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Hayden has experience, talent to compete in Western Slope League

Melinda Mawdsley

— Hayden senior Evan Hilling remembers his first days of freshman football practice. Everything was fast and complicated, but he needed to play. The Tigers, like many small schools in Colorado, had to use underclassmen to field a competitive varsity team.

Hilling’s confusion and timidness are gone.

They are replaced by confidence and a desire to lead Hayden back toward the top of the Western Slope League, arguably the state’s toughest in Class 1A.

“We’re one year older and a lot faster,” Hilling said. “We have to make sure the younger guys are doing things right. We need to make sure we’re having fun every day.”

Senior seasons come around once, and second-year coach Shawn Baumgartner said he has more than enough leadership from his seniors and a talented and experienced junior class.

“They have the fire and the desire,” Baumgartner said.

The Tigers return eight starters on either side of the ball but have moved players to different positions this year as Hayden transitions from an option offense to an I-formation attack.

Baumgartner said the new offense fits the personnel better, particularly with junior Keenan Bruchez at quarterback.

“It has made all the calls and plays a lot easier.” Bruchez said of the offensive switch. “I have no problem telling people what to do.”

Hayden is blessed with a quick and experienced backfield, led by Cam Whiteman, Jesse Drennan and Brandon Ford. But how the Tigers fare in their running game depends largely on the improvement of their offensive line, a line getting an overhaul under new assistant Lars Jacobsen, brother of Hayden assistant Leif Jacobsen.

“Our offensive linemen are being taught technique that they haven’t been taught before,” Baumgartner said. Baumgartner said he realizes some mistakes will be made in the first few games, but in a league figured to be as competitive as any in the state, Hayden can ill afford to be tinkering with schemes come Sept. 17 against Rangely, one of two state semifinal teams from the Western Slope League last season.

In addition to Rangely, Meeker and Paonia are expected to be tough league foes this year. The top three teams in Hayden’s league advance to the playoffs.

“I think we’ll have a really fast team this year, especially at our skill positions,” junior tight end Tyson Letlow said.

Hayden opens the season at 7 p.m. Sept. 2 against Moffat County’s JV in Craig.

–To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com


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