Much of the explanation behind the sustained success enjoyed by the Rifle
football program has been the team-first attitude that prevails throughout the roster, from the third-string kicker all the way to the star running back.
Take, for instance, the astute observation head coach Damon Wells frequently makes whenever he arrives at practice. Almost each day, Wells discovers different groupings of Bears players joking around, talking football, and perhaps even going over a few plays. While the little pockets of players change every day, the soaring level of camaraderie never wanes.
In a group this tight and singularly focused, not even the most prolific rusher in the state can stand out in the crowd. Among his peers, Ryan Moeller
is just one of the guys.
"We don't determine our expectations on total yardage or anything like that," Wells said. "It's never really been a function of our offense for one guy to get all the yards. Yes, we had the leading rusher in the state. But we also had another guy (Brandon Kittle) who was ranked up there.
"We've always looked at every aspect of what we do in terms of the team. I don't think you would recognize, based on how they treat each other at practice, who led the state in rushing. They're all joking together the same way. They're all treating each other the same way."
Moeller, for his part, treats each and every opposing defense the same way: With complete disdain of their ability to bring him down.
Moeller led all of Colorado last year with 2,469 rushing yards, averaging more than 200 yards a game and a boggling 8.8 yards per carry. The author of 22 touchdowns, Moeller recorded six games with at least 200 yards, including a pair of 300-yard efforts—a 319-yard, five-touchdown performance against Moffat County and a 321-yard, four-touchdown game against Delta.
However, it is the final game of the 2011 season that remains most prominent in Moeller's memory, along with the rest of the Bears. After going 10-0 during the regular season and posting a first-round win against Roosevelt in the Class 3A state playoffs, poor weather conditions literally snowballed on Rifle during a 36-15 loss to eventual state champion Windsor.
Rifle trailed only 12-8 going into the fourth quarter of that second-round showdown, but in the worsening conditions the Bears' vaunted rushing attack could not get on track. Moeller was held to a season-low 91 yards, and even though he did that damage on just eight carries. The setback provided an extra jolt of motivation throughout the offseason.
"It's there a lot and I guess it's on the back of everyone's mind," Moeller said. "The thing that stunk is that we rely a lot on sharp cutting with our quickness and speed. When it snows like that, that makes it hard. But it probably will make us work to be a better team so that doesn't happen again."
Without Kittle, who ranked 10th in Class 3A with 1,254 rushing yards while scoring 18 touchdowns, the target will loom even larger on Moeller's back.
"I think he's a great combination of speed and power," said Wells, whose squad returns three starters on the offensive line tasked with blocking for Moeller. "He can run past people, but he's willing and able to run through people, too. Really, the best part is he knows exactly when to utilize each of those skills."
After spending his summer competing and training at football camps at Wyoming, Boise State, and the University of Colorado, Moeller is ready for the extra challenge. The standout runner remains uncommitted on the recruiting trail, but
Moeller lists Boise State and CU among his leading candidates.
"I'm always trying to get better as a player," Moeller said. "I've really been working hard in the weight room and did a lot of football camps this summer. Overall, I think I'm a better player."