Wildcats’ Bair thriving as outside linebacker heading into playoff game

Fruita Monument’s Braden Bair has been successful as an outside linebacker for the Wildcats after moving from safety.



QUICKREAD

Fruita Monument at Chaparral

Class 5A State Playoffs

Saturday, 1 p.m., Sports Authority Stadium, Parker

RADIO: updates on 1340-AM (KTMM)

RECORDS: Fruita 4-5; Chaparral 7-2

LAST WEEK: Fruita defeated Montrose 28-24; Chaparral defeated Mountain Vista 28-17.

Game notes: Fruita Monument, the No. 25 seed, has won four of its past five games after starting the season 0-4. The Wildcats have allowed 20.4 points a game in the past five games after giving up 41.25 in the first four. Fruita seniors Tyler Daniels and Martin Zupan have combined for 1,295 yards in total offense and 11 touchdowns. Quarterback Zach Thorpe has completed 90 of 184 passes for 1,275 yards with 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The eighth-seeded Wolverines run multiple sets on offense, led by Division I prospect Andrew Loudenback. The senior quarterback has 180 yards passing per game. He is protected by senior left tackle Brendon Austin (6-5, 263), who has committed to Stanford. Loudenback’s top target, Christian Gann, is looking at several Division I programs. Gann began the season at quarterback while Loudenback sat out because of an illegal transfer.



Braden Bair knew his position and role on the Fruita Monument High School football team.

Although the Wildcats had a new coaching staff, he felt confident he would make any necessary adjustments.

“I was pretty comfortable coming in,” Bair said. “I did well at (summer) camp.”

The coaches, though, were prepared to change personnel based on their philosophy and scheme.

“It took us a while to figure our kids out and where our kids are going to be in the best positions,” Fruita defensive coordinator Sean Mulvey said. “It took three or four weeks in game situations to figure out what they could do.

“It was helpful having Coach (Cameron) Ross and Coach (Andrew) Decker, who have been here and had some good reads on the kids.”

After a few games, the coaching staff made some changes, including the base defense, with Mulvey changing from a 3-5 to a 4-4 alignment.

“I thought going in we would be pretty good at the 3-5,” Mulvey said. “I felt we had 10 solid linebackers to push each other. It turned out we had some good defensive linemen and went to a 4-4.

“We’ve had some big kids step in. Dylan Barney went from inside linebacker to defensive end and made the transition with ease.”

Bair, a junior, made one of the biggest changes, moving from safety to outside linebacker in the fourth game of the season against Regis.

He wasn’t disappointed about changing positions; he was excited.

“There was a little concern, but we have a great coaching staff and I picked up on it quick,” Bair said. “I was prepared. After a couple games, I loved it. The more I play there, the more I’m getting better.

“I have to give Dylan Barney some credit for some of the stuff I do, but it’s been meshing for me. It was a great move for me.”

Bair has been at outside linebacker since the Regis game and leads the team in tackles with 46 solo and 43 assists. He also has one sack and a fumble recovery.

“Braden has gotten better every game he’s played,” Mulvey said. “Looking at him and seeing him play the first couple games, he has a great nose for the ball and great instincts. I think any position he’ll adapt and do good things. Transition-wise, he’s stepped into a whole new role coming from 12 yards out on the ball to taking on blocks and reading the keys in front of him. He’s a heck of an athlete.”

The Wildcats (4-5) have cut their points allowed in half from their first four games to their past five games.

“Our defense has been great this year,” Bair said. “We started off rough and had some bumps in the road. We moved some players around, lost a couple players, but I love the defense and all the guys on it. We’re a family out there.”


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