Ready for some football: After retreat where 6 captains were selected, Summit Tigers open preseason practice

Summit High School football head coach John Shirkey speaks with the Tiger players during the third day of preseason practice on Wednesday at Climax Molybdenum Field at Tiger Stadium.
Hugh Carey /

Summit High football 2018

Preseason scrimmage: Saturday, Aug. 18, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., vs. Basalt and Evergreen

Season opener: Friday, Aug. 24, 7 p.m., at Salida

As the Summit High Tiger football team trotted off their home turf on Thursday evening, the cleats and pads of 55 players dodged wet paint on the cement. From their locker room leading to the field, one black-outlined Tiger paw after another was being painted in by the wives and loved ones of Tigers football coaches.

The scene signifies one thing: It may be early August, but football is back in Summit County.

One week earlier than last year, the Tigers opened up their preseason practice on Monday. For five days, about 55 Summit High School students donned shells in non-contact drills each afternoon. Come preseason camp’s second Monday, on Aug. 13, full pads will be buckled and full contact will commence.

It’s the third season the Tigers are led by head coach and Minnesotan John Shirkey, who coached the team to a 3-7 record and 1-4 league record last season. Despite the sub-.500 record, the Tigers fought in each game last year, posting 20 points or more in seven of 10 games.

That included an exciting yet excruciating 32-24 loss to Battle Mountain at home on Senior Night to close out the season, marking the final career contests for departed seniors such as star wide receivers Vale Hildebrand and Jason Tilley and quarterback Jake Gillum.

With this offensive void left behind by the Tigers’ passing game this season, Shirkey said he expects Summit’s offensive output to flip from about 60-40 percent pass-to-run last season to something closer to 70-30 run-to-pass this year.

“We want to be run-first,” Shirkey said, “get a lot of first downs.”

That changeup in offensive output is forecast to rely on a fabulous freshman who is now a super sophomore: Noah Martens. This time last summer, Martens was the one Tiger player who jumped out to Shirkey and his coaching staff, leaving them collectively impressed.

“‘Holy cow,’” Shirkey recalled thinking, “‘how do we get him on the field.’”

Ready for his sophomore season, the athletic dynamo running back and linebacker, Martens, is one of six captains Shirkey and his coaching staff officially appointed at last week’s preseason team retreat at Camp Como.

Martens will be joined by five seniors: wide receiver and linebacker Angel Arredondo, offensive lineman and nose guard Taylor Morgan, offensive guard and defensive end Trice Scroggins, projected starting quarterback and defensive back Brendan Collins and wide receiver and defensive back Max Duxbury.

Selecting six different players to serve the roles of season-long captains is a departure from the norm for Shirkey. It’s something he’s never done before, but he and his fellow coaches felt it was the right thing to do when the voting at last week’s camp retreat was so-close between the six candidates.

Shirkey and his staff were also impressed with the manner and approach each of the six players individually took to the program’s annual captaincy process. It involves a 10-12 item questionnaire that asks them about their level of commitment, what they did in the offseason, how it helped their teammates and what characteristics they feel embody how to lead a team, among others.

The group also met with the coach’s to go over a booklet handed out to them entitled “Seven Ways to Lead a Team.”

The following day, all six stood up in front of their teammates and talked about their answers and explained why they wanted to lead the group.

In the end, Shirkey wanted them all in the role because he feels they each bring something different.

Arredondo is relatively new to football, but he brings an infectious, energetic personality and physicality to the wide receiver position and offensive attack as a whole. Morgan is the kind of experienced and versatile offensive lineman who, despite playing at altitude, never comes off the field.

Scroggins is coming off of a tough 2017, hindered by a separated shoulder, but the coach’s feel he can bring the overcome-adversity mentality the team can benefit from. Collins is set to finally get his time in the light as the program’s starting quarterback, and Shirkey and offensive coordinator Sean Mase feel he’s grown a ton, certainly enough to shoulder that responsibility.

Duxbury elected to stick with football for his senior campaign despite his blossoming stature statewide as an all-star lacrosse player. His choosing not to specialize in one sport, Shirkey said, was a major compliment for the program, not to mention the fact that his coachability, athleticism and potential is among the best on the team.

As for Martens, Shirkey has two words to describe Summit’s sophomore star.

“Quiet explosion,” the coach said.

Martens is talking more than last summer, but he’s still the kind of lead-by-example guy who rubs off on the rest of the team.

For the totality of the team, Shirkey has the sense that this group, though lacking seniors and chock-full of underclassmen, will build off of 2017’s tight-knit nature.

“The ultimate goal is, no matter if it’s a rep in practice or a film session or carrying our stuff into the locker room, doing that to the best of your ability and breaking it down into those small increments,” Shirkey said. “Because in games, that’s what we need: one play. To get a first down. To get a stop.”

On the defensive side, schematically, Doug Blake returns for his third season as a defensive coordinator. Shirkey said if he and his staff have learned anything in the past few years, it’s that utilizing the special traits of Summit’s athletes strategically is a huge key to putting their players in a position to succeed. Hence the plan to rely on smaller, quicker and compactly strong linebackers with special stamina to anchor their defense in a 3-5 formation.

Come Monday, it’ll be full-throttle football for the fighting Tigers. As they work through the season, they’ll apply the steely life mantras and personal stories to their football journey that their coaches shared with them at Camp Como.

“One of our coaches talked about the fight or flight response,” Shirkey said. “‘When time’s get tough, how do you respond?’ It’s about knowing about yourself and your teammates, and who can you trust.”

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