Colorado Academy on Saturday.