For Hotchkiss head coach Curtis Hintz, Chase Hiatt was the obvious choice for quarterback. "It's kind of a natural fit."
A fourth-year senior, Hiatt started on defense last season and trained at quarterback this summer. As a three-year starter on the Bulldogs baseball team he's got a good arm, and is already a team leader, said Hintz. That smoothes the transition to being a leader on the football team.
Hiatt is among 10 returning seniors for the Bulldogs. Eight seniors were starting players their junior year. Colton Peebles, Devin Curtis, Nolan Egging, Darrin Young and Braxton Trujillo were two-way starters; Hiatt and Eli Sawatzki started on defense, and Kevin Chavez was an offensive starter.
Sawatzki is transitioning from tight end to offensive tackle. "He understands the game," said Hintz. Sawatzki stepped up his performance last year before a late-season injury cut it short. Now he's "playing that pivotal outside backer position for us" and stepping up on offense.
In moving the ball, Peebles and Curtis will be the work horses, said Hintz. Last season Peebles averaged almost seven yards per carry, and Curtis was the lead receiver, averaging almost 11 yards per catch.
Sophomore Jace Peebles will kick, and use his speed and strength as a free safety.
Nolan Egging and Darrin Young will anchor both the O-line and D-line.
The Bulldogs are senior-dominated, but have just two juniors: Elijah Patrick, a 6-2 wide receiver and free safety; and Kaiya Firor, who will specialize in PATs. Firor is a two-time state track champion for the Hotchkiss girls' track team and is an outstanding soccer player.
With the exception of attending engineering camp at Colorado School of Mines, Firor trained with the team all summer, said Hintz. There was the obvious concern about how she'll handle the pressure, "But she's handled it very well." Firor will also see some JV action as a wide receiver.
In looking to the future, the Bulldogs have a solid sophomore class and nine freshmen on the roster. "They'll get some good experience at the JV level," said Hintz.
With several players on the varsity squad, "We're expecting some really good things out of the sophomore class," said Hintz. Jace Peebles will start on defense, and Will Scarlett will start as an offensive linebacker.
"We've got a good freshman crew," said Curtis. Several of the nine freshmen are younger siblings of current players, including Yahir Chavez, who will quarterback the JV team and is varsity backup QB. Chavez put in his time this summer, said Hintz.
Doug Horton, Doug Egging, Gates Shaklee and Gary Peebles round out the coaching staff. Peebles is new to the staff, but his long-term involvement in the middle school program makes for a natural transition to high school. "He knows the kids... and just fits right in with our philosophy. I can't think of a nicer guy to be around our kids," said Hintz.
Hotchkiss opens the season at home this Friday against Dolores. The Bears also have a big returning senior class, and should make a solid opening opponent, said Hintz.
Other non-league games include Class 2A Coal Ridge on Sept. 8. The Titans are under new leadership this season, but have a solid fullback in Jax Powers.
For homecoming the Bulldogs were scheduled to play Center on Sept. 15. Center is one of three schools in the state to cancel its football season due to low participation numbers. After exploring several options, Class 4A Montrose agreed to send its JV squad to Hotchkiss for homecoming night.
Montrose has about 75 players on its roster and plays a Thursday home game that week. "We're very fortunate that Montrose was willing to do that," said Hintz. It gives the Bulldogs a homecoming game, and the maximum nine pre-playoff games. It also gives Hotchkiss four home games this season instead of three.
Hotchkiss travels to Vail Christian on Sept. 23. On Sept. 29 it opens league play at Meeker, last year's state 1A runner-up. It hosts rival Paonia on Oct. 6, travels to Grand Valley Oct. 13, and hosts Olathe Oct. 20. Hotchkiss will close out conference play against Cedaredge.
The 1A Western Slope conference is tough this year, said Hintz. Early season rankings show three Western Slope League teams in the top 10 in the state. Meeker comes in at No. 2, Paonia is ranked fourth, and Cedaredge comes in at number nine.
Every team has good returning player numbers, and every team is well coached, which is often overlooked in the league, said Hintz. "The quality of coaching in the 1A WSL, I think, is top-notch."