Aspen youth football wraps home season – Aspen Daily News

  • October 10, 2022

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Aspen youth football’s Graham Eydenberg scoops up a fumble by New Castle before taking it all the way for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter at the Aspen Turf on Saturday. The touchdown momentarily led to a tie after Aspen had trailed by two scores just over a minute prior. 
Aspen fifth and sixth graders huddle during a timeout.

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Aspen youth football’s Graham Eydenberg scoops up a fumble by New Castle before taking it all the way for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter at the Aspen Turf on Saturday. The touchdown momentarily led to a tie after Aspen had trailed by two scores just over a minute prior. 
Aspen fifth and sixth graders huddle during a timeout.

The players wore shoulder pads nearly as wide as the young athletes were tall. With helmets so disproportionately large they looked like bobbleheads, the mini Aspen football team mounted a comeback for the ages on the Aspen turf on Saturday. If only it had paid off.
Playing their second and final home game of their season calendar, Aspen’s fifth- and sixth-grade Mountain West Youth football team entered the fourth quarter trailing New Castle by two scores.
That all changed when quarterback Tommy Zane scrambled on third-and-long for a touchdown run of more than 60 yards. After New Castle got the ball back, Aspen immediately recovered a fumble, with Graham Eydenberg taking it all the way for a touchdown. Following a point-after score, the game was tied with just minutes left to play.
New Castle, however, nerfed the excitement with a long touchdown run of their own, one that Aspen couldn’t answer with the time remaining on the clock.
“It was a tough loss today, but it was good to see the kids fight from behind in the beginning and never give up,” head coach Chris Shepherd said. “It’s probably one of the best games we’ve played.”
The team is a primary feeder into Aspen Middle School’s program, which in turn is the feeder for the high school team. Many of these kids someday will be repping the Skiers in the same place, albeit with a higher probability of filling out their pads.
The fifth game of their seven-game season, the dramatic loss sank Aspen to 2-3, falling behind the pack leaders of Glenwood Springs, New Castle and Basalt. They beat Carbondale and Rifle earlier in the year and have trips to Glenwood Springs and Parachute left on the schedule.
The third- and fourth-grade team toppled New Castle 38-28 earlier in the day to move to 4-1, within striking distance of first-place Carbondale, which is undefeated.
Mountain West Youth Football runs across the Western Slope, from Aspen and Basalt to Rifle, Parachute and Meeker. The coaching staff, according to Aspen town coordinator Ron Morehead, are typically parents of players. Shepherd is the father of Cody, a fifth grader on the team.
Morehead has been associated with the team for more than 20 years, he said. In that time, as the sport’s notoriety around concussions has only grown — with the NFL revising its protocols just this week after a pair of optically upsetting head injuries — he said that the concern for safety has grown but numbers have stayed relatively steady. He estimated a drop of 10% to 15% over the past decade.
Following the lead of leagues from the NFL down, MWYF has reduced contact in practices in an effort to slow repetitive hits to the head that some research has shown has contributed to concussions. The players practice hitting low and avoiding head contact.
Morehead believes there hasn’t been a recorded concussion across the league over the past two seasons.
“The problem we have is the players will watch football on Saturdays and Sundays, and those guys are using their helmets as weapons sometimes,” Morehead said. “So with these guys, we have to teach them to stay low and wrap up the legs.”
As youth sports become more expensive, the league believes that its price point of $275 for seven games and two weeks of practice is competitive for a non-school affiliated program. The reduced travel compared to some other sports is advantageous, as well.
The league provides equipment and the local Elks Lodge covers the team’s league dues, Morehead said.
For Aspen, the young players get to try out the gridiron in the same stadium they see their older siblings in.
“All you got to do is look around and see how magical this stadium is,” Shepherd said. “I always tell the kids before the game to do just that, look around and take in the opportunity to play on the turf and the kids get really fired up for it.”
Rich Allen is a sports reporter for the Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected].
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