Photos by Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer
BOULDER — Without very much worry, Damon Vigil, Rain Larrabee and Taylor Hoffman all watched the proverbial falling gavel this past winter, the final destiny of the Nederland football program established after a few tumultuous seasons.
Last January, largely because of participation numbers, the NHS school administration opted to drop football in favor of boys soccer. But for the trio of then-juniors, there was never a question about missing out on playing on the gridiron in their senior season.
The only real question was where it was going to be. Turned out, location between Boulder Valley schools pre-determined any Nederland player who wanted to keep playing football would play for Boulder — and, in a small twist of fate, continue to be a Panther.
There certainly has been dedication shown on the part of the mountain-town crew, not just in the roughly 30-minute commute, and as the 2018 season commences, there is hope that the three players can add a lot to the BHS rebuild under new head coach Ryan Bishop.
“There was no way I wasn’t going to play football my senior year,” said Vigil. “Even if that meant coming down here for school, going to Boulder High just so that I could play. I’m going to play the game I love if I want to play it.”
“It’s a fun sport, and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Larrabee added.
After Nederland hired Beth Buglione, the first female head football coach in Colorado, prior to the 2017 season only to see the 8-man Panthers have to forfeit a couple of games because of low numbers, the writing seemed to be on the wall that football was in trouble just two short seasons after going 6-3 with a roster of about 30.
There’s always the chance to bring the sport back in a couple of CHSAA cycles. For now, Class 5A Boulder will reap the benefits. CHSAA by-laws dictate that a player in a school without a team shall play for the closest district school that does have a program. If an entire district has no team to go to, they would then go to the nearest school regardless of district that does carry the sport.
For Vigil, Larrabee and Hoffman, that meant quite a leap from 8-man ball to Colorado’s largest classification of play. But they’ve all felt welcomed, if not completely needed, by Bishop and the BHS Panthers.
“It’s definitely different compared to our little 8-man football team, a big change in seeing how they work and how everything happens,” said Hoffman, who at 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds will play wide receiver as he did often with Ned. “But it’s good. At first it might have been like, ‘oh, who are these dudes?’ but after we started playing together, sweating and working together, it’s more like a family and now we can go out and do what we’ve got to do.”
“We lost every game up at Ned, and it’s fun to come down here to a bigger team that has a lot more options and stuff but they make us feel needed,” Larrabee, a tackle and defensive end, said. “We will win games, and (the winning potential) feels good.”
Having played 8-man, Larrabee said he is pretty well versed in about every position on the field defensively. Vigil said he is quite used to playing both ways, sometimes quarterback and free safety, sometimes quarterback and defensive lineman.
That’s to Bishop’s advantage, to be true, but that versatility will be parlayed into athleticism at one position on each side of the ball for BHS. Vigil (5-11, 180) won’t play quarterback this year but rather will play in the trenches.
“Damon is the type of kid that every coach wants,” Bishop said. “We invited him to try the quarterback position and see if he wanted it, and he said he’d go wherever we needed him to play. We needed him more on the line, and so he’s playing there and will start on defense, at least, as well as possibly on offense.
“They’ve been 100 percent committed. They’ve been able to learn the offense and I think there’s been a very easy transition, for sure. They’re going to step in, and perhaps all three are going to start for us.”
The trek down Boulder Canyon Drive is often shared, but it hasn’t been that bad through the summer months — “We all can drive if we want to, but (Hoffman) usually drives because he has a nice car,” Vigil quipped.
“It might get a little tedious at the start of school, but it’s something we’ll figure out,” he said.
Meanwhile, they’re quickly learning of Bishop’s general passion for the school. A coach in several sports, a supporter in several more, and a teacher in the school, Bishop took the reigns of the BHS football team after the departure of Vincent Smith. Boulder’s first game of a new era comes Friday against rival Fairview at Recht Field.
“Coach Bishop loves Boulder High and Boulder football with all his heart, and I think that he just wants to be here,” Vigil said. “That’s cool.”