Watch any play this season from Dolores High School and you’re almost guaranteed to see number 55 on the field. Forest Pejsa starts at linebacker, center, punter and kicker for the Bears.
“It helps us get momentum going,” Pejsa, a sophomore, said of his work load. “I’m always in there and always trying to encourage everyone no matter where I’m at. I try to be a playmaker even if I’m at center, middle linebacker, at punter, anything.”
This isn’t new to Pejsa, either. Pejsa logged 119 tackles as a freshman and an all-conference nod all while never coming off the field for Dolores, a Class 1A team.
“It makes me have to work a lot harder in conditioning since I’m not going off the field,” Pejsa said. “There’s a lot more that I have to think about and visualize myself doing on the field that it just takes a lot more mental preparation.”
This season, Pejsa has 47 tackles through three games. That stat is good for seventh overall in Colorado. Four of the top six tackles leaders have played four games.
“You look at a kid that’s at a 5A program, as a linebacker, that’s all he does is play linebacker. When their offense in the field, that linebacker is over there taking a break, getting some water, and having time to be coached on the sideline,” head coach Chris Trusler said. “With Forest never leaving the field, he doesn’t have that luxury. He’s putting up massive numbers that kids that only play one side of the ball can’t get.”
Trusler imagines the potential Pejsa could contain if he played just one position.
“It would be kind of scary to think, if we had a big enough team to where Forest only played linebacker and he had three or four plays on the sideline to get a break, how much more he would be able to dominate the game,” Trusler said.
With the incredible workload Pejsa takes on, challenges with mental errors or frustration due to fatigue should be expected, but Pejsa credits his teammates with keeping him level.
“There’s definitely challenges no matter where I’m at,” Pejsa said. “I also have (senior Tristan Medina) and our other captains to keep me in place and make sure that I’m being the best leader that I can be. Even when I’m having a tough time, they encourage me to play harder.”
However, according to Medina, Pejsa is the one giving the encouragement.
“There’s really no need to pick up Forest, I’d say he’s one to pick up other people,” Medina said. “He’s never one to get negative or hang his head.”
Trusler attests there haven’t been any mental errors from Pejsa despite having no time on the sidelines to take a break.
“We haven’t seen those moments and I think that’s a true testament to the offseason preparation that Forest does and the commitment that he’s made not only to himself, but to his team,” Trusler said.
Pejsa is just a sophomore, but has already been named the captain because of his play, work ethic and leadership.
“He’s a bigger captain and role model than anyone on the team,” Medina said. “I definitely look up to him as a captain, as a friend, he leads by example. He knows when it’s time to get to work.”
Pejsa embodies exactly what Trusler and the Dolores coaching staff look for in a student-athlete.
“We ask our players to do certain things; we ask them to commit, to be coachable, to be good students and to be leaders on and off the field. He takes that to heart and he does everything that we ask all of our guys to do,” Trusler said. “It’s a pure joy to be able to coach guys like that because you know their heart is in it and you know that they’re going to give 100 percent every play. It’s great to have guys like that because they separate themselves as being a leader.”
Trusler mentioned that he uses Pejsa as a frequent reference point for the rest of the team.
“He definitely sets a mark for other student-athletes to follow,” Trusler said. “When another student-athlete says, ‘Hey, I keep getting pushed around out here, what can I do to get better?’ Well, go work out with Forest Pejsa.
“If kids have dreams or aspirations of playing at the next level and they ask what they need to do, well, go watch Forest Pejsa and that’ll show you what you need to do to have that opportunity.”
Pejsa not only offers an example of the type of player the Bears want, he also creates favorable matchups for his teammates defensively.
“When he’s out at linebacker, teams double- or triple-team him on every play,” Trusler said. “That really gives some of the other guys on the team opportunities to make sacks or tackles in the backfield.”
“It opens up another hole for my teammates to go get and I have no problem with that,” Pejsa said.
Even with the double and triple teams Trusler mentioned, Pejsa still finds a way to get his tackles in.
“He’s in on every tackle basically,” Medina said. “Whether it’s right, left, middle, you can count on Forest to make big plays.”
The coaching staff looks to Pejsa for his ability to take over games at any point in the contest.
“Defensively, if we need a big turnover or a big stop, we’ve challenged him before several times in timeouts and the problem gets handled,” Trusler said.
Pejsa attributed his success to the work he put in during the offseason. It’s only fitting that Pejsa is a three-sport athlete. He plays basketball and is a member of the track and field team in addition to football.
“During the summer, a lot of days he’s lifting weights, and then an hour later he’s working out with the basketball program,” Trusler said.
One could argue there is no offseason for Pejsa.
“He’s continually working year-round to get better,” Trusler said. “With what we’ve already seen, I still think there’s a huge amount of upside for Forest. We should be looking at him playing Division I football in a couple years when he graduates.”
Pejsa takes pride in always being in the game, but also takes pride in his grades as a student-athlete.
“I try to remain with straight A’s,” Pejsa said. “I try to be a leader on and off the field.”
“As we teach all our guys, they are student-athletes. Student coming first,” Trusler said. “Our kids being in athletics is a privledge, not a right. Even with all the sports and practices and everything that he’s a part of, he still maintains a very high GPA, he doesn’t make excuses. He gets it done.”
Pejsa is there for his teammates in any way he can be.
“Whether he’s busy or not he goes there for football lifting, whether we have to lay sod, whether we have to do concessions, you can count on him to be there,” Medina said.
“If I had a whole team of Forest Pejsa’s, we would win a state title every year,” Trusler said. “No question about it.”
Trusler’s declaration is telling not only of Pejsa’s blistering start to the season, but of the kind of role model that Pejsa is on the field and in the community.
“Any time you have a student-athlete that models all the values, dedication and leadership that you would want, there’s nothing better than that,” Trusler said. “He’ll have respect from me for the rest of his life because of the effort that he has put out.”