No rebuilding year for Tigers
Despite young roster, Hayden expects winning season
Steamboat Springs — Don’t blame Brandon Ford if he has a chip on his shoulder.
The large, bearded All-State Hayden Tigers linebacker and fullback can hear the whispers from opposing teams. He knows word around the league is that this is supposed to be a down year for Hayden football.
“If we lose to them, then they can talk,” Ford said. “It just motivates me to go out and hit harder. We’re just motivated to win because everyone looks down on us. Everybody forgets that everyone else lost a lot, too.”
A quick glance at Hayden’s roster reveals the extent of what the Tigers lost over the summer – nine seniors from last year’s squad. They are returning a total of five starters. A key departure from last year’s team, quarterback Keenan Bruchez, is playing for the Colorado School of Mines.
“I think everybody in this league is up from last year,” fourth year head coach Shawn Baumgartner said. “I think when you look at us on paper, we’re probably down.”
But Baumgartner isn’t ready to concede this season as a rebuilding year. He looks at his offensive line – although young – to make an immediate impact. He also has four of his five starting linebackers returning to play in his 3-5-3 defensive scheme.
“We’re going to replace a lot with some young talent,” he said. “This line has the chance to be as good, if not better, than last year’s, and the linebacking core is the strength of our team.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Baumgartner has had to change the Tigers’ philosophy. In past years, the Tigers ran a spread offense under the strong-armed leadership of Bruchez. This year, they plan to move to the more traditional I-formation to take advantage of Ford and returning starter Coy Letlow at running back.
Baumgartner considers this year’s team the closest-knit team he’s had in his tenure. That, combined with senior leadership from Ford and Dave Gullett – an honorable mention all-league linebacker from last year, could combine to produce some surprise wins.
With the young roster, Baumgartner said this might be the most fun year to coach because he doesn’t know what to expect. He also said the focus has changed from last year’s 7-3 team.
The emphasis this year isn’t only on wins and losses.
“That’s not something we talked about,” he said when asked if he has a target goal for wins this season. “With this group we want to perform to the best of our ability each and every day.
“As long as we can come together as a team, I think we can surprise some people.”
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