Heart and Soul for Hotchkiss
Hotchkiss High School only has five seniors, but they are the heart and soul of the team.
Those seniors, quarterback Ryan Spor, lineman Kyle Douglass, wide receiver Gage Grimmett, linebacker Dakota Coats and lineman Jake Richards, want to lead the Bulldogs to new heights this season.
“It’s not a lot of seniors but they are very important seniors,” fourth-year coach Zac Lemon said. “They play both ways and are great leaders.”
This is the first group of seniors that Lemon will have coached for four years. This group has seen a significant turnaround since Lemon arrived from Delta.
In Lemon’s first three seasons, the Bulldogs went a combined 24-6, including last season’s 10-1 record and 35-28 quarterfinal loss to perennial Class 1A power Limon.
Spor is entering his third year starting at quarterback, and said Lemon brought a change of mentality from the beginning.
“Coach Lemon’s first year, our motto was PIP, which meant Pride in the Program,” Spor said. “As a freshman, the Eastern Slope teams weren’t sure if we could play with them, but now they know we are right there.”
Hotchkiss advanced to the quarterfinals in 2008 and lost to another 1A power, Yuma. Lemon said the Bulldogs gained a lot of confidence from making it that deep in the playoffs for two straight seasons.
“We know we have the talent, we just have to do the extra things to get over the top,” Lemon said. “They put the work in and they know their potential. They’ve felt what it’s like to be a top competitor and they know we belong in that level now.”
Hotchkiss has risen to the upper echelon of 1A with its high-powered offense. The Bulldogs run a split-back veer triple-option offense, which relies on quick-hitting plays to catch opposing defenses off balance.
Last season, Hotchkiss averaged 35 points per game.
“We can catch them in a mistake no matter where they are at,” Lemon said. “We hit it quick and hand it off at the line of scrimmage, so even a busted play isn’t a loss. It’s a gain of zero, and we are still OK with it.”
Spor is the maestro of the offense, deciding when to hand the ball off to running backs Jamie Rodriguez and Jacobe Galley, and when to keep it himself.
“(Spor’s) smart and understands what defenses are going to do,” Lemon said. “He does a great job of commanding the offense and he’s getting to the point where we can throw the ball effectively with him, so we can really mix it up.”
Spor showcased his throwing ability in last year’s playoff game against Limon by going 19 of 23 for 206 yards. Spor said he hopes to continue progressing as an efficient passer.
“You get into the playoffs and they pack eight guys in the box,” Spor said. “So you have to be able to throw it well and we have some formations where we can do that.”
Hotchkiss hasn’t been one-dimensional in its rise. The Bulldogs had a stifling defense that gave up only nine points per game last season.
Lemon is making a few changes, moving from a 4-4 defensive alignment to a 3-5 defense.
Lemon said the switch is to make it tougher on opponents to make adjustments.
“Offensives are able to make adjustments against the 40 front pretty easily,” Lemon said. “This is a more aggressive defense, and we can send blitzes from a lot of different directions.”
Coats returns to lead the defense after recording 75 tackles as a junior. The Bulldogs are also looking to Galley, Douglass, Spor and Grimmett to be key players defensively.
Hotchkiss is testing itself with its early season schedule, starting off against Class 2A teams Roaring Fork, Cedaredge and Aspen.
“The expectations are pretty high,” Spor said. “We have a bunch of guys who are ready to play.”