Photo by Randy Sunderland Brothers Cade and Carter Wasser, seniors at Cedaredge High School, are important elements to this year’s Bruin offense. Here, Cade (10) blocks for his brother Carter, during an end-around run in Saturday’s playoff game against Monte Vista.That Cedaredge was undefeated to claim the 1A Western Slope football conference and make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years was no accident. Nor was it a matter of dropping from class 2A to 1A, which it did at the start of this season.
Under Brandon Milholland, the Bruins posted a 3-7 overall and 2-5 conference season in 2010, and in 2011 upped their record to 4-6, 3-4. Last season, most of their losses were by 20 points or more.
This season, the Bruins are 10-1, 5-0, and still going. Most of their wins are by 30 points or more. They entered the state bracket as the No. 3 seed, and face Hotchkiss in the semifinals this Saturday after blowing past Centauri in round one, and blanking six-seed Monte Vista last week.
Milholland, who took over as head coach in 2010, credits the talent and dedication of his players, and in particular, his seniors. "Their contribution is beyond expectation," said Milholland. "They're going to be difficult to replace."
Senior starting quarterback Dante Markley, who grew up in Cedaredge, has been friends with teammates Cade and Carter Wasser since they moved here from Hawaii in sixth grade. "Oh, I think they're great competitors, especially since they're twins," said Markley at practice last week. "They always go back and forth. I think that's really fun to be around because they're so competitive."
They are also fraternal twins, Cade being the older by 25 minutes, and Carter, at 6-foot-3, the bigger of the two. They compete in anything they can, said Carter. "Xbox, who eats more, that kind of stuff."
Carter Wasser broke his foot his freshman year and missed much of the season. He made varsity his sophomore year and has led the Bruins in rushing the last two seasons. This year he's run for 1,071 yards and 14 touchdowns, and he's not finished. He's ranked 13th in the state in total points.
Averaging almost 14 yards a catch, Cade is the leading receiver for the Bruins. A defensive back, he returned an interception 95 yards against Dolores. He had a pick-six against them his sophomore year, too. That was a good year. But a blood condition that affected his knee forced him to sit out six months, including his junior football season, while he healed. "That was pretty tough," said Cade, who also plays basketball.
"It was the first sport I played without him," said Carter. "It was different. But we still had him on the sideline helping us out."
This group of seniors, including Alex Crowley, Dustin Stracener and Colton Ensley, has been through a lot, said Markley. They've believed since they were playing peewee football that they'd do well their senior year. "You always want to believe you're going to end on a good note, and it's good it's happening to us."
Ranked sixth in the state, Markley has thrown for 1,195 and 16 touchdowns. He was intercepted three times, including twice in the Bruins' sole lost to 3A Eagle Valley in their season-opener. He's also rushed for 525 yards in 56 carries. At safety he averages 2.9 tackles per game and has four interceptions thus far.
Until this year, Markley was a running back. He hadn't thrown a pass in a game since middle school.
But Milholland needed a quarterback after Drew Beach graduated. After strategizing with assistant coach CJ Cannell, he selected Markley.
He worked on his arm all last summer. Every Monday through Thursday, he and Milholland would spend an extra hour practicing. They discussed "mechanics and the mental side of the game," said Milholland. "He can run a spread option to a tee. He's very smart, very confident. Very coach-able."
The other seniors are big contributors, too. Stracener, a linebacker and offensive lineman, averages almost six tackles per game, and Ensley, a lineman and defensive end, almost four.
Since blocks aren't recorded, lineman with Crowley's talents aren't reflected in the stats, but he's been invaluable to the team, said Milholland. He returned two kickoffs for a total of 92 yards in the Bruins' round one win over Centauri.
Not only is this group good on the field, the lowest GPA among them is somewhere around 3.4. "It starts in the classroom," said Milholland, "then it carries over to the weight room and summer camps and 7-on-7s that they show up for." And they always show up as a team.
Looking to next season, the Bruins have plenty of talent in their 10 juniors. Alejandro Alejandre is ranked second in state in PATs, where he's 30 for 33, and is one of only 14 1A place kickers to score a field goal. Reid Gates has 96 carries for 701 yards and six TDs and averages 14.5 yards per reception. And Beau Hebert averages five tackles per game.
The juniors are already taking on a leadership roll, said Milholland. Seniors "set the tone, and then hopefully the juniors, and then hopefully the sophomores on down to freshmen. That's how you build a program."
Milholland said the players don't allow bullying or any behavior that makes players, especially incoming freshmen, feel unwanted. "That's not the case this year, and it's just a real pleasure to be around them."