Bulldog brigade: Moffat County football seeks to build on offseason growth in opener with Summit
The season opener is nearly here for Moffat County High School football, and Bulldog players and coaches alike are looking to build upon the strengths of last season, improve upon any weaknesses and set a new standard going forward.
The blue and white will kick off its 2019 fall schedule at 7 p.m. Friday on the road in Frisco, facing the 3A Summit Tigers, the first of four early season games leading up to the 2A Western Slope League slate.
Putting in the prep work
In his second year heading the Bulldog gridiron program, coach Jamie Nelson is looking forward to returning players coming back bigger and better, a likely sight considering the amount of weight training athletes have put in this summer.
“Some of those guys have been working out the whole offseason and are coming back 10, 15 pounds heavier,” he said.
Likewise, coaches have sought to keep players’ game intellect sharp, particularly older players for whom leadership is a must.
“They’ve been in the system for almost a year-and-a-half now, so they understand things better and have the nuances and details that can be added,” Nelson said. “Hopefully they feel a little more confident and can play a little bit faster on the field, too.”
A roster of 40 is smaller than he’d like, with an abundance of feisty freshmen, though Nelson expects big things are possible.
“The previous couple weeks have been awesome. The guys have been working hard,” Nelson said.
Back on the field
The Dogs will have six seniors suiting up this season: Dario Alexander, Kameron Baker, Keaton Durbin, Kevin Hernandez, Riley Nelson, and Dagan White.
In his junior year, Hernandez was the leading rusher for Moffat County, collecting 451 yards on 64 carries, as well as four touchdowns, his highlight of the season coming with a 130-yard game against Summit.
He was also the Dogs’ regular punter and is the leader in 2018 tackles among returning players.
Among a reliable corps of receivers in 2018, Alexander and Baker made their mark as juniors with key catches, with Alexander gaining the longest catch of the year at 78 yards as part of 235 total and Baker finishing the year with 120 and two touchdowns.
Baker is also tied with Joe Campagna among returners for yards lost from sacks at 21 last year.
White’s strong point as a junior was as the team’s turnover specialist, responsible for five in all. Starting with three TO’s in a meeting with Steamboat Springs — two interceptions and a fumble recovery that turned into a touchdown — he got another pick and another fumble recovery later in the fall, as well as serving as a punt returner.
Players entering their junior year will also be crucial, Nelson said, among them Campagna at linebacker, Corey Scranton as a lineman on both sides of the ball, and Donnie Quick as a running back.
“We have a couple guys who really stepped up last year, and they’ll really be able to enhance the team on game day,” he said.
With 2018 quarterback pair Colby Beaver and Cale Scranton graduating, Nelson will be starting sophomore Ryan Peck in the position. Though he took a small amount of snaps last fall at the varsity level, Peck was especially strong in a dominant Bulldog JV season.
“Ryan is a student of the game. He studied the playbook on a regular basis as a freshman last year,” Nelson said. “He’s grown a lot, gotten taller, put on a bunch of weight, gotten stronger and his awareness in the game has improved too.”
Nelson said a concentrated effort among the team to assess opposing defenses will allow Peck more flexibility to call audibles when needed while running the offense.
“As a coach, you can see things on the field, but when you have players who can see those things, we can attack the defenses without having to take a timeout and let that happen in live time as the game is going,” he said.
Rematch between cats and dogs
In a 3-6 year, the Dogs’ 2018 opener at home with Summit was easily one of their best moments, winning 40-7 in the first match between the two since 2013.
However, Nelson doesn’t anticipate their first opponents will be the same team this time. Besides the Bulldogs being on the Tigers’ turf this year, Summit has already proven their intensity with a 50-28 victory Friday, Aug. 30 against Salida.
Summit had a similar year to MoCo last fall at 3-7 — their record for the two prior seasons before that as well — but with new head coach James Wagner overseeing the program, things could change.
Despite the disadvantage of this Friday being their first game scenario, the Bulldogs have the boost of scouting on their opponents.
“That first game, you don’t have any game film. You might have some scrimmage film with just a hodgepodge of plays, but that’s not any kind of gameplan,” Nelson said. “Watching them on film, I think we’ve got some good matchups.”
Two road games in a row — the Dogs in Steamboat Sept. 13 — will be one of the big challenges for MoCo football as the season commences, though Nelson said that aspect should build up players’ toughness.
“That puts us in a position where we’ve gotta rely on each other as a team, you know, ‘us against the world,'” he said. “Once we get on the bus and get going, we’ll be fine. It’s just another location, another field, the football and the field are the same size. Nothing has changed except where we’re at.”