Tigers turnaround: An inside look at the 2015 Summit High School football team
Tigers football schedule
Oct. 9 — at Delta, 6 p.m.
Oct. 16 — at Grand Junction Central, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 — Glenwood Springs, 7 p.m.
Oct. 30 — at Steamboat, 7 p.m.
Nov. 6 — Rifle, 7 p.m.
Tigers to watch
No. 69 Jack Anderson — DT, OT
Anderson is a cornerstone of the Tigers line. After starting his high school career as a tight end, the 230-pound senior took over as an offensive and defensive tackle. The switch has been comfortable for the tall and versatile player, who has three sacks on the season and a whopping 10.5 tackles per game.
No. 3 Luke Notaro — QB
The Tigers’ junior quarterback is an all-around weapon: he can run, throw and scramble, extending plays just long enough to give receivers like Tony Finley and No. 17 Vale Hildebrand (a sophomore with two TDs) room to roam. Now it’s just a matter of finding momentum — and maintaining it on consecutive drives. He has only one interception on the season, but he also has just three touchdown passes. He’s back in the starting lineup after suffering a head injury early in the Palisade game on Sept. 25.
No. 2 Tony Finley — WR
At 5 feet, 9 inches, the four-year senior doesn’t look like a typical receiver, but looks can be deceiving. He led the Tigers in the first two games with 77 yards on 12 catches. That’s an average of 6.4 yards per touch, which could be the spark the offense needs to sustain plays and dominate possession. He knows the playbook front to back and filled in for Notaro at the Palisade game.
No. 49 Dekota Rhodes — RB
The Tigers’ go-to running back is strong, fast and powerful, with quick cuts and an eye for lanes on swing routes. He struggles running up the middle, but he can only go as far as his O-line allows. In the first two games, he had 47 carries for 115 yards, a modest average of 2.4 yards per carry. Still, he handles the ball more than anyone but Notaro, and it’s only a matter of time before he records his first touchdown as a senior.
No. 62 Will Flannagan — C, NG
Along with Anderson, four-year senior Flannagan is the lifeblood of the Tigers’ offensive and defensive lines. He has two sacks and averages three tackles per game — not bad for a center. More importantly, though, he protects his quarterback. With the exception of Notaro’s injury against Palisade, he and the D-line have allowed minimal sacks on the season.
At one of the final practices before homecoming, defensive coordinator Jim Smith was leading the Tigers defense through formations, step after step, route after route, until every player knew the beats by heart.
“Reset!” Smith yelled, and everyone fell back into the starting formation at the 50 yard line. “We aren’t giving away another deep ball this season, and this is how.”
Smith gave his players a few seconds to breathe, then launched right back into the same formation with a quick snap. The players took three deliberate steps, then a fourth, with linemen blocking as the safety swept past the line of scrimmage. It was football in slow motion, like watching the replay of a sack at a pro game, only there, on the first truly chilly afternoon of fall, it was all in real time, over and over and over.
“Good, good,” Smith tells the crew. “Now, reset!”
Another second or two of rest and the Tigers were back at it, running a slightly different formation than before.
Standing to the side was first-year head coach Landon Greve, an Oklahoma native and former Tigers quarterback who made his coaching debut with a confident 34-7 rout at home against Skyview on Sept. 4 — the team’s first home win in recent school history. He watched the formations quietly, letting his assistants handle the bulk of resets and defensive tweaks. Just a day before, he and his wife became parents to a boy, named Gunner, but coach was still committed to prepping his roster of 44 varsity players for a homecoming win against cross-county rivals Eagle Valley.
“We want to start strong, but we also want to finish strong, keep the pedal to the metal the entire game,” Greve said after the Skyview win. “One of the biggest things is the mental game. If our guys can say, ‘I will do my duty, I will benefit the team by doing my job.’ These guys — these young men — can go anywhere.”
Coaches: The finer points
At the halfway point of the 10-game regular season, the Tigers have yet to recapture the energy of that first win, which, oddly enough, was played in driving rain before the first-ever home lightning delay in Summit football history. The team recorded just 12 combined points in September (two touchdowns with failed two-point conversions), while opposing teams have recorded 117 points, including 49 alone in the first league game of the season against Palisade on Sept. 25.
On the surface, it seems the defense is in desperate need of a jump-start. But that wasn’t the case in the Skyview match, when the Tigers D-line stopped the Wolverines on six of eight third-down conversions, giving the offense enough time to find a rhythm. The defense has continued that viscous and aggressive attack in every game since, but QB sacks and tackles for losses are outweighed by breakaway runs, like Palisade’s fake punt for a TD, and, of course, the morale-killing deep balls.
“The times we were stopping behind the line, our defensive tackles were doing what they had to do, our standup ends were doing what they had to,” Greve said. He is an all-around coach, and although the stats point to a weak defense, he’s just as concerned with maintaining momentum on offense. The two need to work together, or else the entire game plan falls apart — or simply never has the chance to get started.
His assistants agree. For the past 13 seasons, Smith has been on the sidelines at Summit football games, making him the longest-tenured coach on staff. He’s seen the Tigers through downs and ups, including the 12-1 team in 2006 (the school’s best record) and another team that made it deep into playoffs in 2007. He even coached Greve as a sophomore safety that season, some two years before the head coach earned All-State honors as a senior quarterback.
Smith has seen it all, and he believes the Tigers this year have the same ability and pure drive as the playoff teams.
“I would say this team has the tools to be great, as much as the team that went 12 and 1,” Smith said between formations and sprint drills. “That team just refined their finer points earlier in the season. It’s not that we aren’t doing the job — we don’t need to wipe the palette clean. We just need to readjust, fine tune.”
Players: Pride on the line
Greve and Smith agree the fine-tuning begins at practice, with formations the Tigers have rehearsed since day one. From there, it’s on four-year seniors like defensemen Jack Anderson and Will Flannagan to maintain the energy.
“I feel like our defense is solid and ready for any team,” Anderson said from the sidelines at practice. “It’s just a matter of sustaining drives, getting pumped before the game. Even if a team is up at half, it’s important to fight until the final whistle.”
Flannagan, the Tigers’ center, agrees with Anderson. The two can’t wait to win a homecoming game — literally. In the past four years, the team hasn’t won against rival Eagle Valley at the biggest game of the season.
“We just can’t let ourselves beat ourselves, if that makes sense,” Flannagan said. “That’s making tackles and stoppjng the deep ball.”
Tackling has been a momentum killer for the Tigers. Along with backfield protection, Smith has been working on tackles and first touches with his line.
“The missed tackled we’ve had have been tough,” Smith said. “We see the deep balls, the punt returns for touchdowns, but if we can clean that up, we’ll have an impressive turnaround this season.”
For a career player like Anderson, someone who’s looking at potentially playing college ball for a Colorado school, simply winning in the last half will be enough. And the Tigers have done it before. After a shaky start in 2011, the team found its footing to go 6-4, including a win against Eagle Valley.
“We haven’t had the best start so far, but I’d like to see us win some games down the road,” Anderson said. “All I can do is just give it my all on every play.”
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