Fresh faces, same game for Hotchkiss Bulldogs
Yes, Hotchkiss High School lost its three-man offensive wrecking crew of Josh Hardin, Jacobe Galley and Conner Beard to graduation.
Yes, Hardin threw 11 TD passes, eight to Beard, and ran for six more.
Yes, Galley was a man among boys at the Class 1A level, rushing for 2,111 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Yes, the Bulldogs lost only three games by a total of eight points — to the two teams that played for the state championship.
And yes, Hotchkiss lost in the state semifinals again.
No, you won’t see coach Zac Lemon wringing his hands. You won’t hear him mutter, “Poor me, how am I going to replace those guys?”
Instead, Lemon and the Bulldogs will just tweak Plan A.
“You can’t replace them, and you can’t expect other kids to be them,” Lemon said. “You tell athletes to be who they are and be the best they can be and still be successful. You can’t expect them to be what they’re not.”
So Plan A-2, if you will, is splitting the carries in the Bulldogs’ split-back veer offense. Share the wealth.
And he has plenty of players wanting that chance.
“We’re looking to be more diverse. We won’t have that one standout, but Devan (Rupe) is a great running quarterback, and we have three other backs,” Lemon said. “We have one who is a great speed back, another who is a power and blocking back and one in between and can do both. We’ll use a multitude of players at different positions and move them around.”
Alex Smith brings the speed, Duncan Turnbull the power, and River Panish is the tweener. All three are juniors, so not only should the Bulldogs be right in the thick of things this season, they’ll be a veteran group next fall.
Lemon is eager to turn his veteran defense loose on Class 1A opponents.
Senior linebacker Colton Pearce was an all-conference player last fall, with senior cornerback Hank Edwards an honorable mention pick.
Allen and Smith will be in the secondary, and Rupe is a free safety. Turnbull is a solidly built linebacker, and Panish will double as an outside linebacker.
Two seniors without a lot of varsity time, Ross LeValley and Nick Blaser, will fill some of those open spots, LeValley at linebacker and Blaser on the line.
“I’m very excited about us defensively,” Lemon said. “Our defense can help us early on. We’re going to rely on it while we’re getting our feel for each other offensively.”
Rupe attempted two varsity passes last season, but he was solid on the JV team the past two years. On varsity, he caught six passes, one for a touchdown.
“He’s looking pretty good in the offseason,” Lemon said.
Even in a running offense, the Bulldogs will have to throw the ball to keep defenses from stacking the line of scrimmage.
And for a veer offense, the Bulldogs are stacked with wide receivers. Chris Allen was second in receiving to Beard in 2012, with 11 catches, averaging 10.5 yards per catch. If Rupe gets in trouble, Allen is an easy target to find — he’s 6-foot-5.
Although he only carries 175 pounds on that frame, “He really has bulked up this offseason,” Lemon said, chuckling. “He’s gotten stronger, and he’s gonna play a big role.”
So, Rupe can just throw it up there and let the big guy go get it?
“That’s the plan,” Lemon said.