Stacking up the Western Slope League: Football

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Informal coaches poll

To win Western Slope League (note: coaches could not vote for their team)

Palisade: 3

Glenwood Springs: 2

Steamboat Springs: 2

Moffat County: 1

Coaches' picks for WSL's top player

Austin Hinder, QB, Steamboat Springs: 7

Nick Ciani, LB, Glenwood Springs: 2

Nicolas Stephanus, DL, Palisade: 2

Jasen Kettle, RB, Moffat County: 1

Gene White, LB, Delta: 1

Clayton Gerard, LB, Eagle Valley: 1

Parker Robbins, QB, Battle Mountain: 1

Pablo Salcido, FB, Moffat County: 1

Joe Dover, RB, Steamboat Springs: 1

Battle Mountain (0-10 overall last year)

Returning starters: 18 (9 on offense, 9 on defense)

Top players: QB Parker Robbins, RB Jon Simpson, OL/DL Mason Babcock

Outlook: Battle Mountain hasn't won a football game since Sept. 21, 2007, and second-year head coach David Joyce hopes to change that. Led by senior quarterback Parker Robbins and a plethora of returning players, Joyce thinks his squad has a shot at returning to respectability in 2009. Such a turnaround would coincide nicely with the Huskies' christening of a new field - and Battle Mountain's new campus - in Edwards. The coach said the Huskies will roll out new uniforms to go along with their new, artificial-turfed digs. "We're trying to kick it off right," Joyce proclaimed.

Delta (5-5 overall last year)

Returning starters: 14 (7 on offense, 7 on defense)

Top players: QB Austin Watson, LB Gene White, OL Duncan Simmons, DL Ethan Kraai

Outlook: Delta welcomes new head coach Ben Johnson to the fold. Johnson, who was an assistant at Olathe for three years and a head coach in Las Vegas, N.V. 10 years before that, brings two state titles to Delta. He won one last year with Olathe and one in Las Vegas. The Panthers will be a fast team, but they lack depth. Johnson, who is from Colorado, said he knows the Western Slope League well. He said initial indications from summer and fall camps are that the team has responded to his style of play. Delta has always had the athletes, and with Johnson leading the way, the team could certainly make the playoffs.

Eagle Valley (4-6 overall last year)

Returning starters: Six (3 on offense, 3 on defense)

Top players: LB Clayton Gerard, QB Nick Pietrack, OL Bryce Steggall, LB Seth Williamson

Outlook: Linebackers are the only area the Devils return players. Led by two-time All-League performer Gerard, Eagle Valley returns one of the youngest units in the league. The good thing for coach John Ramunno is the system he has in place has been there for a long time. There aren't many secrets. The offense will line up in a double wing set, and the defense will be physical. Ramunno said at football camps this summer, the team improved each day. If the team can come together and grow up quickly, it should compete in a wide open Western Slope League. Getting off to a fast start might be the biggest key. Last season the Devils started the season 0-5, before finishing 4-6.

Glenwood Springs

(14-0 overall last year)

Returning starters: 5 (2 on offense, 3 on defense)

Top players: LB/RB Nick Ciani, QB Luke Jacob, OL/LB Chad Montover, RB Tyler Thulson, WR/DB Josh Galvan, WR/DB Trey Fox

Outlook: The reigning 3A state champions lost a huge senior class to graduation and return just five starters. Still, one league coach says the two-time defending 3A WSL champions are the top dogs until someone knocks them off. With 3A player of the year Dakota Stonehouse now at Carroll College in Montana, junior Luke Jacob will assume the quarterbacking duties for the Demons. Coaches like his arm and grasp of the position, both keys to functioning capably in head coach Rocky Whitworth's spread offense. How the offensive and defensive lines shape up will go a long way in determining just how good the Demons will be in the 3A WSL.

Montezuma-Cortez

(4-6 overall last year)

Outlook: Chuck Cotter returns for his second year as head coach after spending the previous two years as a coordinator. Montezuma-Cortez runs a newer offense called the spinner series. The offense essentially is a single-wing look out of the shotgun formation. The quarterback sometimes will spin 360 degrees to fake handoffs. Although the offensive line was big last year, it was hit hard by graduation.

Palisade (9-2 overall last year)

Returning starters: 12 (7 on offense, 5 on defense)

Top players: OL/DL Nicholas Stephanus, OL/DL Zaid Bradfield, RB/LB Sean Dunn

Outlook: Palisade never drifts far from the top of the 3A Western Slope League, and it's hard to imagine the Bulldogs won't be in the mix for a league title in 2009. Behind its signature smash-mouth brand of ball, Palisade finished second to Glenwood Springs in the league race last year and, with 12 returning starters, head coach John Arledge's blue-collar bunch is primed to shine this fall. With players like Nicholas Stephanus and Zaid Bradfield anchoring the lines, look for the Bulldogs to make some noise.

Rifle (3-7 overall last year)

Returning starters: 12 (6 on offense, 6 on defense)

Top players: QB/DB Joe Burgess, OL/DL Jacob Massey, RB/LB James Martinez, RB/LB Tyrel Lenard, TE/FB Caleb Lenard

Outlook: A new coach with big-name college coaching experience and a team-wide hunger to turn things around could be a recipe for success in Rifle. In 2008, the Bears fell short in their bid for a 14th consecutive playoff appearance. Misfortune played a role in the team's struggles, as a neck injury prevented then-head coach Bill Kucera from ever gracing the sideline as Rifle's frontman. The Bears never rebounded. Enter new head coach Ryan Sulkowski, who's fresh off a stint as a graduate assistant at Clemson University. With the help of a top-notch staff that includes former Rifle head coaches Damon Wells and Anthony Alfini, the former Valdosta State University offensive lineman hopes to, as he puts it, "pick up the program and dust it off."

Steamboat Springs

(8-3 overall last year)

Returning starters: 14 (7 on offense, 7 on defense)

Top players: QB Austin Hinder, RB Joe Dover, LT Carl Steele

Outlook: Steamboat has the skill guys on offense to compete with just about any team in the state. Behind much ballyhooed quarterback Austin Hinder and a finally healthy Joe Dover, Steamboat shouldn't have problem scoring points. It also helps the Sailors have 18 seniors on the roster, most of who worked out all summer. The key might be how an athletic, but undersized, offensive line comes together. Defensively, Steamboat will again run the 3-5 front, led by quick linebackers Cody Harris and Jack Spady.

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