Coach: Mitch Johnson
Last year: 8-3 (lost in the second round of the 5A playoffs)
Key players: Cameron Hacker, jr, QB; Al Davis, sr, WR/DB; Anthony Davis, sr., RB; Trae Bankston, sr, RB; Mitch Langer, jr., DE; Ben Selby, sr., RB
Outlook: The Trojans are now established in 5A, having won their first playoff game at that level; now it’s time to see how much higher they can climb. The running backs are as good as any in the state, with Bankston, Anthony Davis and Selby. The defense should again be stout despite losing Kevin Davis, who is at CSU. The real question is whether or not the offense can become diverse enough to keep the state’s top defenses from crowding the box. Johnson would love to see a 60/40 split in the playcalling, but realizes their personnel has dictated they run the ball closer to 70 percent of the time. If that ratio doesn’t change, a schedule that includes Pine Creek, Columbine and Valor Christian will be sure to expose it.
Coach: Justin Rich (1st season)
Last year: 2-8
Key players: Travon Charity, sr., RB; Ryan Pellow, sr., LB; Draper Sullivan, sr., OL/DL; Tyrek Green, sr., ATH
Outlook: Rich knows he’s in for a challenge as the third coach in as many years for the program, but he’s out to set a foundation. He likes the talent and hunger displayed by the senior class and thinks Charity could be a breakout star. Aside from that, there are plenty of causes for concern, including a small junior class that will force many sophomores into varsity action and summer injuries at quarterback. Still, Palmer is a large school stocked with talent and Rich says “we fully plan to be competitive in our new league this year.”
(Other teams in the league: Castle View, Heritage, Legend, Rock Canyon)
4A PIKES PEAK
Coach: Mike Hillstrom (8th season)
Last year: 4-6
Key players: Kevin Kimbrow, sr., QB; Caleb Cuneio, sr., LB/RB; Cody Johnson, sr., DB; Justin Petrash, jr., OL/DL; Kyle Routsong, sr., OL/DL
Outlook: It’s been a long rough patch for the program — including a 1-19 record in 2009-10 — but the struggles may be a thing of the past. Eight starters return on offense, led by Kimbrow (1,511 passing yards, 690 rushing yards; 23 combined touchdowns), Cuneio (690 rushing yards), Petrash (a three-year starter) and Routsong (the line’s leader). But offense wasn’t the problem last year, as the defense allowed 32 points per game and even a 46-point outburst wasn’t enough to beat Liberty. Five starters return to that unit, and if it can be respectable while the offense is at times spectacular, the Kadets will be a force.
Coach: Trevor Hudson (2nd season)
Last year: 7-4 (lost in the first round of the 4A playoffs)
Key players: Kalen Ballage, jr., RB/OLB; Keenan Britton, sr., RB/LB; Brodie Hicks, sr., WR/FS; Wyatt Aaberg, soph., LB/QB; Justin Barron, LB/P
Outlook: Opponents marveled this summer at Ballage, who has the physique of a college power forward. Hudson calls the junior the best pure athlete in the city, if not the state. With Ballage running in tandem with Britton and Brodie Hicks lining up on the outside, the Falcons are as loaded as anyone in 4A at the speed positions. The team now has two years of experience in 4A after moving up from 3A and will benefit from familiarity with Hudson’s system. A return trip to the playoffs won’t be enough to meet the Falcons’ goals — the jerseys they wore over the summer simply said “state or bust.”
Coach: Jaron Cohen (5th season)
Last year: 3-7
Key players: Shane Walker, sr., QB; Dylan Flynn, sr., WR/CB; Travis Talley, sr., OL; Dakota Dolan, sr., OL; Zach Hill, sr., WR/S
Outlook: The Lancers are experienced, with nine starters back on offense and seven on defense. The lines have good size, Cohen likes his skill players and no sophomores figure to be in the starting lineup for the first time since the 2009 playoff team. The offense last year was built around QB Tyler Carr, who passed for 1,708 yards and ran for 927. Carr will be replaced by converted running back Shane Walker, who should get some help from standout receivers Dylan Flynn (57 catches last year) and Zach Hill (24 catches) as he makes the transition.
Coach: Todd Miller (8th year)
Last year: 13-1 (4A runner-up)
Key players: Dalton Fields, sr., OL/DL; Chase Stevens, sr., LB; Devin Dolbere, sr., RB/DB; Hayden Cortez, sr., LB; Camron Beester, sr., LB
Outlook: No one will feel sorry for the Eagles, who have dominated the area for the better part of the decade, but the start of the season really will be a struggle as they open at Fountain-Fort Carson then follow with home games against last year’s 5A runner-up Lakewood and 5A champion Columbine. Pine Creek hasn’t lost three games in a season since 2007 but could well be 0-3 by Sept. 15. Betting against Miller is never a good idea and this team is extremely deep and features a couple of returning all-state players in Fields (who committed to Wyoming) and Stevens. If it’s all about where you finish, the Eagles should be in line for another stellar year.
Coach: JJ Owens (2nd season)
Last year: 5-5
Key players: Clark Jones, sr., LB/RB; Brad Looney, sr., WR/DB; Marcus Mason, sr., DL/RB; Travis Knoche, jr., QB; Donovan Oldham, soph., WR
Outlook: Owens set out to change the culture at the school when he took over, and it has shown in his ability to get athletes like Looney – a baseball standout – to come out for the sport for the first time (Owens also convinced high jump champion Ryan Cook to come out in 2012, and the senior responded with one of the state’s top seasons for a receiver). Part of that culture includes instilling toughness in the team, and Owens feels his team will display that this season despite a young roster. Jones returns as the leading tackler and Mason is a load at 6-foot, 260 pounds and able to run a 4.7-second 40. Look for the 6-foot-2 Oldham to fill Cook’s shoes as a playmaking receiver. The Rams will also benefit from dropping back to 4A.
Coach: Rod Baker (2nd season)
Last year: 2-8
Key players: Tuli Lualu, sr., OL/DL; Micheal DeCarmo, jr., QB; Darin Johns, jr, DB; John Cowan, sr., LB; Dominic Reed, jr., RB
Outlook: Baker has great expectations after a year of implementing his system. DeCarmo became the program’s career rushing leader (1,060 yards) as a sophomore and will continue to lead the offense. Lualu has wrestled in a pair of heavyweight state championship matches, and Baker believes he should be a dominant performer this season. The Scorpions will likely be improved, but with no soft spots on a schedule that includes Widefield and Lewis-Palmer as nonconference opponents, it remains to be seen if the strides will be apparent in the team’s win/loss record.
Coach: Les Johnson (2nd season)
Last year: 9-2, lost in first round of 3A playoffs
Key players: Brandon Cartagena, sr., RB; Brayden Stewart, sr., QB; Aaron Johnson, sr., WR/CB; Noah Gable, sr., WR/K/FS; Dedrick Lee, jr., RB
Outlook: After going 19-3 against in-state competition over the past two seasons as a 3A program, the Wolves jump up a class and they’ll do so with a home stadium for the first time. Cartagena, an elite sprinter, is one of the state’s top playmakers, averaging 13.2 yards per touch last year – including 11.8 yards on 64 carries with 10 touchdowns. The biggest question will be how Vista Ridge can recover from the loss of a senior class that included five first-team Peak Performer selections and quarterback Thomas Newman.
(Other team in the league: Ponderosa)
Coach: Tom O’Rourke (1st season)
Last year: 10-1 (lost in first round of the 3A playoffs)
Key players: Austin Douglas, sr., LB; R.J. Stainbrook, sr., RB; Zac McCoy, sr., WR/S; Alec Neinas, sr., RB/LB; Oren Bivens, sr., OL/DL
Outlook: O’Rourke, who has been at the school for 22 years, takes over for Chris Coppa as the team tries to put a disappointing finish to 2011 behind it. The Tigers entered the 3A playoffs with the top seed, but were knocked out in the first round in a 7-6 loss to Frederick. The bad news is they now move up to 4A, but the good news is that Stainbrook returns after rushing for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and Douglas is back at linebacker to anchor the defense. The primary concern is finding players to step up on the offensive and defensive lines. It’s a program that consistently churns out competitive teams, and O’Rourke has certainly been around long enough to understand how to keep that going.
Coach: Brian Sherman (2nd season)
Last year: 8-3 (lost in the first round of the 4A playoffs)
Key players: Donivan Harville, sr., TE; James Michael Sullivan, sr., RB; Ed Thomas, sr., LB; Ryan McMahon, RB; Alex Snyder, sr., QB
Outlook: Handed the keys to the program, the longtime offensive coordinator Sherman unleashed a juggernaut that averaged 34 points. Leading that show was quarterback Bret Helton (2,294 passing yards), who was in his third season under Sherman’s command. That experience is gone, replaced by Snyder, a 6-foot-4 transfer from Arizona. Gone too are several offensive linemen. Snyder will have plenty of options, starting with Harville (48 catches, 875 yards), who is right there with Falcon’s Kalen Ballage as the area’s most physically gifted skill-position player. Sullivan is a shifty back who ran for 927 yards and McMahon was a big-play threat, averaging a team-best 8.46 yards per carry.
Coach: Rob Braaten (7th season)
Last year: 5-5
Key players: Brayton Medina, sr., OL/DL; Tremell Stanley, jr., RB/LB; Morris Bilbert, sr., RB/LB; Chris Cutcher, sr., WR/DB; Cameron VanDeCasteele, sr., TE/DL
Outlook: Replacing Devante Johnson and his 1.732 yards is the first priority. Leading contenders are Stanley, Gilbert and Curtis Crockett, who ran for more than 1,000 yards for the junior varsity last year. While Braaten said carries might be split more than they were in the past three years when Johnson and Phillip Rhodes starred in his backfield, he will still single out one featured back. Up front, Medina is a three-year starter on the offensive line and a Division-I prospect at 6-foot-5, 280 pounds. Regardless of what happens in the backfield race, Stanley, Gilbert and Cutcher will return to the starting defense.
Coach: Tom Pulford (1st season)
Last year: 7-4 (lost in first round of the 3A playoffs)
Key players: Winn Howard, sr., RB/LB; Brad Paffett, sr., RB/S; Jordan Brame, sr., CB/QB; Nick Majic, sr., OL; Josh Romero, sr., DL; Jason Pope, sr., C/NG
Outlook: The move to 4A will make for a tough go, but the Bears hung right with Canon City last season in a 19-14 loss, Canon City beat Widefield handily and Widefield won the 4A Foothills. Pulford has been an assistant since the school opened, so the transition should not be complicated. Jordan Brame moves from running back to quarterback and will be asked to lead a unit that seeks more consistency. The defense gave up just 16 points per game last year and is expected to be a strength once again.
Coach: Fred Marjerrison (3rd season)
Last year: 9-2 (lost in first round of the 4A playoffs)
Key players: Marquis Coddington, sr., RB; Markeice Bellamy, LB; Eugene Sanabria, sr., WR/DB
Outlook: The Gladiators won their first title in 1996, but now the league looks totally different. Canon City (which beat Widefield by 23 points in last year’s opener), Palmer Ridge and Pueblo Centennial join the 4A Foothills, so the task of repeating will be even larger. The Gladiators certainly figure to be in the mix with Coddington (who ran for 1,265 yards and 16 touchdowns) and Sanabria (“the best athlete on the field,” according to Marjerrison). But the main reason is Marjerrison himself, who has quickly established himself as one of the area’s best coaches. The Gladiators have as many victories in two seasons under Marjerrison (17) than they did in the five previous seasons. He has served the school for 15 total years (first as an assistant) and is the track coach, so this program is entirely his. The results speak for themselves.
(Other teams in the league: Pueblo Centennial, Pueblo South, Pueblo West)
3A SOUTH CENTRAL
Coach: Bobby Lizarraga (3rd season)
Last year: 0-10
Key players: Dylan Roche, sr., C; Josh Knotek, sr., LB/FB; Devon Cruz, sr., RB/DB; Sam Smith, jr., LB/FB; Antwan Outlaw, jr., FS/RB/WR
Outlook: By accounts from coaches throughout the city, Lizarraga’s squad is much improved. Of course, it wouldn’t take a great deal to improve upon a four-year stretch that has produced just two wins. Junior Joah Smith returns at quarterback, where he threw for 450 yards last year while attempting 91 of the team’s 146 passes. All rebuilding projects start somewhere, and Lizarraga believes this team can make strides and will feature “excellent senior leadership.”
Coach: Shawn Mitchell (6th season)
Last year: 3-7
Key players: Steve Turner, sr., RB; Cameron Packwood, sr., RB; Adrian Mack, jr., FB; Jack Palmer, sr., DE; Micah Bosseler, sr., LB
Outlook: Mitchell has plenty of gaps to fill with just three starters returning on offense and four on defense. There is also plenty of talent returning. Mack led the team in rushing (611 yards) as a sophomore fullback and Turner ran for 534 yards. Four of last year’s losses came by fewer than 10 points, so the Thunder were not far off. As the only one of the area’s three new programs -- Palmer Ridge and Vista Ridge being the others -- to remain in 3A for this two-year cycle, Discovery Canyon should have a good chance of producing its first winning varsity season by 2013.
Coach: Tony Ramunno (23rd year)
Last year: 9-3 (lost in the second round of the playoffs)
Key players: Nate Conner, sr., QB; Joe Dell, sr., OLB; Matt Brines, jr. RB; Ricky Anderson, sr., RB; Cam Commerford, sr. OLB
Outlook: The offense will again be carried by Conner, who completed 60 percent of his passes in a breakout junior season. Most of Conner’s top targets are gone, but Sean Grundman appears poised to fill the void as the top receiver. The offensive backfield returns several who have had playing time, but none who have been a featured ballcarrier. Ramunno sees it as a good problem to have, as he’ll keep fresh legs in a rotation since most also play defense. Senior Eric Hudson will anchor the offensive line. A third consecutive nine-win season seems well within reach.
Coach: Archie Malloy III (9th season)
Last year: 2-8
Key players: Aaron Wright, jr., RB/DB; Justin Paul, jr., OL/DL; Chris Ruch, jr., TE/LB; Elijah Mack, sr., TE/DE; Andree Savoy, sr., QB/LB
Outlook: Malloy returns 13 players who started or saw significant playing time, including a pair of juniors who earned first-team league honors as sophomores (Wright and Paul). The team’s most recent winning season was 2004, so expectations should be realistic, but this group should be competitive.
Coach: Jeff Palmer (2nd season)
Last year: 3-7
Key players: DJ Hanes, sr., WR; Theron Brandt, sr., RB/LB; Jordan Reece, sr., OL/DL; Aaron Shoemaker, jr., DB/WR/QB; Josiah Black, jr., OL/DL
Outlook: Wasson won before the season even started when Perea came out for the team. It was uncertain if the two-year starter at quarterback would be back for a third year or instead keep his focus on basketball, where is among the state’s top point guards. Perea and Hanes will go down in school history for their many connections on the football field and basketball court, and Brandt is a do-it all running back. But as a Week Zero loss to La Junta demonstrated, this team still has a ways to go.
Coach: Joe Roskam (2nd season)
Last year: 5-5
Key players: Jake Censner, sr., QB; Caelan Garner, sr., DE; Joe Callahan, sr., WR; Weston Shutts, jr., LB; Josh Smith, jr., LB
Outlook: Roskam has family ties in Woodland Park, took a pay cut from Sierra to take the position and seems entrenched for a long, long time; so a quick fix wasn’t necessary. But that’s what he helped to bring to the passing game anyway, as under his guidance Censner threw for 2,006 yards, 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. The receiving corps loses its top four pass-catchers , but seven Panthers caught touchdowns last year and Censner will undoubtedly have options. The building process will surely take more time, but Roskam’s stamp is on the program now and likely will be for years to come.
THE CLASSICAL ACADEMY
Coach: David Bervig (1st season)
Last year: 2-8
Key players: Justin Miller, sr., LB/RB; Thomas Caracena, sr., OL/DL; Daniel Carlson, sr., K/P; Andrew Register, jr., RB/DB; Korey Schlaudt, sr., OL/LB
Outlook: Bervig is up from the junior high and Chadd Miller, a five-year assistant, is the father of team leader Justin Miller, so though there was a coaching change there shouldn’t be much of a getting-to-know you period with the staff. Miller, who averaged 18 tackles last year, has several Division I offers already and Carlson has committed to kick at Auburn, giving the Titans the rarity of having two major recruits at a 3A program. TCA started five sophomore on defense last year, so “the hope is that the growing pains of last year’s young team will pay dividends this year.” Quarterback Jantzen Ryals moves up from an undefeated junior varsity season, and Bervig will keep a pass-oriented offense in place.
Coach: Al Melo (6th season)
Last year: 7-3
Key players: Devon Strover, sr., OL/DL; Andre Peppers, sr., WR/DB; Darius Graves, jr., RB/LB; Demetrius Graves, jr., RB/LB; Todd Wall, jr., QB/LB
Outlook: Harrison lost three games a year ago, all three coming to teams that are playing in 4A this season. And while the Panthers are without most of their skill-position leaders from a year ago, there’s enough of a talented core returning to have Harrison pegged as a serious contender in 3A. The stars figure to be Darius Graves, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior who broke out with eight sacks last season and Demetrius Graves, a 5-11, 200-pound running back who averaged 8 yards per carry last season. Strover is a 250-pound anchor on the line, Jordan Gilchrist and Peppers were all-league defensive backs last season and Matt Davis should see time in the offensive backfield. Melo has taken the program from 0-10 in 2009, to 5-5 in 2010 and 7-3 last year. Another season of progression is a distinct possibility.
Coach: Dean Huffman (1st season)
Last year: 0-10
Key players: Maurice Simpson, sr., TE/DE; Traveion Paillette, sr., TB/LB; Talon Sami, sr., OT/DT; Michael Granados, sr., OT/DT; Marcos Ruiz, sr., FB/LB
Outlook: Huffman is foremost an offensive line coach, and that’s where he’s going to start the rebuilding project. In Sami, a returning all-conference selection and Granados, who was the lineman champion at a summer camp, he has two large building blocks. Paillette is a burner in the backfield and will lead what should be an explosive running game — a big part of Huffman’s offense at Vista Ridge, coupled with the occasional big play in the air. The focus is on bringing discipline to the defense and building a program. Huffman did this at Vista Ridge, no reason to doubt he’ll do it at a school oozing size and speed.
(Other teams in the league: Pueblo Central, Pueblo County, Pueblo East)
Coach: Mark Buderus
Last year: 13-1 (2A state champions)
Key players: Johnnie Krien, jr., RB; Cody Friend, sr., OL; Clay Masar, jr., LB; Conner Ward, sr., OL; Scott Sandoval, sr., LB/DE/FB
Outlook: Florence not only won the 2A title last year, but rolled Bayfield 34-0 in the championship game. There will surely be some regression after losing 15 seniors — including do-it-all quarterback Cody Nichols — but the program has some room to give before anyone else in 2A is at its level. Krien wasted no time making a name for himself as a sophomore, rushing for 112 in his first game and 1,167 and 17 touchdowns on the season. He’s one of several candidates to step forward as a team leader, which is one of the program’s few needs.
Coach: Dan Gieck (1st season)
Last year: 1-8
Key players: KC Quarry, sr., RB/LB; Sean Ferguson, sr., OL; Cole Jones, sr., WR/DE; Chad Sienknecht, sr., RB/DE
Outlook: Injuries decimated the Mustangs last year, with Sienknecht sidelined after the second game, Jones halfway through the year and Quarry playing hurt most of the year. No surprise then that the season closed with an eight-game losing streak. “Team is hungry to turn things around,” said Gieck, who faces the unenviable task of replacing local legend Justin Armour after two years as the program’s coach.
Coach: Nic Olney (3rd season)
Last year: 6-4
Key players: Logan Elliott, sr., QB/FS; Cannon Wille, sr., TE/LB; Colten Wolf, sr., LB; Curtin Torrence, sr., OL/DL; Hunter Holmes, sr., OL/DL
Outlook: The program notched its first winning season in 10 years last year. Now, the next step is to be competitive in the toughest league in all of 2A and be fighting for a playoff appearance, according to Olney. Each of the key players listed have started for at least two years. Elliott is a three-year starter at quarterback and amassed more than 1,800 yards of offense last year. Several key players are missing from last year’s breakthrough squad, but enough are back to potentially keep the momentum going.
(Other teams in the league: Alamosa, Dolores Huerta, La Junta, Lamar, Trinidad)
1A SOUTH CENTRAL
Coach: Clint Mitchell (1st season)
Last year: 3-6
Key players: Garrett Richardson, sr., OL/LB; Nathan Schloesser, sr., OL/LB; Josh Wiggins, sr., RB/DB
Outlook: Mitchell inherited only three seniors for his first season, so he’ll largely be starting from scratch. The biggest loss was quarterback Jack Norris, who threw for 1,540 yards and had a hand in 18 or the team’s 30 touchdowns.
(Other teams in the league: Burlington, Byers, Crowley County, Las Animas, Limon, Rocky Ford)
Coach: Jay Kersey (4th season)
Last year: 3-7
Key players: Jim Kenney, sr., RB/S; Dan Kenney, sr., QB/LB; TJ Stockton, jr., TE/LB
Outlook: Referring to CSCS as a 1A program will take some getting used to, but the change should mean an instant turnaround. Jim Kenney will be tough to stop after averaging 8.8 yards per carry while running for 930 yards as a junior. His twin brother, Dan, was a dual-threat quarterback who ran for seven touchdowns and threw for five. The team will be young once again, but has a chance to be competitive.
Coach: Ken Delahoy (4th season)
Last year: 6-4 (lost in the first round of the 1A playoffs)
Key players: Tyler Lashley, jr., QB/LB; Robby Easterlin, jr., RB/LB; Rich Lancaster, jr., OL/LB; Dan Logar, sr., WR/DB; Chris Epps, jr., WR/DB
Outlook: Delahoy sums it up: “We are young and a little undersized but we have a load of talent in the skilled positions. A number of our players got a taste of the playoffs and are working really hard to get back there. A new conference leaves a lot of question marks and some uncertainty.”
(Other teams in the league: Buena Vista, Custer County, Ellicott*, John Mall, Rye, Salida)
8-MAN BLACK FOREST
Coach: Mike Lopour (1st season)
Last year: 0-9
Key players: Michael McBride, sr., FB/LB; Kurt Baumann, sr., TE/DE; Sean Engstrom, sr., TB/DB; Tom Erickson, sr., RB/LB; Tyler Veros, soph., QB/DB
Outlook: With strength and speed in key positions, Lopour sees no reason why Miami-Yoder can’t compete in the Black Forest League. He is certainly seeking an improvement over last season, when the Buffaloes were shut out six times.
PIKES PEAK CHRISTIAN
Coach: Doug Miller (3rd season)
Last year: 4-6
Key players: Nathan Harris, sr., QB; Wade Crews, jr., RB; Nathan Harman, sr., OL/DL; Chad Doxey, soph., WR
Outlook: There’s a learning period for every team, but Miller has to teach his squad a new game after two years of playing 6-man. With all-conference returnees at quarterback (Harris) and running back (Crews), he’s got building blocks. The goal is a .500.
(Other teams in the league: Elbert, Genoa-Hugo/Karval, Kiowa, Simla)
COLORADO DEAF AND BLIND
Coach: Raul Brown (1st season)
Last year: 1-7
Key players: Jacob Gilbreth, sr., RB; Bryan Ortiz, sr., WR; Zaine Bartram, sr., E; Sean Bartram, sr., E; Aaron Kellogg, jr., QB
Outlook: Brown is entering his first year of coaching and noted that the players are willing to learn.
Coach: Luke Decker (9th season)
Last year: N/A
Key players: Henry Mayfield, sr., RB/LB; Justin Thornton, jr., C/DE; Greg Johnson, jr., G/FB/DE
Outlook: Back on its own after combining for two years with Edison, Hanover’s roster has just one senior, three juniors and little varsity experience. However, the team expects to be competitive and is “just excited for the opportunity to play football again,” Decker said.
(Other teams in the league: Cotopaxi, Edison*, Mountain Valley, Primero)
* No information given, including Cripple Creek-Victor