John Foutz left it all on the mat. When it was all over, he had left no doubt.
The Bayfield High School senior turned in a dominant performance in the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 3A State Wrestling Tournament’s 220-pound title match, as he defeated Eagle Valley’s Cody Ponce in a 4-1 decision in February at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Foutz’s state championship backed up his strong senior football season for the Wolverines, as he would be named to the CHSAA Class 2A All-State Honorable mention list for his play on the offensive line and linebacker.
For his two All-State seasons and for becoming the first high school wrestling state champion from La Plata County since 2012, Foutz was named The Durango Herald Boys Athlete of the Year for the 2019-20 season. He is the fifth consecutive BHS athlete to win the award.
“It feels really solid, and I definitely feel like it is well earned,” Foutz said. “All of the guys who have won it before me have been pretty influential to me. Being considered the top male athlete alongside guys like that feels meaningful, and I’m glad I can continue that.”
Foutz, son of Mike and Terene Foutz, had elite company among finalists for the award this year. He narrowly edged Durango High football stars Everett Howland and Jordan Woolverton.
Howland, a senior, rushed for 1,443 yards and 14 touchdowns and added 340 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns. He also led the Durango defense with 61 total tackles, including six sacks. In the winter, he also helped lead the Durango Demons hockey team to the Rio Grande Hockey League tri-state championship with 16 goals and 18 assists.
Woolverton had a breakthrough junior season. The CHSAA Class 3A All-State Second Team selection passed for 1,941 yards and 23 touchdowns to only three interceptions, while he completed an astounding 73.6% of his passes. He also ran for 1,005 yards and another 15 touchdowns. Defensively, Woolverton had 35 tackles on defense to go with three interceptions and a forced fumble.
Foutz’s wrestling state championship win against Ponce came after a hard-fought 7-5 decision win against Jimmy Hustoles (44-4) of James Irving in the semifinals. Foutz finished the season with a dominant 43-3 record. It came a year after he had placed fourth in the state at 195 pounds.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Foutz said of his three-day state title run. “To win that semifinal match and realize I was going to the finals match was an intense feeling having never been there. The feeling of confidence I had, I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t intimidated. I felt like I had worked too hard to fail once I got to the final match.”
Foutz credited coach Todd McMenimen for changing the culture of BHS wrestling and helping him realize his potential on the mat.
“I’ve been blessed with good coaches,” Foutz said. “Coach McMenimen ran practice a bit different. Wrestling, you can run all you want, but it doesn’t get you in wrestling shape. We wrestled all the time. It gave me the tools I needed to succeed.”
The Bayfield Wolverines didn’t have the kind of football season they had been used to during Foutz’s time in high school. He was part of the 2017 state championship team as a sophomore. In 2019, the young Wolverines went 4-5 overall and missed the state playoffs despite a 3-1 record in Intermountain League play.
Foutz led the Wolverines’ defense with 89 total tackles, more than double the next leading tackler on the team. Nine of those tackles went for losses. He also forced and recovered one fumble.
“He was our leader not only by his personality and athletic ability but by his presence,” said BHS football coach Gary Heide. “He never missed a beat. He toughed out any injury and was on the practice field leading the team, whatever the circumstance. His encouragement to the young guys was fabulous through the up-and-down year we had. Win or lose, he encouraged the team.”
Foutz followed in the footsteps of previous BHS athlete of the year winners Zane Phelps, Sam Westbrook, Ryan Phelps and David Hawkins. Foutz said those past Bayfield athletes as well as Wyatt Killinen and Cole Wood were inspirational to him.
“A lot of young men at Bayfield High are very respectful and pride themselves in Bayfield High School,” said Heide, who has coached all of the winners. “They have a lot of support from the school and the community. They feel that in the air when they take the field or the mat. They feel that community pride, and it drives everybody.
“John, he had dreams and believed in himself as an athlete, whether it was wrestling or football. He was made for the big moments, and he could always rise to the occasion and turn on the switch at the right time. That’s a unique gift.”
Foutz will not play sports in college. He will attend Colorado Mesa University, where his mother was a volleyball star and his sister, Maddi, currently plays volleyball. He plans to study engineering.
Some day when he returns to the Bayfield High School wrestling room, Foutz will see his name on the wall alongside the former state champions, a wall that hadn’t added a name since Aaron Velasquez in 2012. He hopes others will join them on the wall sooner than later.
“I feel like I did the Bayfield fans right and hopefully made them proud,” Foutz said. “Being able to show the guys coming back next year what it takes to be a champion and trying to be a role model for them was something I wanted to do.
“I grew up coming to watch Friday night football games or a wrestling meet with my dad. It was special to grow up here and become part of it.”
Editor’s note: The Durango Herald selected high school sports players of the year based on a unanimous decision between sports editor John Livingston and former sports writer Brendan Ploen. Increased consideration was given to multi-sport athletes who showed leadership in their communities.