Garrett Spears, a Moffat County High School senior, blew out is knee last year and missed the first six games of the season. The offensive/defensive lineman said he’s recovered from the injury and ready to help his team push for a playoff berth.

Photo by Joshua Gordon

Garrett Spears, a Moffat County High School senior, blew out is knee last year and missed the first six games of the season. The offensive/defensive lineman said he’s recovered from the injury and ready to help his team push for a playoff berth.

In his final season, Garrett Spears ready to lead Bulldogs in the trenches

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The Moffat County High School varsity football teams lines up in goal-line offense Aug. 24 on the MCHS practice field. The Bulldogs are returning seven starters on both sides of the ball as the team hopes to upend Glenwood Springs and Palisade at the top of the Western Slope League.

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Bubba Ivers, a Moffat County High School junior, drops back to pass during practice. Ivers started at quarterback last season as a sophomore, and he hopes to lead his team to the playoffs in his second year at the helm.

2011 Moffat County High School varsity football schedule:

(Date — place — host/opponent)

• Aug. 26 — away — Evergreen High School

• Sept. 2 — home — Aspen High School

• Sept. 17 — away — John F. Kennedy High School

• Sept. 23 — home — Delta High School

• Oct. 1 — away — Palisade High School

• Oct. 7 — home — Glenwood Springs High School

• Oct. 14 — home — Battle Mountain High School

• Oct. 21 — away — Rifle High School

• Oct. 28 — home — Eagle Valley High School

• Nov. 4 — away — Steamboat Springs High School

2011 Moffat County High School junior varsity football schedule:

(Date — place — host/opponent)

• Aug. 27 — away — Evergreen High School

Sept. 12 — home — Steamboat Springs High School

• Sept. 17 — away — John F. Kennedy High School

• Oct. 3 — home — Palisade High School

• Oct. 10 — home — Hayden High School

• Oct. 17 — away — Steamboat Springs High School

• Oct. 24 — home — Rifle High School

2011 Moffat County High School freshmen football schedule:

• Sept. 6 — away — Meeker High School

• Sept. 12 — home — Steamboat Springs High School

• Sept. 27 — home — Meeker High School

• Oct. 3 — home — Palisade High School

• Oct. 17 — away – Steamboat Springs High School

• Oct. 24 — home — Rifle High School

MCHS varsity football team at a glance:

Coaches:

• Kip Hafey

• Lance Scranton

• Ken Olinger

• James Neton

• Ron Linsacum

• Derek Duran

• Matt Linsacum

Seniors: 10

2010 record:

• 6-4 overall, 5-2 Western Slope League

By the numbers:

10: The 2011 campaign is head coach Kip Hafey’s 10th year at the helm of the Bulldogs. Hafey served as an assistant coach for four years at MCHS and one year at Palisade High School.

1: The Bulldogs have missed the 3A state playoffs for the past two years by one spot. MCHS finished 17th overall in the power rankings both years, while the top 16 made the playoffs.

3: Three MCHS opponents this season are ranked in The Denver Post’s preseason prep football rankings. Glenwood Springs is ranked third and Palisade is ranked eighth, both in 3A, while Aspen is ranked sixth in 2A. John F. Kennedy (7), Evergreen (2) and Moffat County (1) also received votes in 3A.

Garrett Spears wasn’t sure what to expect when he returned to the football field in October last year against Battle Mountain.

Spears, then a Moffat County High School junior, blew his knee out at summer camp at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

On the fourth play of the camp’s first day, Spears, who was projected to start at center for MCHS, got in position to block his opponent, but something went wrong.

“Being as big as I am and moving side-to-side, it just didn’t work and something went out,” he said. “That morning it was hurting and was so swollen that the only thing I could do was walk to the field.”

Originally, Spears said he believed the injury to be minor. A consultation with a doctor revealed otherwise.

“It hurt,” Spears said of his initial reaction to his knee injury. “I was so hopped up on adrenaline I didn’t think it was a bad injury. I’ve seen people with similar injuries scream bloody murder, but for me it was to the point that it hurt, but I thought I’d be right back.

“I kept hoping and hoping it would be good, but I got an MRI and the doctor said surgery. Not a good word.”

Still, Spears made his return nine weeks ahead of schedule and in time for the MCHS varsity football team’s last four games.

The Bulldogs won all four, capping a 6-4 season.

But, the team’s 2-4 start, all without Spears, came back to haunt the Bulldogs as they narrowly missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Now a senior, Spears said he is ready to end his three-year varsity career by erasing the disappointment of the past two seasons, moving beyond the injury, and leading his team to a deep run in the playoffs.

Doing the job

While Spears worked through a grinding physical therapy schedule and made a speedy recovery to get back on the field last season, the lineman said things still weren’t the same in the four games he played.

“I was in the way when I came back,” he said. “My knee wasn’t up to speed and I couldn’t run fast. I got the muscle mass back, but the fast twitch muscle fiber I couldn’t build up in time.

“I wasn’t very comfortable in my position.”

Spears said he kept working in the offseason with weightlifting, speed training and competing in track in the spring.

Through the team’s first two weeks of practice, Spears said he is sore, but that was to be expected.

“I feel nervous coming back,” he said. “I’m not sure how (my knee) is going to hold and I don’t know how I am going to do, but I have been training and am ready to come back.”

Whenever he is called upon, Spears said he is ready to step in at center and nose guard, the two positions he excels at playing

Kip Hafey, the Bulldogs head coach, said Spears is exactly the type of player he enjoys coaching.

“Garrett is a kid with a very positive attitude,” Hafey said. “We want nice kids that play hard and that is exactly what Garret is.”

Hafey said Spears’ greatest contribution to the team isn’t just his attitude, but his character.

“The way Garrett treats others, that makes his character without a doubt his greatest attribute,” he said. “Not only does he work hard, but he leads by example.”

While quarterbacks may be the field generals, the offense begins with the center and his command of the line.

“Centers are absolutely critical,” Spears said. “If you don’t have a good center, everything is going to be messed up. It is a lot of responsibility and a lot of stuff to do from getting the ball back and getting up and hitting someone before they know what’s going on.”

Spears said before he hikes the ball, the last thing that goes through his mind is “get fast.”

“We are usually on a set count, but right before the snap I concentrate on getting to him before he gets to me,” he said. “If I can do all that, I’ve won.”

Spears is in a similar position on the opposite side of the ball. As nose guard, the senior lines up right in the middle of the trenches.

Neither position is glamorous, Spears said, but he continues to do his job for the team.

“As nose guard, my job isn’t to get the tackles, but to hit the guy in front of me so hard I get a triple team and the linebackers can get a look,” he said. “I’ve talked to one of my linebackers and every tackle he gets is like an assist from me.

“Being a lineman is no glory position. I can draw double or triple teams, but others will get the tackles.”

The path

The Bulldogs have finished the last two seasons ranked 17th in the power rankings, just outside the top 16 teams that make the playoffs.

That narrow gap between the postseason and going home isn’t lost on Spears, who has one last chance to make the playoffs.

“I think our division and our area is overlooked,” he said. “We have the biggest division and some of the most competitive teams. In Denver, they have four teams and if you are the top of four, you automatically go to the playoffs.”

With only two weeks of practice before the team’s first game, Hafey said all his players needed to stay focused to get what they needed installed.

“We had to come in organized and prepared,” he said. “We had to go over every facet of the game, but so does the other team.”

The Bulldogs return seven starters on offense and defense after starting numerous sophomores and juniors last season.

The experience, Hafey said, should pay dividends.

“We are going to be counting on all our upperclassmen to lead the team this year,” he said. “We have a lot of juniors and seniors who have experience and who all will have to step up at one time or another. They all worked hard in the offseason and will lead with positive attitudes.”

Spears said he knows how close his team was last season.

“If we would have had one more touchdown against Evergreen, we would have been in last year,” he said. “We have been so close, but this year we have a good group of juniors backing up the seniors and a lot of talent, so I think good things will happen.”

Ultimately, Hafey said, it comes down to execution.

“We can’t have letdowns from week to week,” he said. “We have to eliminate mental mistakes and we can’t overlook anyone. We have high expectations of ourselves and we want to get back into the playoffs.”

As for Spears, he said he’s going to give everything for one last shot.

“I don’t know exactly what to expect, but I am going to try my hardest,” he said. “I am bigger and faster and naturally stronger than most of the guys on the field. I’ve sat on the sidelines too long. I just can’t sit anymore. I have to get out there and do something.”

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