Skiers crowd the all-league football team |

Skiers crowd the all-league football team

Jon Maletz

Aspen senior Whit Fuller gave his football teammates and fans reason to celebrate.He lined up to punt on a fourth-and-4 from the Hotchkiss 43-yard-line one minute into the fourth quarter Oct. 13. He momentarily mishandled the snap, then surprised everyone when he took off down the right sideline, following blockers for 27 yards. Two plays later, quarterback Harry Maniloff found receiver Matt Beirne in the left corner of the end zone to give the Skiers a 17-6 lead. They went on to win, 24-14.Such was a defining series for an Aspen team that made great strides in 2006. With the return of Friday night lights came a renewed sense of excitement – and success. After winning only once last year, the Skiers finished in a three-way tie for fourth place in the conference (3-6 overall, 3-4 3A Western Slope).For its efforts, Aspen figured prominently during recent all-conference voting. Five Skiers – seniors Fuller, Beirne, Ben Baker, Dillon Morehead and David Clark – made the first team. Seniors Michael Ufkes, Jordan Laughren and Robert Oppenheimer, junior Brian Westerlind and sophomore Beau Seguin were honorable-mention selections.”Finishing in the middle of the conference gives you the chance to get some more recognition for your players,” Aspen head coach Travis Benson said Wednesday. “I’m very proud. All those seniors played their hearts out. There’s a lot of talent leaving in that class.”The Skiers had three first-teamers and two honorable-mention recipients in 2005.Fuller, when healthy, provided Benson with a consistent weapon in the backfield and on special teams.”He’s a little bit magical. Once you get the ball in his hands, something’s going to happen,” Benson said.Beirne, whom Benson called one of the smartest players he ever coached, showcased soft hands as the go-to wide receiver. When Maniloff went down with an injury midway through the season, Beirne stepped under center and guided Aspen to a home win over Cedaredge in blizzardlike conditions Sept. 22.His big-play ability was on display against Hotchkiss. He caught a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to seal the win. That came after he powered past a Bulldogs corner, caught a pass in stride and scampered 50 yards to help set up Aspen’s go-ahead touchdown.”Realistically, we wanted to get the ball in his hands, but sometimes, due to weather conditions, it was hard,” Benson said. “He had the ability to look at a play on a piece of paper, then go out and produce. And he had the athletic ability to back it up.” Benson called Baker the best defensive end the program has ever seen.”He was very aggressive and absolutely uses the right technique,” Benson said. “He’s a great kids with a lot of heart.”Morehead was a dominating force on the offensive line. He provided the work ethic and skill necessary to bolster Aspen’s rush offense. But Morehead may have been a greater asset in the passing game, Benson said. Morehead, playing much of the year at left tackle, protected Skiers quarterbacks from blitzing corners and linebackers. He was the team’s unquestioned leader.”When Dillon was going full-steam, the team was going full-steam,” Benson said.Clark, an imposing presence at 6-foot-4, helped open running lanes on the offensive line. The four-year starter showcased the strength and ability necessary to continue playing in college, Benson said. The senior, who bench presses 310 pounds and squats more than 400, is planning to walk on at the University of Colorado next fall.”He’s going to bide his time, but he has what it takes,” Benson said. “He was the hardest-working kid on the team. It’s been his goal to play at CU since I’ve known him. I think that bodes well.”The Skiers will rely heavily on Westerlind and Seguin, the team leader in interceptions, to maintain the program’s momentum without their 13 seniors next season.”The seniors really started something here,” Benson said. “It’ll be interesting to see what the young guys can do to honor them.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.comThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.

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