Seven identified as all-conference for Rocky football

Rocky Mountain football saw seven athletes recognized as the best among their conference this year, with one, Cason James, earning the title of all-state.

Alongside James, Trace Moss, Zane Horrocks, Tyler Banks, Cason James, Nathan Hatch, Austin Haslem and Tyson Christiansen received all-conference recognition. Three other team members, James Durfee, Caden Welling and Ramsey Mangus received honorable mention recognition. 

Playing the season with a 19-player roster, the all-conference honors list  shows over half of the Grizz among its ranks. It speaks to how his team overcame obstacles and rose to the occasion throughout the season, head coach Richard Despain said. 

Despain described James as the youngest sophomore on his team. He was also the fiercest, according to Despain 

“Teams remembered Cason,” Despain said. “They remembered he ran hard, they remembered him for his blocking…During a pretty tough game we played, one of the coaches told me ‘he’s one of the few that we never saw back down.’”

“Things like that helped lead him to get that All-State vote.”

Rocky Mountain 2018 all-conference players are (l-r) Austin Haslem, Tyson Christiansen, Nathan Hatch, Zane Horrocks and Tyler Banks. All-state selection Cason James and all-conference honoree Trace Moss are not pictured.
Ryan Fitzmaruice

James was a man of many talents for the Grizzlies. He primarily played running back, fullback and middle linebacker, but he spent time under center and even found himself on the line at times. James was the go-to player to fill whatever gap the team needed filled. 

“He was willing to do anything, he started four or five positions last year, and did it again this year,” Despain said. “…He’s a competitor.”

Sophomore Horrocks played two crucial roles for the Grizzlies in the season. As their quarterback, he ran the offense and as the safety he anchored the defense, Despain said. 

Horrocks largely came into the role of quarterback fresh. Serving as the backup quarterback last season, he didn’t get much in-game practice, Despain said. This year saw him learning the art quickly and bravely stepping into the trenches.

“We were young up front, and there were games where he didn’t get great blocking, and he had some games where he physically had a rough game, where he was hit a lot, and always got up,” Despain said. “He always met the next challenge.”

But, as Despain tells it, Horrocks was remembered as much for his defense as he was for his time serving as quarterback, and it’s due to that same toughness. 

“He didn’t turn down a hit. Big backs with a chance to get ahead of steam came at him often, and he didn’t back down,” Despain said.  “He made plays, he could cover the pass but also could come up and stop the run.”

Banks, a sophomore, was the Grizzlies’ running back, linebacker and punter.  He was largely known for being the Grizzlies’ biggest offensive threat. Recognized as Rocky’s offensive player of the year, Despain said.

Banks was an explosive running back for the Grizzlies, among the team’s leading rushers, but he was always a reliable target in the air attack, the coach said. 

“We threw it to him many times out of the backfield. He’d catch them, he’d turn it up field.  He was a dual threat for us,” Despain said. 

Senior Nathan Hatch played as a defensive tackle, defensive end and guard for the young Rocky Mountain team. Hatch’s leadership was shown in doing the dirty work, Despain said, winning the team’s trenches award. 

“Other guys run, jump, throw things, catch things, get their name in the paper. Players like Nathan play football,” Despain said.

When the Grizzlies needed to shut a player down at the line, Hatch was the player they turned to. 

“He was our most physical player on the line,” Despain said. “We’d hold traps, and he’d really move people.” 

Moss, a sophomore, was the team’s fullback and outside linebacker and occasionally spotted at tight end. Due to being a lineman last year Moss had to learn his positions quickly and still managed to learn them well, Despain said. 

“He did a good job paying attention, listening, and learning as the coaches taught the ball-handling skills, the different things that he needed to do,” Despain said. “He did a good job. The blocking he learned last year as a lineman served him well as a fullback.”

Christiansen was the only freshman on the team to be named all-conference. It was due to him being one of the most consistent and reliable players on the team. Despain said Christiansen played every single snap but one the entire year, and it was because he always did what was best for the team. 

“He was our defensive end, not one of your flashier positions. He was our offensive tackle, definitely not one of your flashier positions, “ Despain said. “He gave up ball carrying time and catches to be a tackle for us. He never complained.”

The most exciting thing about Christiansen, Despain said, is he has a lot of room to grow. 

“He’s got a high ceiling. He’s a big kid but he’s going to build into that body still. He’s by no means a real early bloomer,” Despain said. “He’s going to be a leader for us three more years by the way he plays. He’s young but he leads. We need that.”

Sophomore Haslem spent most of his freshman year sidelined by injury, it didn’t stop him from stepping onto the field and making a real impact, Despain said. Haslem’s biggest moment of the season was the game-winning 42-yard field goal against Wind River on homecoming, but what teams noticed more was his play as wide receiver, according to Despain. 

He didn’t drop a pass, Despain said. 

“He would catch balls where – that – he knew he was going to get hit. But he caught them and did his job, popped back up and came back, and he showed toughness, he showed brains, and a willingness to compete. And that’s, again, with a young team, we need all that,” Despain said. “He’s got great hands and a great heart.”

Durfee, Welling and Mangus played just as pivotal of roles as their all-conference teammates, Despain said, leading to their attaining of honorable mention.

“Again, two juniors there that are with Ramsey and Caden. They worked hard. Caden got hurt again this year and missed some time. (He) came back and was able to play towards the end of the season again,” Despain said. “Ramsey was a first-time player for us as a junior and had a lot of learning to do, and did a lot of learning.

“And then James Durfee, he moved in from Arizona and started at tackle all year on offense and he was part of the rotation on our defensive front,” the coach continued. “Again, all solid players.”

The most exciting aspect of who made all-conference, Despain said, is that all but one of the players are likely going to be back for at least the next two seasons.

“Upton-Sundance was a very good football team, and Cokeville was a very good football team. And we took our bumps and we learned from it,” Despain said. “And they’re excited to play those teams again. And that’s exciting for a coach. They’re going to learn, they’re going to come back, they’ve seen where those teams are, they want to be with those teams, and that’s exciting.”

By Ryan Fitzmaurice