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Pirates face Del Norte in football season opener

Coming off a winning season, one that found the team just short of winning the quarterfinal playoffs, Pirates football prepares to start the 2009 season with an offense heavy with returning starters and a promise of reconciling last year’s loss to the Platte Canyon Huskies in the post-season.

“We have a lot of talent and experience returning on offense this year,” said Coach Sean O’Donnell, speaking about his team’s prospects for the season ahead. “We also have some new talent at the offensive line.”

Indeed, with Taylor Shaffer returning as quarterback and three returning receivers to fill the downfield game — Jordan Caler, Paul Hoffman and Zach Lucero — the Pirate’s offense looks to offer a quick passing game. Furthermore, with perennial standout Tyson Ross returning as both a receiver and in the backfield as a running back, the Pirates offer formidable depth both on the ground and on the air.

Only Andrew Rice and Wes Royston return to the O line, but O’Donnell feels confident that leadership from the old guard will help transition in new talent for a strong, solid offensive line.

Defense, however, gives O’Donnell some concern. “We have a lot of new faces on defense, especially at the linebacker position,” the coach said. “The only returning linebacker was Santino Lister, and we lost him to a season-ending injury in practice last week.”

Thin on depth and experience, the defense will have its first chance to step up and show its potential Saturday against the Del Norte Tigers. Fortunately, the 1A Tigers will be taking the field with a relative lack of experience, providing an opportunity for younger Pirates to take less bench time and more field time. The hope is that, with some real game experience, defensive backs Hoffman, Lucero, Ross and Shaffer will get minimal double duty, with the same hope for Royston on the defensive line.

However, the primary hope (of course) is that the defense sees as little game time as possible throughout the season. Considering the strength of the offense and the breadth of experience they bring to the field, it could well be that the Pirates run their offense ragged this year.

Following Saturday’s 1 p.m. game in Del Norte, the Pirates host a string of home games at Golden Peaks stadium. With a home opener against a tough 3A Alamosa Mean Moose team, the Pirates should get their first look at how well their seniors have stepped up and shown the new talent how to create another winning season.

jim@pagosasun.com