Devils ready for jump to 3A Slope
John Ramunno has switched classifications enough times in his 24 years as football coach at Eagle Valley to know what to expect when his Devils move into the 3A Slope this year. “When you move up, you’re always playing against schools that have more kids out and usually have bigger kids,” Ramunno said. “I don’t know what everybody’s exact numbers are, but we’re in that 600 range and 3A goes to 1150. We’re on the bottom end of it.”Despite being the smallest 3A school in the conference and one of the smallest in the state, Ramunno doesn’t expect a huge drop-off when his team opens the season against 2A Bayfield Sept. 3 at Hot Stuff Stadium.The last foray into 3A – a two-year stint in 1998 and 1999 – was a tough go for the Devils, as Ramunno’s teams went a combined 6-13 before moving back down to 2A.After a rebuilding year in 2000, however, the Devils have gone 27-7 the last three seasons, which includes a 19-2 conference record, two conference titles and three straight playoff berths.The names of the conference foes may again be different, with heavyweights Rifle and defending state champion, Palisade, popping up on the conference schedule, but expectations remain the same in Gypsum.”(The 3A Slope) takes four teams into the playoffs,” Ramunno said. “We’re just going to have to look at it one game at a time and all that. We just want to be competitive. We start out with Rifle, a team that’s been to the playoffs nearly every year. So, we’ll see where we stand after that.”The road back to the postseason is marked with question marks. Gone from last year’s squad – which was knocked out of the playoffs for the second straight year by Eaton – is the entire starting backfield, both the starting offensive line and defensive line as well as standout linebackers Tim Reitz and Charles Faulhaber.
It will be hard to replace leading rushers Jared Schlegel and Steve Evancho and leading passer, Sean Bartlett, but to be fair, those stars replaced an impressive senior class themselves.The mentality in Gypsum is reloading, not rebuilding, and Ramunno believes that his this year’s senior class of 12, plus 21 juniors will be up to the task. A safe betThe most heralded returnee for the Devils is Brad Gamble, who scored 45 points as a kicker and a running back last season before being sidelined with a back injury. The lengthy, 6-foot-2 speedster will wear a number of different hats this year as the Devils coaching staff plans to use him at running back, tight end and split out as a receiver as well as using him at defensive back. “We’ll move him around quite a bit,” Ramunno said. “He gives us a number of options.”Gamble will be joined by some familiar faces in the offensive backfield.His twin brother, Alex, takes over under center after getting spot time last season backing up Bartlett.
Also, Sean Matheson, Gamble’s running partner on last year’s state championship 400-meter relay team, steps in at A-back, the showcase runner in Ramunno’s double wing offense. Matheson posted the fastest 100-meter time in the state last year, en route to another state gold, and was impressive last year as a backup to Schlegel.”We feel that we’re just as talented as they were last year, and we can pick off right where they left off,” Gamble said, when asked about replacing last year’s stellar backfield. “We’re all fast and athletic.”Junior Chris Harvey and senior Chris Best will share time at B-back and seniors Clayton Forsyth and Curtis LeBlanc are penciled in as the starting receivers. C-back duties will be divvied up depending on where Gamble lines up, as well as where the Devils are in terms of field position.”We’ve got a lot of depth in our backfield positions it looks like,” Ramunno said. “We’ve got a lot of guys working in at C-back right now. We want to be balanced. We’d like to be able to run and then throw the ball when we have to. If our double wing is working, then we can run the ball and set up some plays in the passing game with it.” On the lineThe biggest question facing the Devils is in the trenches, where they lost a senior-laden offensive and defensive group and will now have to contend with bigger schools who will have more meat up front.”Where we have to improve is up front,” Ramunno said. “We’ve got kids who haven’t had a lot of playing time.”
Coaches expect Brian Saldana, who is the lone senior lineman, to be the leader of the group.The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder will go both ways playing left guard and defensive tackle and is primed to have a big season after waiting his turn last year. The senior admits that the learning curve for the younger players on the line will be accelerated with the jump up to 3A, but still feels the Devils will be able to move the ball and stop the run as they have in years past.”We’re going to use our speed to beat teams without it,” Saldana said. “We shouldn’t be intimidated at all. We’ve played against 3A teams before. We can just keep playing with them. There’s definitely going to be rustiness with the new guys, but we’re just going to have to keep gaining experience as we go.” Gamble believes success for the Devils will come not from superior size or numbers but from strong team chemistry and experience gleaned from winning. The Devils may not be the best team on paper in their new conference, but games are never won or lost on paper anyway.”I think just teamwork mainly is going to get it done,” Gamble said. “My sophomore year, the team went to the semifinals, and at the beginning of the year, we didn’t think that they were that talented. But, they played so well together that they were able to get as far as they did. We’re all friends, so I think we should be able to work together just like they did.”Contact Nate Peterson at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.com