Pam Boyd

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October 31, 2012
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Ain't it great to be a Devil?

Last year when the Eagle Valley High School Football team looked at its traditional slogan, the words rang a bit flat.

In fact, it wasn't all that great to be a Devil.

But the vagaries of high school football have those long-shouted words ringing true again this season. Even after a heartbreaking loss to Palisade last week, the Devils are sitting at 7-2 and looking like a contender for post-season play.

What a difference a year can make.

"I think the main difference is the senior class. We have 17 seniors and your season is dictated, a lot of the time, by the senior class," said EVHS football coach John Ramunno.

He speaks from experience. Ramunno has been the Devils head coach for 32 years. While the Devils' uptick has heads turning around the community and the state, Ramunno believes that's just the way things go in high school football. But it's a lot more fun to coach a team with a winning record than lead one that's struggling. For the past three years, Ramunno's had to deal with the latter.

In 2011, the EVHS record was 1-9. In 2010 it was 2-7 and in 2009 it was 1-8.

But even when the team was down, Ramunno saw potential in the wings. "I knew this class of seniors had something special in them. I knew they had something in them that could turns things around," he said.

That turnaround started long before the football season did.

Last summer, a corps of Devils spent hours upon hours in the school weight room with a singular purpose - build strength.

"That's probably the biggest thing, and after we were done lifting, we would go out and throw," said Ramunno.

"Some of the kids had 40 nights in there lifting," said Ramunno. "I only had 38 nights."

Gradually, the Devils built themselves into a bigger and stronger team.

"We decided we wanted to change. We knew we had to work twice as hard as we had in the past," said Jesus Garcia, a senior who plays safety and running back.

Ramunno said he now has some of the strongest kids he has ever coached on the field. "Andy Arnold can bench over 300 pounds. So can Joey Sanchez," said Ramunno.

Last summer a group of Devils decided to see how they stacked up against other teams around the state. They entered a 7-on-7 tournament and compiled a 4-1 record.

"That's when I knew they were going to be competitive," said Ramunno.

Forget the team records of the past three years. Forget the fact that for the most part, the same kids on the field today were there last year because there were only two seniors on the EVHS football team in 2011. This year's 17 Devils seniors always believed they could be winners.

When asked if they ever got discouraged and thought about quitting football after a 1-9 season, many of the players seem baffled by the question.

"I never thought about not playing. I don't think any of us did," said quarterback Jordon Hudspeth. "We knew we wanted to be leaders. People are a lot more positive this year and it is a lot more fun when you are winning."

Running back Cole Nielson is having a stellar year. He's already chalked up more than 1,200 yards rushing as the team's offensive anchor.

"I love football and I love our team," said Nielson.

Nielson's favorite memory to date is the team's 62-0 walloping of rival Battle Mountain High School. "How much we lost it by last year was nearly how much we won it by this year," Nielson said.

Hudspeth said he knew it was going to be a great year when the team won its season opener at Cedaredge. "When we won our opening game, we knew we could carry it on through the season."

Along with last week's loss to Palisade, the Devils dropped an early game to Delta. Now those three teams are sitting at 7-2 heading into the final game of the season. Nobody envies the Devils this week as they head off to face the Western Slope League's powerhouse - the Rifle Bears.

For most of the season, Rifle has been on top of the state 3A rankings.

"They have a great running back," said Ramunno. "His name is Ryan Moeler and he will be one of the fastest kids on the field, as well as being one of the strongest."

But Ramunno believes the Devils are looking at the game as an opportunity - a chance to mix it up with the state's best. And, he noted, his team has the talent to take advantage of the opportunity.

"I don't think our kids have played their best football game yet," said Ramunno.

"We don't see Rifle as the state's big leader. We see them as a team we want to beat," said Garcia. "Everyone can be beaten. We just have to give it everything and practice hard this week."

As for the post season, the seven teams that win their respective league titles will advance. Additionally, there will be nine wild card teams selected through a points process. The Devils are definitely in the mix for a wild card spot, but if they make it to the playoffs, they will likely play on the road.

That's okay, though. The Devils have been as strong on the road as they have been at home this year. They are a scrappy group, Ramunno said.

"It doesn't matter what offense you run. If the kids believe in themselves, you will be successful."

Ramunno noted he has an extra special connection with this year's seniors. His son Rick is one of them.

"My dad always said nothing is as special as having the chance to coach your own kid," said Ramunno. "I have loved every minute I get to see him play. I'm sure it's like that for all senior parents."

As they prepare for their final regular season game, the players and their coaches already know this fall has been a time they won't forget.

"I knew this group had something special in them. I knew they had something in them to turn the program around," Ramunno said. "This is a really great bunch of kids. I am going to miss coaching them."

But the nature of his job means always looking ahead. So even as he has to let go of 17 seniors who have been a stalwart crew, Ramunno sees great potential in the wings.

"I see good kids in other classes coming up. I think we can fill back in."

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The VailDaily Updated Nov 5, 2012 10:07AM Published Oct 31, 2012 12:43PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.