Benson takes over for Goode at Aspen |

Benson takes over for Goode at Aspen

Nate Peterson
Aspen junior quarterback Whit Fuller throws the ball during practice Thursday afternoon. Travis Benson takes over as the head coach of the Skiers football team this fall after five seasons as an assistant. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

Aspen football has won just five games since the team joined the varsity ranks in 2002, recording one 2A Western Slope win in each of the past three seasons.To look at those numbers, it would appear that progress has been stagnant on the field and off it.New head coach Travis Benson said nothing could be further from the truth. The numbers may look the same, but the attitude has definitely changed on the gridiron for the Skiers. Having been an assistant to former head coach Tom Goode since Goode resurrected the program six years ago with a junior varsity team, Benson knows from experience. While watching his squad stretch before its afternoon two-a-day practice Thursday, Benson laughed while recounting how incoming players didn’t even know what a line of scrimmage was in the fall of 2000. Six years later, with a healthy offseason program in place and a squad of players familiar with a system, the new head coach believes this year’s team may be the one that finally breaks the losing mold.”I think the biggest thing for our program is we need to win a game that we aren’t supposed to win,” he said. “I think it’s purely confidence. I think these kids can match up against any team in the conference and do well.”Last season’s record was misleading in terms of measuring strides the Skiers took toward being competitive every week. There were three blowout losses to perennial league powers Hotchkiss, Roaring Fork and Gunnison, but there were also close games against Olathe and Basalt as well as a hard-fought 9-7 win over Cedaredge and a non-league victory over IA Norwood.

A new attackBenson has overhauled the Skiers offensive playbook in hopes of giving his team an advantage this season against the heavyweights of the 2A Slope. While he was discreet about the changes being made, he did mention that the new running game favors athleticism and quickness over grind-it-out power football – a philosophy that didn’t work against teams with a distinct size advantage. There has also been an added emphasis on the passing game. The Skiers will no longer run primarily out of a two tight-end set, instead opting to spread the field at times and air it out. Benson said a heavy dose of 7-on-7 work at Colorado State’s high school football camp in Fort Collins this summer was a big help in ironing out the new wrinkles.”This offense is probably a hybrid off a couple of college coaches I had,” said Benson, who played his college ball at Mesa State in Grand Junction. “For the last six years, this program has made leaps and bounds and a lot of that credit is to coach Goode. At the start, the offense couldn’t be that complicated. We’ve seen our offense get more mature as the years have gone by. Now, we’re in the final step of implementing a full-scale offensive attack.”Senior tight end Jyace Stutsman and senior tailback Jackson Davis had praise for the new scheme Thursday.”This offense is more designed for our team,” said Stutsman, who is one of four seniors on this year’s team. “We’re trying to mix it up a bit, trying to throw some balls and get some receivers out there instead of using two tight ends. I’m confident it will work.”Jackson expects to have a huge season as the feature back in the new offense after seeing spot time in the backfield last fall. The senior captain spent a lot of time in the weight room during the summer to prepare himself for the amount of carries he expects to get.”(Coach) said that if we were successful with the run game, we wouldn’t stop with it,” Jackson said. “I’ve been training hard, working hard. I can’t wait. I was a captain last year, but I felt like I wasn’t a real factor. This year I’m looking to be a strong factor in this team.”Leading the way up front for Jackson will be 6-foot-4, 260-pound junior David Clark, who will start at one of the two tackle spots. Benson said he hasn’t named his starters yet on either side of the ball, but Clark is penciled in on the line with junior teammate Dylan Morehead, who will play center.

Senior David Goldberg is also expected to start at one of the guard spots.At quarterback, junior Whit Fuller and sophomore Harry Maniloff are competing for the starting job. Benson said Fuller, a standout track athlete, has more experience and is more prepared to take over the starting role, but emphasized the junior still has to earn the job in the preseason.”It’s anybody’s game,” Benson said. “It’s two-a-days. No one has a position.”The position battles at the fullback and receiver spots will also be decided during the course of these next two weeks. Nikalai Yuden and Adam Huber are currently the two top fullbacks. At receiver, Benson said juniors Matt Beirne and Michael Ufkes and sophomore Cory Parker are all in the running to grab a starting role.The other sideDrastic changes have not been made to the Skiers’ defensive scheme, which will rotate between a 4-4 look and a 5-3. Benson said the most noticeable difference will be that his defensive backs will show more coverages this year, mixing in some two-deep zone looks and some man coverage with the team’s usual cover 3.Stutsman, Davis and Goldberg are expected to be the anchors of the unit. Stutsman should start at free safety, while Davis will play rover – a strong safety/outside linebacker hybrid popularized by Nebraska.

Goldberg shifts from his defensive end spot to outside linebacker. The move, Benson said, should free him up to make more plays. While not much has changed scheme-wise on defense, Stutsman said changes need to be made production-wise if the Skiers are going to have a shot at pulling off the big upset the program has been eying.The new offense should help score more points, he said. It will be up to the defense to keep juggernauts like Hotchkiss, Roaring Fork or Gunnison out of the end zone.”We hope we can beat one of those teams this year,” he said. “It’s all about defense and enthusiasm. If we just stay together and play as a team and try not to be individual all-stars, that will get us to where we want to go.”Nate Peterson can be reached at

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