Our extensive preview of the upcoming football season continues today with a look at every team in Class 3A. Durango and Thomas Jefferson are two returning state champions as the Demons landed the Fall crown by beating Roosevelt and the Spartans earned the 4A Spring title with a narrow win over Gateway. Both teams are expected back in the playoff mix with many others also in contention.
Capsules below are separated by conference.
CONIFER LOBOS: The Lobos open the season searching for a new leader on offense as Noah Wagner has graduated. He ended his high school career with almost 37-hundred yards. Gauge Womack is the top returning rusher but he carried the ball just 15 times in the three games played last season. Look for him to get many more chances as a senior. Defensively, Kenny Thompson (37) and Zach Zalta (23) were third and fourth in tackles and both are expected to return in 2021. Womack was fifth with 22. Gage Sims also returns after intercepting five passes as a junior.
EVERGREEN COUGARS: The Cougars went 4-2 in the regular season to earn one of eight available playoff berths in Class 3A. The season ended with a 41-6 loss to Holy Family in the state quarterfinals as standout QB Griffin Laurentino was not allowed to play in the post-season. He leaves the program (graduated) after throwing for nearly 32-hundred yards in his career. Kyle Solawetz seems to be the next man up as he completed 14 of 21 passes for 75 yards as a freshman. Noah Martens (1,024 yards) is another gaping hole in the backfield that needs filling. Jack Johnson is the top returning rusher but had just nine carrier for 34 yards as a sophomore. Seniors also dominated the 2020 defense as the top seven tacklers are gone. Russ Woodward had 34 tackles as a sophomore and may step into the leadership role for 2021.
GREEN MOUNTAIN RAMS: After a very good 3-0 start, a good share of the Rams varsity roster was taken out by COVID over the final month. The bad news is that they lost their final four games but the good news is that stretch allowed several youngsters to gain valuable varsity experience. One major concern is at QB where no underclassmen attempted a pass last year. Dom Sanchez (130) is the top returning rusher and is and he caught two passes last year; tying him with Anthony Digrazia for the most of any returning player. Zach Weslin has the most returning tackles (16) which put him seventh on the team in 2020.
LEWIS PALMER RANGERS: Coach Dustin Tupper’s team was solid in 2020. They finished at 3-4 including a three-game winning streak against Riverdale Ridge, Niwot and Pueblo Central. The Rangers need a new quarterback but have solid returning playmakers in Jake Knisley (693 yards rushing) and Cameron Lowe (13 receptions). Lowe also picked off two passes on that side of the ball.
LITTLETON LIONS: It’s been since the 2017-18 season that the Lions have experienced a victory so the Lions will seek some positive thoughts going into the season. They played well in an opening loss to Denver West but were overmatched the rest of the way. Brycen Mhlanga and Timmy Higgins combined for 72 yards rushing in that game and Higgins also threw for 44 yards. Both are juniors and should play key roles again in 2021.
LUTHERAN LIONS: Probably the league favorites at this point, the Lions return 18 starters overall and have plans for a big 2021 campaign. They reached the playoffs in 2020 but lost on the road to eventual state champion Durango in the opening round. The fast-paced offense returns QB Clayton Jacobs (1,198 yards passing), Dorian Pacheco (535 yards rushing), Ryan Kenny (532 yards rushing) and five receivers who caught at least eight passes including Brody Donahue with a team high 20. Up front, the Lions welcome back second-team all-state lineman Cole Rairick. The top seven tacklers return on defense including Pacheco (89), Kenny (75) and Bryant Johnson (57).
NORTH CENTRAL 2
FREDERICK WARRIORS: After a semifinal appearance in 2019, the Warriors fell back to just one win in the shortened 2020 season. COVID hit the team hard as like many other programs, they rarely had the same lineup from week to week. Four runners picked up more than 230 yards on the ground last year and three of them return in Cruz Zamudio (343), Bryce Conover (302) and Parker Ayres (284). Conover also threw for 387 yards and three TDs. Top receivers Alex Sturn and Lafai Purcell also return after combining for 17 receptions last season. Defensively, Kooper Anderson had the most tackles of any returnee (28).
HOLY FAMILY TIGERS: It was a tremendous run for the Tigers who reached the Final Four in 2020. They moved past Evergreen 41-6 in the quarterfinals but then fell to Durango (34-14) in the semifinals for their only loss of the season. Defensively, it was the only game the entire season the Tigers allowed more than 14 points in a game. That group returns Jared Delgado, the leading tackler with 85 stops. Also back on that side of the ball are Brady Samaras (44 tackles), Pierce Kunz (33) and Dominic Mazzulla (31). The Tigers also forced 21 turnovers including a combined four interceptions from Blake Neece and Jacob Lawver. The offense has many more holes to fill as the leading passer, top five receivers and top three rushers all graduated.
MEAD MAVERICKS: The Mavericks have been to the playoffs for six straight years but their appearance last year was ended by COVID before they even took the field as they had to forfeit to Pueblo South. Mainly a running team in the past, the Mavericks may turn to the air more this year as Gavin Garrettson returns after throwing for 891 yards and 11 TDs last season. Evan Morris (288) is the top returning rusher. Lane Beumer (33) and Corby Tecu (31) should be the defensive leaders after combining for 64 tackles in 2020.
SKYVIEW WOLVERINES: The Wolverines waited until the Spring to play and then lost their first five games. They did however gain a 38-28 win over Sierra in the final game and hope to use that win as a springboard into 2021. Brandon Gutierrez threw for 256 yards and four TDs in the win and he returns for his fourth year as starting QB. Xavier Crispin was second on the team in tackles (35) as a sophomore and he’s joined by three others (Jayden Ball, Haziel Adame and Josiah Carrillo) who picked up at least 21 stops last year.
THOMPSON VALLEY EAGLES: In a season identical to Skyview, the Eagles dropped their first five games only to a score a victory over Summit (20-7) in their final outing. TV threw for over 1,000 yards as a team last year but the top quarterfinal and two receivers that combined for 55 receptions have graduated. Trevor Windisch (14 catches) returns at wideout but the Eagles do not feature a player who attempted a pass last season. Landon Carlson and Taylor Graff should get most of the carries in the running game. Windisch could also be important to the defense along with fellow returnees Ronan Bittner and Issac Miller.
NORTH CENTRAL 3
FORT MORGAN MUSTANGS: It was a difficult end to 2020 as the Mustangs lost to Roosevelt on a last second field goal in the state quarterfinals. Another playoff bid is likely as the Mustangs get back dual threat QB Briggs Wheatley. He led Fort Morgan in passing yards (737) and rushing (672) and he enters his third season as the starter. Joining him in the backfield are returnees Frank Ortega (510 yards rushing) and receivers Brayden Fajardo (24 receptions) and Fernando Marquez (10). Up front, the Mustangs will be a bit small but the offensive line does return a veteran group. On defense, Leevi McCoy (28) and Fajardo (18) both finished in top five of tackles. Fajardo also intercepted three passes.
MOUNTAIN VIEW MOUNTAIN LIONS: With wins over Thompson Valley and Silver Creek, Mountain View finished 2020 strong and with a winning record (4-3). Ben Trubia (632 yards passing) took most of the snaps last year but returning seniors Aaron Baumann (39) and Aiden Schaefer (16) combined for 55 attempts and 352 yards. The running game is also in good hands with the return of Izaiah Grado, who led the team with 537 yards a year ago. Top returning tacklers include Dalton Barthlama and Logan Nichelson, who each recorded 21 tackles as juniors.
NIWOT COUGARS: A 26-20 victory over Thornton in the 2020 season finale gives the Cougars some momentum entering this Fall. They attempted 131 passes last season but with the return of Thomas Carnagie (378 yards) and Easten Leatherwood (166), they may run the football a bit more. Craig White, with 20 catches, led the receiving group a year ago and returns for his senior season as well. The defense was dominated by underclassmen and many return including Leatherwood, White, Ben Classen, Bryce Nemec, Brad Bair, Angel Aldama and Kamrin Lucero.
NORTHRIDGE GRIZZLIES: A 24-3 win over in-city rival Greeley West was the highlight for a Grizzlies team that otherwise struggled through a 1-5 campaign. Some building blocks are in place through juniors Cooper Rose (398 yards passing), Brenand Peterson (14 receptions) and Isaac Kness (114 yards rushing). Kness was also picked up the second most tackles on the team (36) and will get help on that side of the scrimmage from Parker Steckel (23) and Dalton Campbell (16).
ROOSEVELT ROUGHRIDERS: After reaching the state championship game last year and finishing second to Durango, the Riders have just one more step to reach the pinnacle. And based on the list of returnees, they have the horsepower to reach those goals. The receiving trio of Keaton Kaiser (41 catches), Tucker Peterson (24) and Jaden Herrera (16) are the strength of the offense. Cooper Walton is another high-level returnee. He led the defense with 75 tackles and was second in yards rushing (324). Logan Pool (61), Anthony Munoz (55) and Clayton Robinson (51) are also back defensively. For the QB slot, the Riders turn to Brock Saya who completed 7 of 9 passes for 148 yards as a junior backup.
LINCOLN LANCERS: The Lancers hope to turn momentum in the other direction as they suffered through a winless six game schedule. Full stats were not reported to MaxPreps but key returnees include Juan Diaz, Alex Bilbery and Joseph Vasquez.
DENVER NORTH VIKINGS: From 2017-19, the Vikings won a total of 19 games but slipped back to 1-5 during the spring season. But the roster was dominated by underclassmen which gives the Vikings more experience this year and a good chance to improve the number in the win column. David Herrera threw for 613 yards and eight touchdowns while Rickie Burg (228 yards) and Kenny Saiz (224) combined for six touchdowns rushing. KJ McInnis caught a team high 17 passes including four touchdowns. All four players are seniors heading into 2021. Saiz (30), Joisa Romero (23) and Eythan Trujillo (21) were ranked third through fifth in tackles and will also be seniors this year.
GEORGE WASHINGTON PATRIOTS: The Patriots did quite well during the spring campaign, winning all five regular season games before falling to Gateway 30-27 in the state quarterfinals. Along the way, they topped DPL rivals Kennedy, Lincoln and Denver North. Marcellus Honeycutt ran for 1445 yards as a sophomore but should get more opportunities as leading rusher Daniel Ameyaw (735) graduated. Honeycutt was also second in receptions (15) to Silas Evans (21) who also returns. Guiding the skill talent is Gabe Smith who threw for 405 yards and 4 TDs as a sophomore. Defensively, the Patriots recorded 20 sacks but 17 were collected by seniors. Richard Valdez though returns after picking off two passes.
KENNEDY COMMANDERS: With a 4-3 overall record and a playoff appearance, the Commanders were another DPL team that used the spring season to get the program pointed in the direction. The highlight was week one where they downed a Gateway club (31-20) that eventually reached the state finals. Kennedy fell to Falcon 20-17 in the state quarterfinals. There are several seniors to replace, especially on defense where Dominic Quintana (53) is the only player from the top nine tacklers returning. Much more experience returns on offense including the receiving duo of Ron Gallegos and Antonio Massengale who each caught 18 passes. Isaac Sisneros got them the ball on a regular basis and finished the season with 13 TDs and 1,111 yards passing. He also contributed 205 yards rushing.
RIVERDALE RIDGE RAVENS: The Ravens have been a varsity program for just three years but have posted a combined five wins over the past two. Now the goal is to reach 500 and to do so they will build on a very impressive 42-0 shutout of Mitchell in last fall’s season finale. A key returnee is junior QB Aiden Burns who threw for 428 yards and six scores last Fall. His top receiver, Trey Cummings, is also back after catching 10 passes. Top tackler Cooper Stolte (46) returns to lead the defense and he’s joined by Elijah Montoya (31 tackles) and Issac Bonner (30).
THOMAS JEFFERSON SPARTANS: The Spartans rolled to eight straight wins and the one-point decision over Gateway in the 4A finals gave the program their third state title in school history; and their first since 1989. There were key losses across the board but there’s easily enough talent coming back for the Spartans to make another postseason push. QB Austin Lindegren was third in rushing (504 yards) and also managed 441 yards and seven touchdowns through the air. Linebacker Jalen Shipp returns after collecting 50 tackles as a junior. Joining him on that side of the ball this year will be Jake Tapia (32), Dedrick Payne (23) and Randy Yeboah (22). Dimitri Haralambopoulos is another big play defender as he earned three interceptions as a freshman.
DISCOVERY CANYON THUNDER: The Thunder are a regular visitor to the 3A playoffs but early season losses to Lutheran and Holy Family kept them from that customary spot in 2020. They finished strong with wins over Riverdale Ridge, Niwot and Lewis Palmer before a loss to 4A Rampart (28-20) in the last game of the season. COVID forced the Thunder to play a ton of people and many of them return. On offense, that list includes Trevin Alessio who ran for 241 yards and threw for 139 in limited duties. Ethan Emmons ran for 223 yards and Justin Pruitt caught a team best five passes for 114 yards. Drew Keegan led the team with 37 tackles and he’s back for a senior year and is joined on that side of the line by juniors Sam Janes (19) and Alessio (15).
DURANGO DEMONS: The Demons were one of the most talented teams in any class and an experienced senior class led them to the state championship last Fall. Justin Woolverton, Ben Finnesmith, Gage Mestas and Jordan Stanley all graduated from the skill position but Nate Messier (517 yards rushing) returns and should get plenty of carries for new coach Todd Casebier. Up front, recent Oklahoma signee Joshua Bates returns and should give Messier some room to roam. On defense, some names to watch are William Knight (51 tackles), Cole Matava (48) and Chase Robertson (35). Robertson, Zach Haber and Luke Wesley return after combining for eight interceptions.
HARRISON PANTHERS: The Colorado Springs based school kept up their winning ways in the spring; finishing 7-1 with a semifinal loss to Gateway their only blemish. It was their second straight year of posting a playoff win, the first two in school history. The Panthers though were senior dominated so Kahar Briggs (463 yards rushing) as the top returnee on offense. Sophomore TJ Washington has quickly developed into a top defender as he collected 38 tackles during his first prep season. Seniors Antonio Carney-Valdez (38) and Jesse Weber (33) combined for 71 stops a year ago.
MITCHELL MARAUDERS: It was a difficult year for the Marauders as they were outscored 217-28 in four games played last Fall. There are some building blocks in place however including Osboldo Sanchez who latched onto 11 receptions last year. He averaged nearly 21 yards per catch. Senior Edward Scott also returns after throwing for 295 yards on just 17 completions. Christian Zamora is a top defender.
SAND CREEK SCORPIONS: Great success for the Scorpions last Spring as they earned their first ever playoff trip and then proceeded to earn their initial postseason win by downing Basalt 27-22 in the state quarterfinals. A loss to TCA (39-13) kept them out of their first-ever state championship game. Much of the success came on the throwing arm of Caleb Kruse who finished his junior season with 1,317 yards and 21 TDs. His main target is gone however as Greg Garnett graduated after combining for over 15-hundred yards and leading the team in both rushing and receiving yardage. Four juniors played major roles defensively a year ago as Joseph Garnett (48), Omael Alexandre (37), Chris Hodge (36) and Keith Reddix (27) all finished in the top six on the team in tackles. Another top returnee there is senior Darius Britton (29 tackles)
SIERRA STALLIONS: The Stallions did not record a win (0-6) during the spring season and have just seven wins overall since the 2014 season. Second year coach Joe Roskam has developed programs in the past and will try to rebuild the Stallion program.
CANON CITY TIGERS: A fast start with wins over Pueblo Centennial, Pueblo East and Pueblo Central were not enough to get the Tigers into the playoffs last Fall. Narrow losses to Pueblo South (26-21) and Durango (27-13) kept a talented team out of the reduced eight team playoff bracket. Key seniors include Dylan O’Rourke who ran for 264 yards and Coletin Reen who was second in receiving with eight catches. The Tigers lost their top five tacklers to graduation with Garrett Bradley (18) and O’Rourke (16) the top returnees for that group.
PUEBLO CENTENNIAL BULLDOGS: Last Fall was a tough one for the Bulldogs who managed just 15 points through five games and finished 0-5. They’ll look to turn back in the right direction and get closer to the five-win season they produced during the 2018-19 season.
PUEBLO CENTRAL WILDCATS: A win over Pueblo Centennial in the Bell Game was the highlight for the Wildcats as they finished 1-4. They also played well in losses to Pueblo East (26-12) and Lewis Palmer (23-13).
PUEBLO COUNTY HORNETS: The Hornets sported a pair of two-game winning streaks but it wasn’t enough to reach the playoffs as they closed 2020 at 4-2. They must find a successor to Chase Hartman who led the team in both rushing and passing yards each of the past two years. Once a new QB is developed, he can find Bryce Vigil in the passing game as he returns after leading the team with 19 catches last season. On defense, Joel Gonzales intercepted two passes in three games.
PUEBLO EAST EAGLES: Seniors dominated the skill positions as the Eagles struggled to a 2-3 mark for 2020. The graduating class included two top quarterbacks, the top two running backs and top three receivers. Jayce Martinez ran for 100 yards as a sophomore and become the number one option this season.
PUEBLO SOUTH COLTS: After scrambling to find a fourth game to become playoff eligible, the Colts reached the state semifinals before a tough 48-19 loss to Roosevelt ended their season. Jace Bellah could be the top returning on both offense and defense. He threw for 654 yards and ran for 300 on offense and also intercepted four passes and recorded 30 tackles from the secondary. Around him on offense are holes to fill as the Colts graduated George Longoria (964 yards rushing) and Luke Guarienti (20 receptions). Brian Mata (18 tackles) and Brock Montoya (11) will also be important players on defense. Mata will also anchor the offensive coming off a season where he was named first-team all-state.
BATTLE MOUNTAIN HUSKIES: The turnaround continues as the Huskies recorded three wins in seven games last Fall. But new faces will have to perform if the Huskies wish to continue their upward climb. Elijah Morales (61 yards passing) is likely the new quarterback while Tanner Roberts (207 yards rushing) may be called upon to be the top option on the ground. On the outside, both TJ Nixon and Tanner Roberts each caught five passes. The defense returns more talent as the top four tacklers are back on the field. Morales (21) tops that list followed by Garett Sanders (19), Marshal Jones (19) and Roberts (15). Morales also intercepted three passes in 2020.
EAGLE VALLEY DEVILS: The Devils seem close to a breakout season. They posted just one win but came close to two others during last year’s five-game regular season. The win came against Frederick (14-8) midway through the season with the narrow losses suffered to Conifer (28-27) and Battle Mountain (30-27). Will Gieman triggered the offense last year; throwing for 557 yards and six TDs as a junior. He also added another 95 yards on the ground. Senior receivers Erick Peterson (17) and Eric Hasley (8) combined for 25 receptions.
GLENWOOD SPRINGS DEMONS: Even with a reduced schedule, the Demons (7-1) posted their most wins since finishing 8-4 in 2013. The Demons won their first seven games before a difficult 20-17 overtime loss to Rifle ended their run in the state semifinals. Blake Nieslanik powered his way for 1,009 yards and six TDs and both numbers could increase during his senior season. Joaquin Sandoval (484 yards passing / 11 TDs) also returns at QB. Key losses include Wheatley Nieslanik (23 catches) and Garrett Dollahan (630 yards rushing). Seven of the top eight tacklers were lost to graduation but Teddy Huttenhower is back after topping that list with 51.
PALISADE BULLDOGS: For the first time since 1999, the Bulldogs did not qualify for the playoffs as they were basically the first team out in the smaller eight-team playoff bracket. Six Bulldogs gained at least 100 yards rushing last season and two of them return in Franklin Barks (297 yards) and Malakhi Espinoza (175). They also combined for three TD passes. Kevin Sjogren topped the Bulldogs in tackles (64) as a junior and should again lead the defense along with Phallen Salvati (32). Donovan Maestas intercepted three passes last year and also recovered a fumble. Sjogren was involved in three turnovers as well.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS SAILORS: The Sailors were much more competitive in the spring than their 1-5 record indicates. In addition to the 38-0 win over Salida, Steamboat suffered two other losses by a combined 14 points and a third by 15 points. Another loss came by forfeit to eventual state champion Rifle. Limited stats were posted to MaxPreps last year.
SUMMIT TIGERS: Cameron Kalaf combined for over 13-hundred yards of offense during last year’s 1-4 season but with his graduation, the Tigers have a major gap on the offensive side. Senior Aidan Collins caught 45 passes for 766 yards as a junior so the offense will again try to get the ball in his hands. Another key returnee could be junior Jack Schierholz who could step in under center. Collins (50) and Schierholz (42) were also 1-2 in tackles; junior Eli KC was third with 26 while Zachary Elam and Graham Kalaf tied for fourth with 25.