Tyler Ward gets the start at QB as Aspen High opens season Aug. 24 at Meeker
The first question has been answered for the Aspen High School football team: sophomore Tyler Ward will start at quarterback when they travel to Meeker on Friday in the 7 p.m. season opener.
Whether the team can find the same magic that won it eight games a year ago will be known soon enough. The Skiers certainly believe they can.
“We’ll come in with better, higher expectations than last year,” AHS junior running back/linebacker Trey Fabrocini said. “I think Tyler can fill the role great. He’s taller and lengthier. He has the potential to do better. I think the offense does as a whole.”
Ward, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, will step into the shoes that were filled by R.J. Peshek the past three seasons, including during last fall’s breakthrough campaign in which AHS had one of the better offenses in the state. Peshek, who walked on at NCAA Division I Bryant University in Rhode Island, was built more like a fullback. He’s listed as a quarterback on the Bulldogs’ official roster entering the 2018 season.
Ward, on the other hand, looks to have the skillset of a more prototypical quarterback. He edged out junior Jon Haisfield for the start against Meeker, although AHS coach Travis Benson isn’t ready to hand out the starting job for Game 2 quite yet.
“As I told them all the time along, it’s competition all the way throughout,” Benson said, noting that Haisfield is still likely to get plenty of playing time, even if not at quarterback. “They are still competing for a job, but their second role is to definitely be supportive of each other and help each other grow. The angle is the success of the team and not the success of the individual.”
Ward really made his AHS debut in the spring when, as a freshman, he tied for the lead in goals scored for the boys lacrosse team. There is hope that moxie can carry over to the football field, although growing pains will be expected. Fabrocini said the team has a code word — “bubbles” — they use to help keep Ward in check. His ability to play “point guard on the football field” will be the key to the AHS offense doing what it did last year when it was a statistical juggernaut.
While Peshek’s 2,608 passing yards and 765 rushing yards — not to mention his combined 46 touchdowns — are gone, the cupboard isn’t bare. Senior Noah Hollander is back as Class 2A’s top returner at receiver. His 1,211 yards a year ago are well ahead of anyone else, including junior teammate Max Ufkes (627 yards), who is the fourth returning receiver in 2A in terms of yardage.
Also back is the Skiers’ high-tempo offense, installed by former head coach Karson Pike. Assistant coach Alex Wood, who had a hand in the offense the past few years, will be the team’s primary playcaller. But on the field, it’ll be up to Ward to keep the pace.
“It’s very similar, for the most part. Coach Wood has put his own fairy-dust sprinkles on it,” Benson said of this year’s offense. “That’s the nice part, the staff stayed, minus Karson, pretty much intact. So that same vision he had we continue to carry forward with his thoughts and his ideas.”
Only twice last season did the Skiers fail to score 30 points in a game (a 48-22 homecoming loss to eventual league champion Basalt and a 36-24 playoff loss to The Classical Academy). The 80-50 win over Middle Park in the 2017 season opener sits just outside the top 10 in the state’s history in terms of total points. AHS beat Roaring Fork 64-6 and Moffat County 58-18.
“We had to change up our offense a little bit with a new quarterback, but we are looking quick. Tempo is everything,” AHS senior C/DE Cooper Johnson said. “We got some quick tempo going. I think that’s going to beat those big boys down, for sure. I think that’s the biggest aspect, the tempo. And we are definitely moving quicker than we were last year.”
Johnson is one of three returning offensive linemen who should help out Ward and Fabrocini, who was second behind Peshek last season with 554 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.
Scouting the Cowboys
Friday’s opponent, Meeker, has been a Class 1A powerhouse in recent years. The Cowboys have a combined 22-2 record the past two seasons, including a 10-1 mark a year ago when, as the No. 2 seed, they were stunned by No. 10 seed Limon in the 1A quarterfinals, 18-14. Meeker lost to Strasburg in the 2016 1A state championship game.
A long lost conference rival, Meeker is preseason No. 5 in 1A.
“It’s cool Aspen is going back to play them, because it was a pretty big rivalry decades before this when they had a bigger population,” said Benson, an AHS graduate. “Strong kids, strong work ethic, great football players. We are excited to go up there and we are excited to hang onto a little bit of that history between the two schools.”
This will be Benson’s first time on the sideline as a head coach since he led the Skiers back in 2006, the second of two seasons he spent in charge of his alma mater. He took over the program earlier this year.
“The nice part is I have great coaches around me and a great team that is returning,” Benson said. “A lot of it is just more management of the game. I’m more of a special teams guy now, I guess. I’m letting coach Wood and coach (Chris) Peshek and the rest of the coaching staff shine.”
It would be easy enough to quantify long-distance adventures in Snowmass Village by the usual stats and figures: 90-plus miles of singletrack and dirt roads, four core endurance races every summer, infinite route combinations no more than a few hundred yards from the nearest parking spot or bus stop. But there’s another metric worth clocking too: Smiles per hour.
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