Bob Cazet of Alumni Football USA.com began organizing alumni football games because he wanted to “put the pads on” one more time – now he puts together 200-300 high school alumni games a year: the latest between Rifle and Palisade, 7 p.m. Friday, July 25 at Bears Stadium.
The Rifle players, led by small college All-American Bob Antonelli (RHS ’97) and Alumni Game quarterback Brock Hedberg (RHS ’98) are hoping to avenge a 4-year losing streak to the Bulldogs, who won 4 state titles during Hedberg’s high school career and three during Antonelli’s. The Bears wanted to play rival Glenwood in the game, but the Demons were unable to secure enough players (50 is desired) by the deadline, so turned to Palisade as an opponent.
“It’s our chance to beat these guys (Palisade), Hedberg said, while hoping that the game will spark interest in establishing an annual game with Glenwood, which would get to host the game next year.
The players have gathered for practice twice a week (“We’ve got a playbook,” Hedberg pointed out), but won’t get their pads (provided by Cazet and the Alumni Football USA organization) until the day of the game, because, as Cazet says, “We don’t want parts falling off.” They used to provide equipment a week ahead and “ten or twelve guys would be hurt by the day of the game.” As it is, Antonelli admits, “Our wives had reservations.” Some rules have been altered for safety (no linebacker blitzes, crackback blocks, etc.), but one rule has been eliminated: players can celebrate on the field, though Hedberg warned, “players over 40 should watch out” for the chance of injury in excess celebrating. However, one Rifle player, Taylor Webb, has been practicing end zone back flips in case he scores a touchdown.
At first, the Rifle alumni had some trouble filling out the offensive line. “We had 25 running backs and one lineman, but guys who graduated in 92-93 are rounder than they used to be, so now we have a full line of old running backs,” Hedberg said.
Antonelli pointed out the unique roster includes Tony Copeland, who graduated in 1981, suiting up with his sons, Jordan and Alex. Antonelli gets to play alongside his younger brother Ryan who graduated seven years after Bob. The elder sibling extended an invitation to their dad, who “politely declined.”
At halftime, the teams want to honor veterans who’ve served their country, not limited to vets who attended Rifle High. One RHS alumni, kicker Ryan MacIntosh, returned from the service with a prosthetic leg, and though he won’t play, told Antonelli he would definitely attend.
“We’re coming together the way a team does. Though we never played together, we’ll always be Rifle Bears, spread generations apart,” Antonelli said.
Advance ticket sales ($10 from Glenwood & Rifle City Markets, the Rifle Pool, and Cowboy Joe’s and Hyway Feed in Silt or from players) will benefit two local families: Rifle High School senior Amelia Zemlock, who is battling bone cancer (her brother Christian is playing in the game) and the family of Holy Cross employee Larry Shaffer, who died in a helicopter crash in January of this year. Shaffer was a fixture on the first-down chain crew at every Rifle home football game for years, and the players are excited to be able to show support for Larry’s wife Jo and their family as well as for Amelia, who played volleyball at Rifle High, and has just returned home after receiving treatment at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver.
All the information for this post came from Gabe Chenoweth’s KMTS Connections interview: [audio http://www.kmtsaudio.com/audio/Connections/07-03-2014%20Bob%20Cazet,%20Brock%20Hedberg,%20Bob%20Antonelli%20-%20Rifle%20Palisade%20Alumni%20Football%20Game.mp3]