Class 3A Western Slope Conference is loaded
It will be a different look for the Class 3A Western Slope Conference in 2014, but the usual suspects will again be the contenders.
Three teams — Moffat County, Battle Mountain and Montezuma-Cortez — moved out of the conference and into the Class 2A ranks, and two new teams, Central and Summit, join the 3A WSC this season.
Central petitioned to “play down” this season after two straight winless seasons and winning only five games in four years in the Southwestern Conference, playing a combined 5A/4A schedule.
Central’s four-year record met the Colorado High School Activities Association’s requirement to play down a classification, so the Warriors can try to rebuild their football program.
“We’re not focusing on opponents right now. We’re just trying to get better and put a competitive product on the field,” second-year head coach Shawn Marsh said.
The WSC is one of the top 3A conferences, and this year will be no different. Last season, four teams made the playoffs, and those four should put good teams on the field again this season.
WSC teams have been in the 3A title game eight times in the past 12 years, but only three have won a championship. The last WSC title team was in 2008 when Glenwood Springs won it.
Veteran Demons’ coach Rocky Whitworth is expecting a tough conference once again.
“The league is going to be as tough as I can ever remember,” he said.
He then ticked off the usual suspects as contenders. Actually, every coach mentioned the same teams, and every coach echoed the statement of how tough the WSC will be this season.
Palisade will have to replace a talented senior class that led the Bulldogs to the conference title last year, but Joe Ramunno, now in his second season back with the Bulldogs, will find new pieces to reload for another run at a title.
Rifle will field one of the most talented and experienced teams in the WSC. The Bears are led by eight seniors who all started or played key roles in the Bears’ 2012 Class 3A title-game loss. Rifle will again field one of the most potent running games in 3A, but head coach Damon Wells, who has been the Bears’ coach in two 3A title games, has an experienced quarterback, which could mean more passing than in past years.
Defensively, the Bears have arguably the WSC’s best defensive player in linebacker Austin Shepherd.
Delta also returns a talented and experienced team from last year’s state semifinal team.
Offensively, the Panthers could be the conference’s juggernaut.
Head coach Ben Johnson’s diverse offense is one to watch. The Panthers return arguably the best passer and the best runner in the conference this season in quarterback Cade Gafford and running back Jonny Ponce.
Whitworth and the Demons need to replace a number of players from the 2013 team that advanced to the playoff quarterfinals last season. Whitworth’s shotgun spread, single-back offense depends heavily on a quarterback making good decisions and a potent running game to move the chains.
The Demons will have “untested” sophomore Dante Sparaco at quarterback and an all new crop of running backs. Sparaco has created some buzz this summer, and said Colorado State University already offered him a scholarship.
The sleeper in the conference might be Eagle Valley. John Ramunno, now in his 33rd season, returns a veteran quarterback and a speedy running back this season.
As new teams, Summit and Central are somewhat unknowns in the conference. Central is in an obvious rebuilding year, but the Warriors will be an improved team from last year. Summit went 2-8 last season and lost to Steamboat Springs and Moffat County from last year’s WSC.
Steamboat Springs should be better than it was in 2013 and returns Zachary Holm at quarterback to run the spread offense. Holm was selected as the MVP at an underclassmen combine camp during the summer, so the Sailors should have a quality offense in 2014.
With eight teams in the WSC, teams will now have three nonconference games, which could be a major factor in gaining or losing valuable wildcard points. Four WSC teams made the playoffs last season, and there figures to be five quality teams in the conference this season.