All-State football game was no exhibition contest

By Dan Karpiel

The Surveyor

Generally speaking, all-star games in sports are fun, but largely uncompetitive, affairs. That was not the case at last weekend’s Colorado All-State high school football game.

Berthoud High School was represented on the 3A North team – that won the exhibition contest by a 27-20 final in overtime – by the three individuals; offensive lineman Derek Sandstedt, wide receiver and kicker/punter Ryan Schmad and Head Coach Troy Diffendaffer. All three explained playing and coaching in the game was not only a great honor but also as much fun as they have had on the football field.

The competitive juices were definitely flowing; it was the most intense and fun game I’ve ever been in,” Schmad explained. “Having all those amazing athletes out there, it was the top athletes in the state. It was probably the most fun game I’ve ever played in.”

Diffendaffer, who was Berthoud’s long-time defensive coordinator before taking the head-coaching job prior to the 2014 season, said coaching such an elite contingent of athletes made his and the other coaches’ jobs much easier. “When you’re dealing with kids whose football IQ is tremendously high, I needed to have enough stuff in for it to be competitive but not so much as it slows them down and they are thinking all the time,” Diffendaffer said. “That was balancing all that stuff out at first … you’ve got that athlete that is very confident in their ability it’s like coaching a college game. They knew exactly what they were going to do 100 percent, they executed it well, you show them once and they got it and just let athleticism take over; there was a lot I learned about myself.”

Coaching a team loaded with the most talented high school football players the state has to offer allowed Diffendaffer, who was selected to coach in the game after winning Tri-Valley Conference Coach of the Year honors last fall, to reach deep in his playbook to counter the talent the south team’s offense, particularly Pueblo South wide receiver Marcell Barbee.

While the All-State game was an exhibition contest with no real spoils for the victors, the inborn competitive spirit and win-or-die nature of the best of the state’s best gave the game a playoff-like feel. Sandstedt called the game, “pretty intense,” saying, “Everyone was really, really competitive.”

“All week long it was kind of a Pro Bowl-type feel, but then about midway through the second quarter it got a little chippy and it turned into one heck of a ball game … it had every bit the feel of playoff game,” Diffendaffer said. “Those are the most competitive kids in Colorado and 90 percent of them are going to play college ball someplace, so the urge to win is buried down inside.”

For both Sandstedt and Schmad having each other, as well as their coach, made things even more enjoyable. “It did seem a lot like a Berthoud team because of Coach Diff’s leadership and how he ran everything and having Ryan there was a good anchor, to have someone else on the team a familiar face to play with,” Sandstedt said. Schmad echoed his teammate’s comments saying, “It was definitely nice having both, it was nice with Diff because we know his coaching style … and, with Derek there, it was nice having a brother in arms there. I know how he plays, he knows how I play, just nice having someone there I knew, someone from home.”

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the game for the trio of Spartans was enjoying playing – and winning – with a different surrounding cast. Both Sandstedt and Schmad said learning to play with players from rival Tri-Valley Conference teams like Mead and Roosevelt required an adjustment at first but the hodge-podge group came together.

The thing that was so cool was having people from so many different walks of life all coming together for this one common goal in this great game of football, and they meshed and came together so well,” Diffendaffer said. “It made it such a cool experience for me and for Derek and Ryan to represent Berthoud High School. I was bestowed this honor because of my kids at Berthoud High School that played their tails off all year long. I owe it all to them.”

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