Summit football coach grateful for special group of seniors in his first year leading the Tigers
BRECKENRIDGE — When first-year Summit High School varsity football coach James Wagner took over the program this summer, he said he honestly didn’t know what he was going to get from his players. In particular, there was uncertainty surrounding the group of players who would comprise his crucial leadership group in his first year: seniors.
“I didn’t know if they were going to be kids checked out or kids who didn’t want to listen to a new coach,” Wagner said Thursday. “But I give these kids all the credit in the world, buying in right from the get-go. They have been our cornerstone for us to build our season off of.”
With the importance of this senior group of five players in mind, Wagner stopped the action for an announcement at practice earlier this week. He asked the seniors — Dan Gonzalez, Al Espinosa, Zayden Gerry, Alexi Nevarez and team inspiration Joseph Burgos — to stand up to be recognized and thanked for embodying “the starting point of what Summit football will be in future.”
“They are consistent in showing up, consistent come game time — rocks to us at the core,” Wagner said. “They held us together during tough times. They shone on the field for us during great times.”
Nevarez has been, as Wagner put it, by far the most consistent player for the Tigers when it comes to everything he does. The wide receiver and weak safety has brought emotion and joy to practice on a day-to-day basis. He’s always the first person to ask the coach how his day’s been. Outside the lines, he’s exactly the type of person you’d like to build an entire program off of, Wagner said.
His consistency and dedication is evident inside the lines, too. Wagner said he’s probably the most improved player on the squad, leading the Tigers in interceptions. The biggest of all might have come in Summit’s 35-14 homecoming win over Battle Mountain earlier this month, when out of a two-high look, Nevarez played the weak side against three vertical routes perfectly, intercepting the inside receiver’s skinny post.
On the offensive and defensive lines, Gerry brings a certain camaraderie to the program. Gerry’s been the guy who’s brought younger linemen along this year. And when he’s been out, Wagner said it’s clear to the whole team that one of its spiritual leaders isn’t there.
On the O-line, Wagner said the team is as confident running behind him as anyone. And on the other side of the ball, he’s grown this season, giving the Tigers a stout force at nose tackle.
If anyone’s been a physical force this season for the Tigers, it’s Gonzalez. Though he’s a jokester with a goofy personality at times off the field, Wagner credited Gonzalez’s “100% each and every play” attitude in practice and games this season for setting a standard for other Tigers.
During the team’s coaching transition, Gonzalez introduced a standard for this team this offseason, when he trained in and out of the weight room to push his body and skills to make a successful transition from blocking on the O-line to providing a lethal, dynamic offensive weapon at tight end.
“He has a motor that never quits,” Wagner said. “I know many other teams game plan to stop him offensively. And on defense, no one likes to run his way when he’s at D-end.”
Come by Friday night’s final home football game of the season, Senior Night, for a chance to meet the Denver Broncos mascot, who will be in attendance. The game begins at 6:30 p.m. at Tiger Stadium. Be there at 6 p.m. to take in the Senior Night festivities.
As for the linebacker and offensive lineman Espinosa, Wagner didn’t mince words about the captain’s role.
“He is the kid that you want your son to grow up to be,” the coach said.
A yes sir, no sir type of kid, Espinosa is as dedicated and disciplined to Wagner’s “above the line” standard and process as anyone. Along the way, with his mastery of Summit’s schemes, particularly on defense, Espinosa has coached up many younger Tigers. On the field, he’s been a dominant inside linebacker, shedding block after block and making plays from sideline to sideline.
Aug. 30: vs. Salida, W 50-28
Sept. 6: vs. Moffat County, L 41-8
Sept. 13: vs. Conifer, L, 56-19
Sept. 20: at Woodland Park, L, 49-10
Sept. 27: at Elizabeth, L, 38-0
Oct. 11-12: Homecoming – vs. Battle Mountain, W, 35-12
Oct. 18: at Eagle Valley, L, 12-7
Oct. 25: at Steamboat Springs, W, 19-7
Nov. 1: vs. Glenwood Springs, L, 36-30
Nov. 8: at Palisade, L, 42-6
And then there’s the special inspiration Burgos brings to the program. Though Burgos doesn’t often play — attempting a point-after-touchdown earlier this season — he has helped to motivate the Tigers through tough times this season from the sideline.
Against Glenwood Springs (2-6, 2-1 3A Western Slope League) at 6:30 p.m. Friday night at Tiger Stadium, Wagner will look to these seniors to lead Summit (3-5, 2-1) against Glenwood’s smash-mouth running attack. If the Tigers are able to win, they will head into the final game of the season Nov. 8 against league favorite Palisade (5-3, 3-0) with an underdog’s chance of winning the league and earning an automatic berth to the state playoff.
But first up are the Demons.
“It’s about consistency, discipline and execution,” Wagner said. “If we can do those three things, we’ll win.”
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