No looking back allowed
RIFLE — Rifle High School’s football team is doing its best to put its 2011 campaign in its rear-view mirror. The Bears, however, are well aware the rest of the 3A Western Slope Conference hasn’t forgotten what they did.
“Some teams, when they’ve had a good season like we did, they think they have it made and feel they don’t need to work hard in the offseason,” senior running back and safety Ryan Moeller said. “That hasn’t been the case with us. We’ve been working real hard, and we know we can’t slack off.”
Rifle set the pace and then some last season, running the table in the conference with a 7-0 record before finishing 11-1 after a 36-15 loss to eventual state champion Windsor in the quarterfinals.
Regardless of how many teams have put a proverbial target on the backs of the Bears in 2012, coach Damon Wells has preached to his team to put last year’s success in the past.
“The greatest tragedy in the world is wasted potential,” said Wells, who owns a 40-21 record as the Bears’ coach. “These kids had a lot of potential in their freshman and sophomore years, and they stuck it out through the tough times. Turned out they had a great experience last year.
“The thing that we keep preaching to them now is that last year is last year. We joke about it with a stock-market saying: ‘Past performance is not always indicative of future success.’ “
The Bears bring back plenty of past performers. They lost four starters on offense and defense, leaving 14 returning starters overall to face a conference that welcomes Montezuma-Cortez.
The most notable of those past performers is Moeller, whose 2,469 rushing yards on 280 carries not only made him Colorado’s leading rusher in any classification, it ranked him 36th in the nation, according to MaxPreps.com. He paced a rushing attack that averaged 356.5 rushing yards and an offense that scored nearly 32 points per game.
Graduated, however, is Brandon Kittle, who added 1,254 rushing yards for Rifle. That could open the door for senior quarterback Adam Rice, who finished the season completing 27 of 62 passes for 402 yards and three touchdowns, to contribute more in the passing game.
“We have most of our offensive line returning, so everybody is going to know what to do there,” said Rice, who was all-conference honorable-mention in 2011. “And overall, we have a lot of returning starters, so everybody is going to know what their job is, and everybody is going to be real comfortable on both offense and defense.”
Also winning all-league honorable mention was offensive tackle and defensive end Hugo Ruelas, who joins senior center Jake Whaley, Cody Beauford and Eli Boone as returning starters on the offensive line.
Senior wide receiver Aaron Wagler returns as the team’s top wide receiver from a year ago.
Defensively, the Bears return a group that includes another pair of all-league honorable mentions in junior outside linebacker Javier Nunez and junior defensive end Zach Bare. They’ll help anchor a defensive squad that limited opponents to 15.6 points per game.
“We understand that people are going to be talking about us this season,” Wells said. “Luckily here at Rifle High School, we have had a lot of experience with success and winning league championships. We have even more experience after last year. We hope to draw off of that.”