Devils regroup with size and speed
Vail, CO Colorado
GYPSUM ” Last season slipped away from the Devils in a hurry.
This time around, long-time Eagle Valley football coach John Ramunno sees his team getting a grip on things pretty early.
“We took 43 kids to camp this summer,” Ramunno said. “That’s the most I’ve ever taken. These kids are saying they want to be better. They want to get better in this league, and they have to do that.”
From the summer camp at Mesa State ” where about half of the 3A Western Slope gathered and got to run a few series against each other ” to the weight room, to the two-a-day’s in preseason to a scrimmage last week, the Devils are moving in the right direction.
“We’ve gotta get a good solid start and get them to play together and improve every week,” Ramunno said. “At camp, every day we improved and got better. If we can keep that mentality, and every day become better tacklers and better blockers, these guys will keep rolling.”
Last year, the Devils lost their first two games ” a 14-12 nail-biter against Summit and then a 18-12 heartbreaker in overtime to Roaring Fork.
“It doesn’t help having games like,” said junior lineman Zak Thrall. “It doesn’t boost your confidence and confidence is a huge thing, especially with the team we have now.”
During the early part of last year, the Devils had problems with untimely turnovers, penalties and communication.
“Our theme this year is we want to be a team. We want to have teamwork, unity and be on one heartbeat,” Ramunno said. “We struggled with some of that last year ” getting guys to work together. (Now) nobody wants to be the superstar. They all have to play together.”
The Devils should have multiple threats out of Ramunno’s trademark double-wing offense, and that’s just on the ground.
“We know we have to be able to run the ball, and that’s going to set up some play-action,” Ramunno said.
With three returning guys in the backfield, and six capable of picking up large chunks of yards, the Devils can keep their backs fresh and available as outlets for quarterback Hunter Blevins.
“We’ve got speed and size in that mix,” Ramunno said. “And our (fullbacks) ” we’re asking them to get some good blocking in, too. The strength of our team is our running backs and some big lineman. We want to take advantage of that.”
One of the starting wing backs will be Nick Whitehead, who handled a fair share of the running last season, while the other is Kevin Mansfield ” another returner who got his hands on the ball in 2006. Trent Book and Pavel Pavlov will get touches at wing back, also.
At fullback, Pena Woolsey put on a bunch of muscle in the offseason and should be able to make some holes and barrel through tacklers. Right behind Woolsey is another beefed-up back in John Crawford.
“It’s going to pretty much be split this year,” Whitehead said of the ball carrying.
Woolsey is excited about the offensive line.
“We’ve got a big front ” they’re ready to roll,” he said.
The big bodies include Paul Suther (270 pounds) at center and tackles Zak Thrall (285) and Pollo Almanza (240).
“We really like to get them moving instead of just plowing people,” Ramunno said. “It’s important to get guys moving their feet. Zak is doing a good job of that ” for a big guy he can move pretty well.”
Senior Brian Ervin (guard) should help with speed, while senior ends Markus McChesney Jerad Thompson and Matt Winsor will help the line’s mobility on run plays.
In a league where the running game dominates, the Devils have a nice threat in Blevins.
“Hunter has been throwing the ball well, so we’ve gotta work on catching a little better,” Ramunno said.
Blevins, who showed his accuracy at camp this summer, has spent preseason getting
comfortable handing off to all the different backs.
“It’s really important to know where everybody is and what their tendencies are,” he said.
In addition to the senior ends, Ryan McClintock and Robert Padgett should pull in some receptions.
When going up against league opponents like Rifle and Palisade, the Devils may see two or three passes ” a game. So Ramunno feels pretty good about having plenty of guys available.
“We plan to rotate some kids into spots,” Ramunno said. “That’s the beauty of playing (our) defense. Hopefully we can keep guys fresh so when we are on offense, we can maintain sustained drives.”
Typically, the Devils run a five-man front against running teams.
“We won’t use the 50 against the spread (offense),” Ramunno said. “A lot of teams are going to use the spread.”
Against the running teams, Ramunno hopes his line can set the tone.
“I’m looking for guys to jam things, stop up the middle and move and get off the ball quick,” he said. “That’s going to be Zak, Brian, Paul and Pollo. And our defensive ends have to contain people as well as pressure. Pavel, Pena, Marcus and Matt Windsor are looking at those spots.”
Leading the linebacker corps is Whitehead ” last year’s leading tackler, who will get plenty of help from starter Crawford, along with Thompson and Ryan Greene.
“We’ve got a tough defense,” Almanza said. “Our backers are fast and our corners are good, too.”
Mansfield, the 6-foot-3 strong safety, is not just a threat for interceptions.
“He really brings a punch,” Ramunno said.
Harrison Neal, Book and Padgett will be key in shutting off the passing game of teams like Glenwood, Cortez and Battle Mountain.
Kicking responsibilities will be split between Blevins (who is also the punter), Parker Rey and Almanza.
The Devils play the same 10 teams as last year, with the schedule reversed.
“We’re lucky we have two non-leagues to start out season,” Ramunno said. “We’re the only team in the league that has that. Everybody else has non-league, then jumps right into the mix. We have two games to prepare us before we take on Steamboat. We played them at camp and it was a battle.”
Eagle Valley hosts Summit (ranked No. 10 by the Rocky Mountain News) Friday at 7 p.m. at Hot Stuff Stadium, then a top 2A squad in Roaring Fork next Friday before hosting No. 3 Steamboat the following week for a third consecutive home game.
“I hope we can set the stage on our home field,” Ramunno said.
Eagle Valley heads to Craig in Week 4 to face Moffat County. After closing out September with a home game against Delta, the Devils take the long road trip to Cortez.
The final four weeks of the season will be decisive for Eagle Valley’s playoffs hopes. Following a home game against No. 9 Glenwood, the Devils go to No. 6 Rifle, host rival Battle Mountain then close out the regular season in at No. 1 Palisade.
“That’s the thing about this league,” Ramunno said. “You don’t get a chance to take a breather. You better be ready every week.”
Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com.