Basalt High’s Longhorns have established themselves in recent years as one of the 2A Western Slope League’s elite football teams. Following three straight playoff appearances, Basalt looks to reload for 2019.
A dozen Longhorn leaders graduated last spring, but this year’s club is gearing up with a smaller but strong senior core under Head Coach Carl Frerichs, who begins his 12th season leading the Basalt program.
“We’re really excited for the season,” he says. “I’ve got seven total seniors but one’s new, so the six returning seniors are all starters, huge parts of this team. They’ve had a great off-season.”
He adds that younger players can step in anytime. “Great junior class too, and the sophomore and freshman classes have a lot of really talented kids. We can compete with anyone week-by-week.”
Frerichs describes one senior starter, saying, “Ernesto Lopez is a left tackle/nose guard. He’ll play some running back in different formations. He’s a big, strong, physical kid. He’d be a handful for anyone, at any size school. He’s a legitimate 6’1,” 250.”
Lopez hopes to be that handful and more, confidently saying, “I’m the best defensive lineman in the league, and quarterbacks should be scared of me.” Lopez also wants to contribute in the kicking game, and to the team atmosphere.
“I’ll be trying to be a good leader for the new freshmen and sophomores, showing them the ropes, letting them know what we do – we’re a good team, and we’re going to be here a while,” he says.
Frerichs also hopes Jackson Rapaport can build on last year’s strong pass-catching performance. “Jackson’s a tall, fast receiver. He did some college athletic tests, and he’s a legitimate 4.8 (second 40-yard dash) kid at 6 foot 3. You can’t teach those things, so we’re really lucky to have him.”
Rapaport says he’s ready to do all he can to help the ’Horns win in his senior season: “I’m excited. This is one of the best squads we’ve had, so I’m looking forward to showing everyone it’s not a ‘rebuilding year,’ and we’re gonna win the league.”
Getting the ball to receivers like Rapaport, Teegan Card and the speedy Rulbe Alvarado, who clocked a 23.47-second 200 meters at the state track meet, shouldn’t be a problem, as junior quarterback Matty Gillis steps into the pocket.
Frerichs says, “He’s been working his tail off, going down to Denver for quarterback clinics including the Peyton Manning Camp. I have about 10 kids who come to the morning weight room at 6:30 year-round, and he’s been one of those guys, then he goes to a one-on-one with Jenkins Elite Passing Academy – every weekend, all school year. The spring scrimmage is where he really showed what he can do. It’s exciting when they work at it, and it’s coming together.”
The air assault will be complemented by the Longhorns’ usual strong ground game. Cole Dombrowski and Peter Zimmer put up promising running back performances as a freshman and sophomore, respectively, last year. They’ll alternate behind Gillis early in the campaign.
Frerichs says other Longhorns you’ll hear from include: senior Daniel Sherry, “who’s going to step up to be our starting center. Lander McNamee is going both ways on the offensive and defensive lines. Tristan Johnston is just a horse of a kid. His uncle, Darryl ‘Moose’ Johnston, played for the Dallas Cowboys. We’re really excited Tristan’s going both ways, as a tight end and linebacker. Alex Mitchell will be an offensive lineman and a backup defensive player. All kids we’re super excited about. These seniors can play. I think good things are going to happen.”
About those potential good things – history is on the Longhorns’ side. Basalt has a series advantage over every team on this year’s schedule except Olathe and Rifle, and last year at home, Basalt beat the Pirates for only the second time ever, 28-0.
Frerichs says about next Friday’s (Sept. 6) opener, “Coach (Ryan) Corn does an amazing job at Olathe. He has two state championships there. When I first got this job, they were the team. They’re gonna be tough this year. Any of those farm towns are tough on Friday night.”
Frerichs and his staff get to study the Pirates in person this week, when they play at Coal Ridge.
“We know they’ll be ready. Last year, they went way old-school with the single-wing offense, and they use an aggressive 3-5 defense. Coach Corn does a better job than anyone in the state running that.”
After Olathe, Basalt gets its first home game Saturday, Sept. 14, hosting Battle Mountain. The Longhorns have beaten the Huskies four years in a row, but Frerichs doesn’t expect a picnic.
“I know they graduated a lot. And we know they’re gonna want us. Two years ago was one of the toughest games we played. We pulled it out (41-33), but honestly we got lucky with a 4th quarter fumble. Last year, we just played phenomenally, one of our best sets of four quarters of football (47-6).
The Longhorns visit more Pirates in Pagosa Springs on Sept. 20, returning home on Sept. 27 to wrap up the non-conference schedule against 1A Paonia’s Eagles, whom Basalt knocked off in a physical contest last year, 16-0. Coach looks for a big, strong lineup from Paonia, another of those tough farm towns.
Western Slope League play starts Oct. 4, with the Moffat County Bulldogs visiting. According to Frerichs, “Coach Nelson’s doing a great job there. He works really hard in the weight room, and he’s been doing camps. So I think they’re gonna be improved. That spread offense, a tough passing attack. It’ll be a good test for us, which we’ll enjoy.”
On Oct. 11, Basalt visits the Coal Ridge Titans. Frerichs says, “I think Coal Ridge – we scrimmaged them this spring – will be vastly improved. Damian Spell is special. He’ll be their fullback, and a beast all season.”
Then, all roads lead to Delta on Oct. 18. Frerichs rates the Panthers, #7 in the preseason 2A rankings, as league favorites, saying, “Delta is a football town where those kids work hard. Most coaches think Delta’s probably the team. I think we have as good a chance as anyone to win the league, but if I’m not picking us, Delta’s right up there this year because of who they’re returning.”
The Longhorns are back home next week, hosting the preseason #5 Bears of Rifle. While everyone except Coach Damon Wells is glad superstar runner Tanner Vines graduated, Frerichs says the Bears will still be simply, “tough. That wing-T offense, those inside traps, are always super hard to stop.”
The regular season wraps up Nov. 1, with the big rivalry game at preseason #9 Aspen. Frerichs warns of wide-open passing from the Skiers, just like Moffat, saying, “they do a great job with that spread, and Tyler Ward’s a year older, a year bigger, and he’s been going to quarterback camps, so I know they’re going to be tough to stop.”
So where do the Longhorns stand right now, with all their recent success? Just outside the 2A preseason Top 10 in the CHSAA poll, at what would be #11.
Carl Frerichs figures that’s a pretty good start for his squad. Those last few years, the strength-of-schedule rankings called RPI have favored the Longhorns, helping land them the #3 seed in the 2018 playoffs.
The coach has been at Basalt 17 of his 20 coaching years, and this time of year never gets old. “I absolutely love the game, I love kids, so it’s been an absolute joy and a pleasure to be around these kids. We’re just really excited for game one to get here.”