Former Hayden Tiger Letlow gearing up for DII football championship
NCAA Division II football national championship game
Saturday, 2 p.m. MST, ESPN2
No. 8 CSU-Pueblo Thunderwolves vs. No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks
Steamboat Springs — The first time Hayden High School alumnus Treyben Letlow saw playing time for the CSU-Pueblo Thunderwolves, he got a nasty welcome-to-college-football moment.
Racing down recklessly on a kickoff that fall day in 2012, Letlow was blindsided by an opposing player, knocking him off his feet.
“It was an eye-opener for me,” Letlow laughed.
He laughs now, two years later as a redshirt junior starting tight end for the 13-1 Thunderwolves, who will compete Saturday in the Division II national championship against Minnesota State-Mankato in Kansas City’s Sporting Park.
Letlow is a long way removed from his athletic career at tiny Hayden High School, where he more than made a huge mark on the Tigers’ campus. He ended up being a four-year, two-way starter on coach Shawn Baumgartner’s football team, seeing action at just about every position.
In wrestling, Letlow tore through his junior and senior years, winning 71 straight matches with a pair of 215-pound Class 2A state championships.
At Hayden, Letlow was sports king and was the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s 2010-11 athlete of the year. CSU-Pueblo, however, offered a challenge the former Tiger never could have faced in high school.
“That first day of practice, you realize you’re not the top dog anymore,” Letlow said Friday during a jam-packed day of pre-championship game festivities. “There are people who can compete with you now and put you in your place.”
So Letlow worked from the get-go but saw sparse playing time his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons. Things changed — quite suddenly, he admits — this year. Now, he sees around half the offense’s snaps per game, primarily as a blocking tight end.
“Honestly, I don’t even know how I did it,” Letlow said. “I worked really hard and worked out a lot. I just studied my plays relentlessly, and one day they said, ‘You know what, you did really well the last game. You’re starting.’ Next thing you know I’m getting 20, 30 reps a game.”
His mom, Angela Letlow, likes to give some credit to Letlow’s high school coaches, who are regulars at his Thunderwolves games.
A large contingent of Treyben Letlow fans has made the trip to Kansas City to cheer him on against the Mavericks, who have ripped through all 14 of their opponents by an average of 31 points per win.
Letlow’s dad flew in from Africa, taking some vacation time from his job as a gold miner to watch his son try to help CSU-Pueblo get its first NCAA Division II championship. Letlow’s two brothers are also in Kansas City, along with a few uncles and some surprise guests.
“We’re extremely proud of him,” Angela Letlow said. “The team has been pretty driven without being cocky. This has been the goal from the beginning, and now they’re here.”
The game will kick off at 2 p.m. MST and will be aired on ESPN2.
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