Hayden football aiming to keep rolling | SteamboatToday.com

Hayden football aiming to keep rolling

Hayden's Garrett St. Clair looks to pass downfield Friday against South Park.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In the long games, the rough years, you try to remind yourself things are never as bad as they seem.

"And," Hayden High School football coach Ryan Wilkie said, "things are never as good as they seem. You have to keep perspective."

The last few years for the Tigers have included plenty of keeping perspective.

The team hasn't had a winning record since 2012 and entering this season was 4-13 in Wilkie's two full seasons as head coach in Hayden.

Early this fall, however, things are looking up in West Routt County.

The Tigers are 3-0 heading into a 7 p.m. game at home Friday against Miami-Yoder, and if all goes well, the Tigers will be undefeated at the start of league play for the first time in a decade.

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"We went through a five-year cycle that was rough, but it’s good to see us back, or coming back," Wilkie said. "We're not where we want to be, but we're growing and improving and you have to give these kids credit."

Those kids, of course, are behind the big improvement, and they weathered plenty of the hard times.

What all is better?

"Offensive line. Backs, we have speedy backs. We have great coaches. I trust any of them with my life," said senior Garrett St. Clair, quickly rattling off a list. "I've got a team around me, and we love each other and battle to the end."

The Tigers have a whopping nine seniors on their roster, the most the program has had since 2012 — the program's first year in 8-man football when the team went 7-2 in the regular season and advanced to the playoffs.

Those seniors have seen plenty of time on the field, too. Garrett St. Clair was thrust into the varsity lineup at quarterback by injury in 2014. He was a freshman and looked the part, smaller than almost anyone else on the field.

He started that season at cornerback, as well, and officially took over the starting quarterback job last fall.

Now, he's back for his second season under center, and the offense has averaged 43 points a game.

"I got burnt when I was a freshman but having that experience when I was younger because now I have the opportunity to have a great senior year," he said Friday, after the Tigers beat South Park, 30-20.

Hayden opened its season with a win without even taking the field. Nederland had to forfeit because of a lack of qualified players. The Tigers did win the first chance they got, going on the road to blast Justice, 56-12 before last weekend's home win against South Park.

Miami-Yoder comes in Friday with a 1-2 record. Hayden beat the Buffaloes last season, 48-6, and, on paper, look to be favorites again this year.

The schedule's about to get considerably more difficult, however. The Tigers travel to play at West Grand Sept. 29. The Mustangs are ranked No. 5 in 8-man football by CHSAANow.com.

That game will start play in the 8-man Northwest League.
After West Grand, big games loom against Rangely, Plateau Valley, Gilpin County and, to wrap up the regular season on Oct. 27, a home game against cross-county rival Soroco.

The big question is, even if they can win Friday to start 4-0, are the Tigers ready to hang in that league — one where they won just one game there a year ago, and where they haven't won more than two since 2012?

"That's our goal," Wilkie said. "We're going to take it one week at a time and see what happens. Every Friday night, our goal is to make sure our opponents know they played the Hayden Tigers."

Editor’s note: The Hayden football team’s 56-12 victory against Justice on Sept. 9 is disputed. Tigers’ coach Ryan Wilkie said he discovered several days after the game that he had played an ineligible student-athlete late in the game. The Tigers self-reported the issue to the Colorado High School Activities Association, and on Monday, CHSAA ruled the game was a forfeit for Justice, making the Tigers 2-1 on the season. Wilkie said Hayden is appealing the decision.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.

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