Saldana earns lone Eagle Valley all-league pick
GYPSUM – Brian Saldana earned his 3A Western Slope all-league selection on hot, sweaty summer nights in the Eagle Valley weight room.He earned the honor, the only one handed out to a Devils football player this year, by leading the linemen on charges up the barren hill behind Hot Stuff Stadium during practice on Wednesdays.At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Brian Saldana earned everything he got this past season as a two-way lineman in the toughest league in 3A football straight up. He didn’t have the size to have anything handed to him.No, sir. What he did have was an unfailing will to persevere and a motor that ran strong for four quarters every Friday night. And for that, Saldana was recognized by coaches around the league as one of the best of the best.”He just played so hard in there,” Devils’ coach John Ramunno said. “At the beginning of the season, if somebody would have told me that playing against Moffat County and Rifle and Palisade – some of these bigger, physical teams – that he was going to be able to hang in there the whole game, I would have questioned it. I was amazed that he was able to do what he did at 185 pounds, 190 pounds. He hung in there pretty solid.”
Saldana, who played offensive guard and defensive tackle, said he had mixed feelings when he heard that he had been chosen to the all-league team in the 3A Slope. As the younger brother of former all-state selection, John Saldana, Brian told the Vail Daily before the season that he wanted to make his older brother proud in what was to be his last season as a Devil. From the outset he didn’t have eyes on an all-league season, however. As a captain, he wanted to set a strong example for his teammates. As a senior, he wanted to prove to his coaches that he was capable of playing both ways all season long. He also wanted this team to stay competitive after moving up a classification. But to be named to the all-league team? That came as a shock. “It feels great actually,” Saldana said. “It’s a weird feeling, because when you move up (a classification), you’re not expecting to get named all-league or whatever. It just happened. It was an awkward feeling.”Honorable mentions This year’s Devils team, which finished 2-6 in the Slope and 3-7 overall, had two other players selected for honorable-mention league honors.
Senior captain Brad Gamble, who seemingly did everything for the Devils as a cornerback, tight end, punter, kicker and kick returner, was picked for his all-around athleticism.Junior defensive end and offensive tackle Jacob Rivera locked up an honorable-mention nod as well for his standout play on both sides of the line. Ramunno mentioned the Devils’ 42-31 win over Delta in the eighth game of the season as reason alone as to why Gamble was worthy of an honorable mention.”(Brad is) the kind of kid who can turn the whole game,” Ramunno said. “Like in the Delta game, he can catch a big pass and take it all the way down to the 5-yard line. He had that big-play capability. He returned a kickoff in that game that was huge. I think that one game, he really impressed the Delta coach and that probably got him on some all-league recognition.”As for Rivera, Ramunno said that on defense the junior gave opposing teams problems from his end spot each week and that the effort didn’t go unnoticed in the postseason awards voting.”I think (Jacob) was pretty solid for an end,” Ramunno said. “Coaches had to think about their schemes when they were going at him. A lot of games where we assigned him to the quarterback on option teams, he did a good job keeping his responsibility in there.”No guarantees
Because of its record, Ramunno’s team had no guaranteed picks in the all-league voting process at the end of the season. The coach said he would have liked to see more names on the list from Eagle Valley, but noted that two league wins compared to six losses hurt his player’s chances.”We probably had some more kids who I felt could have been represented in there, but the thing is we would have had to win a couple more games,” he said. “Like, the Cortez game would have really helped us and the Steamboat or Glenwood (Springs) game. Had we have won those two games, I think we could have had two more kids selected.”Regardless of the politics, Ramunno said overall he was pleased that Saldana, Gamble and Rivera were selected. In particular, Ramunno said he was especially pleased with Saldana’s pick because he felt the senior was the unquestioned leader of the football team in the offseason and that the honor was well earned.”He was the leading guy in the summer for weightlifting workouts,” Ramunno said. “He attended almost every night and I think that’s big. I really think that helped him stay healthy through the whole year. He had guys that were 80 pounds more than him that he was going against. But because of that hard work, he was able to play strong all year. He didn’t come out of the game much.”Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.