‘It wasn’t just luck:’ Rifle Bears out to prove state championship was no fluke
Returning core sees third head coach in as many seasons
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
It still doesn’t feel very real to Peyton Prettyman.
The then-junior wide receiver and cornerback said the Bears’ 3A state championship run didn’t feel like a state championship. Most of the problem was the fact that less than two weeks after their dramatic 35-34 win over The Classical Academy on May 15, they were back in the weight room and getting ready for the fall season.
“It honestly doesn’t feel like we won state,” Prettyman said. “For me, it felt like we won another game, came back and then got ready to go again. It was just so fast. We were right back to the grind.”
It’s not just Prettyman that feels that way. He said he saw social media posts questioning the legitimacy of the title, be it from an easy schedule, the spring season in general or just general bitterness.
He doesn’t really understand the argument, but it gives him, along with the other returning juniors, just another chip on their shoulders to get another ring for their mantles.
“So if we go back there this year, what are they going to say?” Prettyman said. “That’s a big drive for all of us.”
If they do go back to state, it’ll be on the backs of many of the same players that got them there a year ago. The Bears boast a senior class 14 strong, returning 13. They lost some key seniors from the spring, like running backs Embrey Marantino and Kaden Wolf and guard/linebacker Josh Straw.
But they return players like Prettyman, starting quarterback Trey Caldwell, running backs Toto Fletchall and Gavin Peterson and linebacker Josh Avila, whose strip and fumble recovery in the final minutes of the state championship game helped the Bears protect their one-point lead. It’s also a group that saw plenty of snaps, some from many different angles, as players bounced in and out of COVID-19 protocols.
For all their consistency, one of the biggest changes is once again on the sideline, where the Bears have their third leader in as many seasons.
New head coach Ryan Whittington came over from Delta High. The Rifle graduate and former Bears quarterback took the helm in July, just weeks before scrimmages began. He’s still trying to learn about his team as the season kicks off on Friday against Palisade.
“I’m just trying to come in here and install the offense and defense, and I don’t even know who’s who,” Whittington said.
Whittington added that his new players have been resilient and quick to learn, and they’ll suit his style fine.
“We’re the third staff they’ve had in less than six months,” Whittington said. “They’re taking everything we’ve asked them to do and have done a great job with it.”
He brings energy and effort, and demands the same from his players. He plans to spread teams out and control the line of scrimmage to force the tempo.
Offensively, they’ll run the speed and power options out of the shotgun, where QB Caldwell was under center for previous head coach Todd Casebier’s veer option. They’re hoping it’ll play right into their backfield’s strength — speed.
“The speed option’s good, because our running back’s pretty shifty, and he got a lot of yards last year,” Caldwell said, referring to Fletchall. “I’m pretty fast, I think, too.”
Caldwell said the team will balance a passing and rushing approach.
The new systems will be put to the test starting at 7 p.m. Friday against 3A Palisade at Bears Stadium in Rifle, which went 4-1 in the Western Slope fall league. On Sept. 3, Rifle hosts rival Glenwood Springs, whom they knocked out in the state semifinal in the spring.
After two more non-league games, the Bears travel to Aspen on Oct. 1 to face the Skiers. The first home league game is Oct. 8 against Moffat County.
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Aspen High School senior Nic Pevny successfully defended his individual regional title Tuesday and the AHS boys golf team will head to the state tournament as the regional champion for the 12th time in 13 seasons. Basalt qualified three players to state after finishing third as a team.