Nobody really needs to tell you; because you know that sugar-rush-kinda-special feeling you get at this time on the calendar. You can sense toes on the turf, hands in the dirt, footballs flying in the air. The season is about to happen. Drop the hype music!
Referencing the CHSAA preseason polling results as a target guide, let us consider what we know and might expect as the 2018 Class 4A football campaign begins.
So there is Pine Creek in the top spot. Why not? That program is coming off another championship game appearance in ’17 — their fifth Mile High trip in seven seasons. (They have won three titles this decade.) Now consider what head coach Todd Miller and the Eagles are going to work with in 2018: three returning starters on the offensive line busting gaps for all-state, junior RB David Moore III, a handful of receivers with game reps on their resumes, and nine returning starters on defense — including senior FS Daniel Bone, junior CB Max Lofy and all three linebackers. Okay, there you go. All relevant considerations justify the preseason #1 ranking.
Football reasons earn respect for 2nd-ranked Loveland. And I will add entertainment value as another qualifier. Consider the Indians’ previous three seasons concluded with a glorious run to the championship game as a 13-seed, followed by RPI snub drama in ‘16, and then agony induced by a missed PAT in OT this past November. Do not cancel on this program. Head coach Wayne McGinn returns his all-state ball-carrier, Zach Weinmaster, three other 400-yard rushers from 2017, and senior QB Riley Kinney. Senior DB Isaiah Meyers will again hunt for picks and the linebacker corps returns — including their leading tackler, senior Trey Cardenas.
Championship game appearance, semifinals, and now Broomfield is ranked #3 entering its third season under head coach Blair Hubbard. The football is good on Eagle Way. All-state senior QB Steven Croell will give and toss to senior RB Matt Foster some more this season. Senior Ryan Ruger will be part of an experienced offensive line. Senior DB Troy Finnegan and senior LB Preston May will be the leadership pieces on a defense employing many new parts in 2018.
4th-ranked Windsor will compete against Broomfield in the new Northern with notable veterans in every unit for head coach Chris Jones’ defense. Senior LB Beau Little — the Wizards’ leading tackler — returns with senior free safety Darren Peeples up top and junior DL Avery Westphal at the line of scrimmage. Offensively, the Wizards’ run game has senior Noah Montague and junior Isaiah Salazar as a pair of proven producers.
Stat data shows #5 Chatfield graduated their top six yardage producers and ten defensive starters from the squad that seized a second consecutive Jeffco conference title last season. However, head coach Bret McGatlin urges his program still features a lot of talent — just not proven yet in public. The Chargers’ complex offense has a veteran leader distributing the ball in senior QB Zack Yanda. Senior RB Hunter Barnes will run, senior TE Graham Metzler will receive, while returning senior Anthony Johnston and Christopher Lucas will push forward in 2018.
Considering the elements of the situation, the change in leadership on the Western Slope has been a natural personnel adjustment that fits the game plan for 6th-ranked Fruita Monument. New head coach Cameron Ross — alum, assistant, and now the chief — has much to maintain the momentum from their 10-win success in ’17. The Wildcats return three of their top yardage producers — including senior RB Treyton Queen and senior QB Zach Rush. Three and their top tacklers return on a defense featuring all-state DE Kaden Jolley, junior LB Max Belshe, and senior DL Chance Partida.
Head coach Jeremi Calip confirms the inventory check for #7 Vista Ridge is promising: top receiver returning with an athletic quarterback transferring in plus a leading tackler and a pair of next-level recruits return for a very athletic defense. Senior receiver Micah Hilts will again be a playmaker to watch as the Wolves try to extend upon their quarterfinals appearance in ’17. And the D is stacked with senior studs like DE/LB DeOnte Washington, MLB Carter Bussone, and DL Chase Mestas.
8th-ranked Ponderosa graduated many of their marquee names from their 2017 playoff squad. The optimistic energy of head coach Jaron Cohen has been inspired by a great collection of Mustangs receivers and impressive team speed on a defense that has notable senior leaders returning: LB Nick Hoff, LB Jack Rickard, and DE Ethan Waite.
Pueblo West graduated over 3000 yards of rushing from their ‘17 semifinals squad and had to replace a tenured coach with a 4A championship on his resume. Yet the Cyclones still get ranked in the 9th spot. That’s called respect for the program and the new head coach. Clint Buderus arrived with consecutive 2A championship game appearances — including one title — fresh on his own resume. It’s still football, higher classification, a little closer to hills. By the way, that run game does return junior RB Matt Rudd who could double his output with more carries and become the next four-digit runner.
It is highly doubtful there will be many issues with offensive output from 10th-ranked Skyline. Eight starters return for that explosive machine that will again feature senior, all-state RB Jeremy Hollingsworth and super-quick senior WR Kyle West. The Falcons and head coach Michael Silva get a large boost to help improve defensive play with the arrival of college-caliber LB Ethan Drewes.
Rampart must be respected as a contender for the new Southern Two conference. Defensive line play will be a strength for the Rams — including all-state senior Marshal Ehlrin and senior Bryce Delahoy.
Longmont has been re-classified back to 4A ball and they will be arriving with significant senior scoring options — QB Oakley Dehning, leading receiver Jaydon Elkins and a 2000-plus yard backfield tandem of Drake Engelking and Cruz Garcia.
Their defense has to replace all starters and the offense graduated almost every impact skills player from 2017, yet Monarch has experienced linemen returning. And if your program identity is a run-centric double-wing successfully executed for two decades, then veteran trench soldiers like monster junior Alex Waschak are good to have.
Here’s what I will share regarding the possibilities for Greeley West: their head coach, Jason Renouf,  was sourced to confirm an eye-grabbing number of returnees. “Yup!” Eighteen returning starters and the top four rushers from last season — including college-prospect OL Garrett Beckham clearing pathways for senior runners, Derek West and Dorrean Starks.
The offense at Dakota Ridge should challenge Jeffco rivals and perhaps playoff teams. The Eagles have lots of skill and earned confidence. Four-digit rusher Jared Garcia returns for a senior season to follow a veteran line led by next-level prospect, junior Matthew Heitman. And great work is expected from a talented receiver group — including senior Riley Fisher.
The staff at Denver South is feeling strong about entering the 2018 battle campaign with four starters returning for an intelligent offensive group led by senior Isaiah Acosta. Senior WR Martin Jiple is naturally gifted and diligently prepared to help the purple Rebels contend for a Metro conference championship and beyond.