Hayden senior’s choice of football over baseball helps the Tigers
If you go
What: Hayden High School football (6-4) vs. Wray (10-0)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Hayden High School
Steamboat Springs — There was convincing and cajoling, friendly wagers and deals.
In the end, though, Hayden High School senior Ben Williams said it was a desire not to miss his senior season that convinced him to go out for football after skipping his junior campaign to play baseball.
As the Hayden offense has caught fire late in the season with Williams at running back and wide receiver among those throwing the most matches, the teammates that helped woo him are awfully glad.
If Hayden is to pull an upset during its 1 p.m. Saturday home quarterfinals playoff showdown against Class 1A football playoffs No. 1 seed Wray, Williams may have to play a big role.
“My friends kept telling me if I came out, we’d be pretty good,” Williams said. “It’s worked out well. I’m happy.”
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It wasn’t necessarily an obvious slam-dunk. Last time he tied on his football cleats before this fall’s practices, Williams barely was a factor.
He didn’t play varsity as a freshman when the Tigers drove to the Class 1A state semifinals. As a sophomore, he got in during prime time only for special teams plays.
His love then, as now, has been baseball.
He’s spent three seasons playing in spring with the Moffat County High School team, leading that club as a pitcher and an outfielder.
“That’s where his future is,” Hayden senior quarterback Graig Medvesk admitted.
Williams saw the same thing, which led him to skip out on his junior season of football to play fall baseball on the Front Range.
That, he said, was rough.
“I drove down there every weekend,” he said.
He stayed with his brother, Jordan Williams, now pitching for Colorado School of Mines.
It was hard, but it proved rewarding.
Still, a constant chatter arose from Williams’ friends, who struggled to a 4-5 football season in 2009.
That squad didn’t make the playoffs, but its players felt it was close.
“It was hard (to convince Williams), but he’s a good athlete, and we knew he’d help,” Medvesk said. “We’ve pretty much been together since we were in pee-wee football. We grew up together. I gave him that sob story.”
Turns out, they might have been right.
Hayden’s 2010 team, 6-4 after last weekend’s 48-21 trouncing of Monte Vista in the first round of the playoffs, has profited from maturation around the field. No one has provided quite the new spark Williams has, however.
A talented athlete who helped Hayden’s boys basketball team qualify for last year’s state tournament, he’s shined in football pads, just like everyone knew he would.
“I talked to him all the way through his junior year to get him out,” Hayden coach Shawn Baumgartner said. “He never would give me a clear answer. There was a lot of working on him in the summer, too. And then two-a-days came around, and he was there.
“It really has turned out great for us.”
There wasn’t a ton of rust, though Williams did have to shift between positions frequently early in the season before settling in at running back.
He played tight end and wide receiver, moves dictated by injuries. Another injury to a Tigers starter put him in the backfield midway through the season.
There, running and receiving, he’s found a niche.
“He’s such a good athlete, he can play those different positions,” Baumgartner said. “He’s a big enough kid he can go out and catch the ball. We’ve just been finding different ways to get it to him.”
Williams has gained 443 yards on the ground this season on 62 carries, good for more than 7 yards a try.
His best game came against Paonia, a win Baumgartner said helped turn the season around after a 1-3 start that left the squad disillusioned. There, Williams went for 143 yards and one touchdown.
He’s also piled up 310 yards receiving. He ran for 57 yards in the playoff victory against Monte Vista and caught three passes for 118 yards more, two of those going for long, important touchdowns.
“It’s nice to be back in Hayden for my senior year,” he said. “I was thinking about baseball again, but I wanted to stay in Hayden and not miss out. This season’s turned out really good.”
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Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:45 p.m. to include a response from the Bureau of Land Management’s national office.