Once a Sailor, now a Skier: Alex Wood debuting as newest Aspen football coach
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs High School on Sept. 5 — a Friday night — was just how Alex Wood remembered it six years ago.
Sailors football players sported their black and red jerseys on campus in anticipation for that night’s home game, the marching band blared from the stands, and as kickoff approached between Aspen and Steamboat, the fiery sunset west of Gardner Field eventually was drowned out by Sleeping Giant.
Everything felt the way Wood had left it in 2008, when he was a standout tight end on a Steamboat team that made the state playoffs.
Everything was familiar besides the locker room, the sideline and the coaching clothes the 24-year-old was wearing on that particular Friday night.
As the newest assistant coach for the Aspen Skiers program, Wood had this Week 3 matchup circled on his calendar since he embarked on his first football coaching venture.
“As soon as I joined the staff, the coach (Ryan Triece) said we were playing Steamboat,” Wood said about the first game between the schools in more than two decades. “I started thinking about it, and I was excited to go back and see what it was like on the other sideline.”
During his high school senior year, Alex Wood caught nearly 100 passes for 1,200 yards on his way to all-state honors. That same season, something just didn’t feel right in his hip, though.
During a routine tackle in a 49-36 shootout win against Buena Vista, Wood said his hip felt strange, but nothing alarming. It felt like a pulled or strained muscle, he said, something high schoolers regularly battle.
But the hip pain lingered as the season carried on. It bothered Wood even more after he walked on to the University of Colorado football team straight out of high school, where he eventually earned a scholarship as a utility fullback and tight end.
What wasn’t alarming in 2008 looked a little grimmer as Wood wrapped up his collegiate career last fall. Despite seeing plenty of playing time and receiving the Iron Buffalo Award for his performance in the CU weight room, the hip problem was becoming a constant thorn in his side.
“I’d finish a game, try to stand up on the flight back to Boulder and it just wasn’t working,” Wood said. “I had to see the head doctor.”
Although the NFL wasn’t in Wood’s future, he was told that if he tried to play five more years on his battered joint, a full hip replacement was in order.
So after his CU graduation in December, Wood went under the knife in Steamboat Springs. He stared down an uphill rehab battle, one that takes about 18 months for full recovery.
Although he was basically bedridden, Wood loves football, so much so that he wasted very little time before he hopped on the phone and started calling coaches — any college coaches he had ever encountered — inquiring about graduate assistant positions as a student coach.
He heard he may have been in the running at CU and even got a call back from UCLA and Colorado State, but nothing ever extended to an interview.
It was time to start looking past college for Alex Wood.
Some ‘small-world’ luck
Medical rehab only lasts so long, and for a gym rat like Wood, it was back to the weights and some light jogging soon after surgery.
At the same time early this spring, Wood was asked by Steamboat AAU basketball coach Devin Borvansky to help with some fifth- and sixth-grade coaching.
The March and April basketball gig launched Wood’s post-college coaching career, a good patience tester, he said.
“When I was that age, all you want to do is play knockout, but you have to make it fun to actually learn the game,” Wood said.
With that in mind, a full-time job was in store. So Wood, who has a communications degree from CU, jumped on the first available opportunity with his dad’s construction and painting company in Aspen in May.
But neither football nor coaching escaped Wood’s mind, despite never landing with a university as a grad assistant.
“I knew no matter where I ended up, I wanted to stay connected to football,” Wood said. “I work up in Aspen every day, and Aspen High School is the closest school, so I just emailed the football coach.”
Some “small-world” kind of luck finally happened. Current Aspen head football coach Ryan Triece was an assistant at Eagle Valley when Wood was carving up high school defenses as a Sailor six years ago. When Wood shot Triece an email about helping out with the football team, he was invited right into the Skiers’ program.
“They were doing spring ball and he said, ‘I’d love to have you. We can use all the help we can get,’” Wood said.
Wood dove right in, manning the Aspen special teams, and from Week 1 he started as a direct communicator of offensive play calls and signals radioed in from the press box.
Wood loved it from the get-go, but he couldn’t help but keep in the back of his mind something he was told since he started in May. Aspen was scheduled to head to Steamboat in Week 3, a rare contest for the schools that play in different classifications.
Standing on the Gardner Field south sideline Sept. 5, Wood barked out signals and beamed as his senior running back churned out a bruising 343 yards in the former Sailors star’s third game on the headset.
On the north end of the field paralleling the grandstands were some familiar faces, folks like Steamboat head coach Lonn Clementson and assistant Mike McCannon, men who taught Wood the game well before he was a high school standout.
“It was just awesome,” Wood said about that Friday night in which Aspen hung on for a 23-14 win. “The thing that made it even more enjoyable is our team played its most complete game so far this year.”
The former football star is eyeing a possible transition over to rugby, a popular sport in Aspen and a frequent opponent of the Steamboat Rugby Club. Priority No. 1, though, is getting the still-healing hip back in shape.
Priority No. 2 is a bit more immediate. The Skiers are 1-0 in the 2A Western Slope League and have a very real shot at winning it all. None of their remaining opponents have a winning record.
“Right now, I’m just going this season and I’m all in,” Wood said.
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