Aspen wraps up summer football camp |

Aspen wraps up summer football camp

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Mike Sirko knows better than to make predictions. He has coached squads that exceeded expectations, and those that did not live up to the hype.

“You can’t get too far ahead of yourselves, or you can get slapped in the face,” Aspen’s head football coach said Friday, one day after his team wrapped up its eight-day summer camp.

Still, Sirko cannot help but ponder what might be in store this fall. Expectations are soaring after the Skiers’ impressive run to the 2A state quarterfinals in 2009. And after a summer session the coach called “the best since I’ve been here,” the pieces appear to be in place for another deep postseason run.

“I’m always a little cautious. You don’t know [how things are going to play out],” Sirko said. “I’ll tell you this: If we stay healthy, we’ll be very competitive. … We’ll be a team to be reckoned with. This team has as much promise as any team we’ve ever had. There’s no doubt about it.”

Aspen made great strides in the last two weeks, Sirko said. He pointed to the high level of participation – about 40 players took part each day, more than in years past – improved technique and overall play on the offensive and defensive lines and the squad’s continued commitment to physical play, something that cost them at times in 2009.

“The strength program is working,” Sirko said. “We’re ahead of where we were last year with that.”

One of the team’s primary offseason questions might have been answered, too. Rex Christensen appears to have emerged as the front-runner to replace Anderson Cole at quarterback. Taylor Mayer, another contender for the starting job, is battling a shoulder injury and took few snaps, Sirko said.

Christensen impressed coaches with his accuracy – he would have been perfect in Thursday’s scrimmage had it not been for a few drops, Sirko said – and ability to evade the rush.

He and record-setting tailback Nicky Ufkes could create quite a formidable duo in the backfield.

“Even though he hasn’t played much at the varsity level, Rex had a great camp,” Sirko said. “We lost a lot of good seniors, but we also have a lot of kids who have been waiting their turn. Many of them have been in this program for a long time and know the system.”

That system has produced unprecedented success in Sirko’s first three years, culminating with last year’s 9-3 record and quarterfinal berth. The Skiers gave top-seeded and eventual state champion Faith Christian quite a scare, taking a 13-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Two turnovers cost Aspen down the stretch, however, in a 26-20, season-ending loss.

That game has served as a great motivator, Sirko said.

“We’ve brought it up. … With Faith Christian, it gave the kids the confidence they could play with anybody, I believe,” he added. “We had our moments. With a little better coaching, a little better playing, we might’ve been right there.

“There’s no substitute for that experience.”

Sirko is hoping that experience, coupled with the scheduling of more competitive non-conference teams in 2010, will pay dividends. Aspen will open this fall with a Sept. 3 home game against 3A Moffatt County, which will soon make the jump to 4A. Then, the Skiers will make a nearly 570-mile trip to Pocatello, Idaho, to take part in Sept. 11’s Rocky Mountain Rumble. They will play the defending Idaho 3A state champion Shelley High School Russets inside a 12,000-seat dome at Idaho State University.

Aspen will then return home to host Hotchkiss, a team it lost to last season.

“Those first three weeks, we’ll find out a hell of a lot about us. The character of this team, more than anything else,” Sirko said. “We’ll find out right away where we fit in. … The challenges will be great. I think the kids are relishing the challenges.”

The coach can’t wait until the team reconvenes Aug. 16.

“I’m ready to go again. I don’t think the kids are, but I sure am,” he joked. “We spent eight quality days with the kids, and I really felt they were well worth it. … If we continue to get better, we’ll hopefully have some success at the end of the season. These kids deserve that. They’ve worked very hard.”

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