As sophomore Michael Babb stood on stage during the Moffat County High School football team's awards ceremony he was holding back a smile and although he wouldn't admit it, blushing a little bit.
MCHS coaches praised the offensive lineman for his abilities, but what may have caught Babb's attention the most was when the coaches said that if he put in the work, he could realize his dream of playing NCAA Division I football.
"I've really grown to love football," Babb said. "The good things they said as well as the challenge to get better has really motivated me to work in the off season."
Babb is growing to love football in more ways than one as he can be found in the weight room after school almost everyday. The sophomore wrestled during the winter his freshman year but decided to concentrate on lifting after football this year.
"The coaches have really worked on getting the guys who aren't in a sport in the weight room," Babb said. "It is different this year because we usually have at least two coaches with us after school."
Coaches Chris Dralle, Lance Scranton and Kip Hafey spend time with their athletes in the weight room and they hope to get more interest as the winter goes on.
"Getting kids in the weight room is the next step for our program," Dralle said. "We made it to the playoffs because kids believed in what we were teaching, now we have to get bigger, faster and stronger in order to compete with those playoff teams."
Babb said that at the moment, four or five athletes are consistently pumping iron after school -- a number that he would like to see improve.
"There was a lot of motivation when we originally started with about 20 kids in here," he said. "Some of them have lost motivation or they don't think it's worth it but I think they'll find their way back."
Seniors Stephen Silva and Kiel Nielson no longer have high school football seasons to prepare for but they see potential for the Mad Dawg Lifting program after school.
"I think you'll start to see more guys out because the attitude is different about lifting from the coaching staff," said Silva, who played football all four years. "The attitude used to be, 'Lift if you want to play,' now it's, 'Lift so the team gets better.'"
An increase in the athletes' size is not the only outcome the football program hopes to see. The team, along with the majority of the MCHS athletic department, is starting to put in place plans for a new weight room.
"You look at the programs that are good year in and year out in our conference and part of it is their great weight rooms," Hafey said. "We ask for the commitment from the kids and when we improve the facilities it shows we have the commitment to them."
Babb said his afternoons in the weight room would be a little easier with an improved facility.
"It would be nice to have more than one or two benches," he said. "They bought some new things this year, which was nice, but there really isn't enough room to do everything properly."
Athletic Director Jim Loughran and MCHS are taking the first steps toward a new weight room. The school has scheduled the Harlem Ambassadors basketball team to come into town Tuesday, Jan 14, for a game against local basketball players. Proceeds from the tickets will go to the athletic department and a new weight room.
"Newness in facilities helps establish the belief that we are about quality," Dralle said. "It's great to see some steps being taken, but I'll believe it when I see it."
Tickets for the event are being sold by winter athletes, at Brass Key Realty and Bargain Barn in Craig and at the activities office in
the high school.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org