Fort Lewis College football swoops into Durango for opener

Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 1:30 PM
Dre Cortez of Fort Lewis College tries to pump up the crowd during a 2016 game at Ray Dennison Memorial Field on the FLC campus. FLC averaged 1,600 fans per home game last season.

There is a buzz around the Fort Lewis College football team. The Skyhawks are hungry to prove themselves to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and the city of Durango.

“This is the best team I’ve been on since I’ve been here,” said FLC senior defensive back Dre Cortez. “We have a lot of confidence, a lot of leaders and we’ve got something dangerous going on here.”

Durango should have reason to be excited, too. The Skyhawks will swoop down from their usual nest at Ray Dennison Memorial Field on the FLC campus to play a season-opening game at 6 p.m. Friday at the Durango High School stadium.

FLC’s field does not have lights, and the chance to play in town under the lights at the DHS stadium is an opportunity for FLC to showcase its football team to a town that has long been indifferent toward college football.

“To have a big environment, that would mean everything to us,” Cortez said.

Cortez, one of the leaders of the student section at FLC basketball games over the last few seasons, knows how much a good crowd can give a team an advantage. Last year, the Skyhawks went 2-3 at home, and all three losses were by 10 points or less. The team went 5-6 overall and 5-5 in the RMAC, with four total losses each coming by fewer than 10 points.

The Fort Lewis College football team has filled the student section at basketball games in recent years, led by players such as Malcolm Wright, far left, and Dre Cortez, center. While they have brought a great atmosphere to basketball games, they hope Durango fans will return the favor for football home games this year.
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file

During FLC’s homecoming game against Colorado State University-Pueblo last season, FLC had 2,123 fans in attendance, by far the most of the season. It helped fuel the team to a 35-24 upset of the 12th-ranked ThunderWolves. The Skyhawks averaged 1,600 fans per game last season. Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction drew as many as 5,000 to games last year, while CSU-Pueblo has boasted more than 8,000 fans at games.

The men’s basketball team isn’t able to return the favor to the football players who fill its student section. The basketball players volunteer during football games as field workers, doing anything from working as ball boys to holding yardage sticks. So, it’s up to other programs and supporters in the community.

“The home fan base would do everything for us,” Cortez said. “If we can get that ounce of momentum, it helps you make a play on third down and can help swing a game.

“We go to all the sporting events we can to give support. We’d love to have all the student-athletes here at the Fort and the town come support us this year. It’s a small environment, a small campus, and we should support each other.”

The goal for the Skyhawks is to put on a show Friday night against New Mexico Highlands. They hope a win behind exciting play will encourage more Durangoans to go to the team’s remaining home games played at noon Saturdays. It’s a tough task, as the Skyhawks compete with beautiful weekend afternoons that draw many in Durango to recreate outdoors.

Isiah Mayberry is a senior linebacker for Fort Lewis College. The 2014 Durango High School graduate will play at his old stadium at 6 p.m. Friday when the Skyhawks host New Mexico Highlands in the season opener.
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file

“We know the community hasn’t been great about coming to our games,” said FLC redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Lowry. “Hopefully, we play a great game to get people excited, so when we do have our home games on campus, we get some more fans.”

The game at DHS will be a homecoming of sorts for a couple of Skyhawks. Starting linebacker Isiah Mayberry is a 2014 DHS graduate. True freshman linebacker Max Hyson graduated in the spring and knows what it is like to play on the Demons’ turf field, something Mayberry never experienced. Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jacob Bourdon is another former Demon who graduated in 2017.

“It’s my alma mater, and I’m excited to play in front of some of the fans I grew up with,” Mayberry said. “Hopefully, we can come up with a win.”

The DHS football team played Thursday night at Palisade. Mayberry hopes the high school team will help fill the stands and that the Skyhawks may inspire the current group of Demons to continue their football careers past the prep level.

“I love having them come out and watch us play,” the son of George and Tonya Mayberry said. “It’s good for our team to have that support and for their team to see what we do, as well. I love the game. If they feel passionate about playing this game, I’d be happy for them to become Skyhawks some day.”