Grizzlies aren't wrestling with thoughts of further football dreams
In a typical year at Mesa Ridge, the end of football season meets perfectly with the beginning of wrestling tryouts and initial practices for the upcoming season on the mat.
This just in: the Widefield school is having anything but a typical year, especially on the gridiron.
Football coach Rob Braaten also serves as the school’s wrestling coach. In this season of unprecedented firsts, where the Grizzlies (9-3) host Denver South (11-1) in a 4A semifinal at 1 p.m. Saturday at C.A. Foster Stadium, the bonus time means he’s not spending near as much time in the wrestling room as in previous years.
Braaten had long ago thought this out, just in case.
“We had it all set up,” said Braaten, the Grizzlies football and wrestling coach since 2006.
“We knew what we were doing. My assistants handled the wrestling, and I feel really fortunate with the good work my assistants do.”
Braaten had previous playoff teams in 2006 and 2010, but both fell on the road in first-round games. This year, the 10th-seeded Grizzlies were assigned a long road game at Montrose, and Mesa Ridge produced its first postseason win, a 35-14 triumph that kept the season alive and rewrote the school’s record books.
But instead of gleaming in the moment, there was Braaten, early the next morning, leading the wrestling team in practice. Don’t think the athletes didn’t notice, because it carried a heavy impact.
“The team didn’t get back until 3 a.m., and the wrestlers had practice at 9 the next morning, and coach still showed up,” said senior Brandon Gonzalez, who qualified for the 4A state meet in the 106-pound class last year. “It meant a lot to see him there. These first weeks of practice are important. It tells us that whoever sticks around, we can trust.”
Tyler Herbst wrestled for Braaten when he was football and wrestling coach at Yuma. When the opportunity presented itself at Mesa Ridge, the 2006 Yuma graduate became Braaten’s assistant wrestling coach and is getting his shot as interim head coach, along with fellow assistants Jake Lueck and Claude Pino.
“I think I can handle it, but it’ll be nice to get him back eventually,” said Herbst, a Colorado State-Pueblo graduate who recently was hired as a math teacher at Mesa Ridge. “We have a lot of wrestlers, but we’re probably missing 12 or so just from the football team. Hopefully, they’ll be gone as long as possible.”
Gonzalez also shares Herbst’s sentiment in missing his football-playing colleagues.
“This year, being a senior, I’ve been trying to do to as many games as I can,” Gonzalez said. “Winning that game (against Ponderosa) was awesome. We know the team might not be all together for practice yet. Knowing that the football team is still going is pretty exciting. They’re making history.”