Week 1 in Class 5A football will provide opportunities for big-school teams to get involved in 2017.
But one is a lonely number for Eaglecrest, which had 5A’s best record in 2016 as it also represented the Raptors’ one miscue. They ended 11-1 a year ago, were the only team to end the regular season undefeated and were left one-dering after losing to Regis Jesuit (by 34-24) in the quarterfinals.
And don’t blame — or credit — the waterfall, the new system that broke up traditional leagues in favor of an attempt to balance big schools. As it was, the Raptors waltzed through the new Mt. Wilson League, but coach Mike Schmitt insists there was more.
“We still played (and defeated) Grandview and Cherokee Trail (ThunderRidge),” he said of facing the likes of district and previous Centennial rivals in nonlague. “And you know what — it wasn’t the waterfall as much as it was putting in the work these last years. We’ve been battling against good teams and the program is now becoming one with not just one or two players.”
Eaglecrest certainly has two players, significant ones in quarterback Jalen Mergerson and multi-talented back Victor Garnes. They should be at the front of everything the Raptors do offensively, plus some on defense. But there are more to watch. Schmitt casually rattled off the names of Kenny Wanting, Barrett Miller, Reece Atteberry, Jon Heupel, Corey Corbin, Cody Bardin, Matt Youngblood and Kyante Christian among others who give the Raptors a deep dose of quality.
“I do think the accumulation of these kids is making our program better and better,” Schmitt said. “We always feel we’re competitive.”
The Raptors were undefeated state champions (14-0) in 1993, when they won 5A in a 6A system. However, other than finishing 6-4 in 1992, it is the last time the program has had back-to-back winning records. Schmitt and his gang are adamant about changing it. This year.
“We have 17 starters returning,” he said. “I look at them and see they have that fire in their bellies.”
As for openers, below are several offerings for your viewing pleasure. Take a walk through the best 5A has to offer in Week 1, all of it nonleague:
Best bets …
Mullen at Valor Christian, Friday, 7 p.m.
Both played in the odd Zero Week. Mullen was pasted by Pomona, losing 52-22. Valor outlasted Faith Lutheran, Nev., 30-21. … Mullen QB Dom DePizzol was picked off three times last week. … Mustangs had two leads, 7-0 and 14-7, but proceeded to surrender 31 consecutive points. … Mullen is 2-0 against Valor. No other in-state team can state that. … Last week, the Eagles rushed for 232 yards, topped by Joshia Davis’ 92, plus two touchdowns. He also topped the team with 121 all-purpose yards. … QB and University of Colorado commit Blake Stenstrom suffered a concussion last game, but is doing well, coach Rod Sherman said.
Regis Jesuit vs. Cherry Creek, Friday, 7 p.m., Stutler Bowl
It will be the fifth time since 2014 that the two have played. The visiting Bruins beat the Raiders in the opener and playoffs three years ago, thereby beginning and ending the Raiders’ season; Regis won the 2015 opener; and Cherry Creek returned the favor the past year. … Look for Cherry Creek’s Dimitri Stanley, a wide receiver-defensive back and CU pledge, to get the ball, as in often. … A year ago, Regis, which made the semifinals, was fourth in scoring with 457 points.  … Kiahn Martinez (797 yards rushing) and D.J. Jackson (646) return to the Raiders backfield.
Grandview vs. Chaparral, Thursday, 7 p.m., EchoPark Stadium
When we last left Grandview, it got run over by Valor Christian, which won by 66-35 in the quarterfinals a year ago. Usually, the Wolves are one of big schools’ best defensive outfits. … The Wolves were 10-2 in 2016 and return senior Gunner Gentry, who topped the team with 46 receptions for 823 yards and 10 TDs. … The Wolverines, coming off a 7-4 showing, went out in the first round of the playoffs to Eaglecrest. … Chaparral will be reloading at two key skill positons, quarterback and running back, but welcome back receiver Peyton Ross, who had 19 receptions for 399 yards and six TDs last year.
Fairview vs. Horizon, Thursday, 7 p.m., Five Star Stadium
It’s another one of these — if the matchup was in any other sport, it would be in the Front Range League. This one is nonleague. … Fairview’s recent regular-season record can stand up to any other teams’. Since 2013, when the Knights were state runners-up, they are an exceptional 33-4 before playoffs. … A year ago, RB Mariano Kemp, now a senior, rushed for 799 yards and 11 TDs. … In 2016, Horizon was 6-5. … QB Amado Capetillo and RB Noah Steinbach return for the Hawks, as does Isaac Salazar. Each was a serious contributor a year ago. … Fairview won the past season’s opener by 38-24.
Also keep an eye on …
Columbine vs. Rocky Mountain, Thursday, 7 p.m., French Field
The visiting Rebels knocked off Jefferson County foe Ralston Valley in Zero Week and have won 10 of their past 13 games; it’s the opener for the Lobos.
Cherokee Trail vs. Highlands Ranch, Friday, 7 p.m., Shea Stadium
An early season matchup for programs itching — and due — to chase down the classification’s elite. They have hopes.
Fort Collins vs. Fossil Ridge, Friday, 7 p.m., French Field
The kind of crosstown fun each city should enjoy and the Fort Collins area usually provides significant interest and attendance.
Douglas County vs. Castle View, Friday, 7 p.m., Douglas County Stadium
A rivalry game in Castle Rock, the east side of I-25 vs. the west. The locals take it quite seriously down there.
Prairie View at Brighton, Friday, 7 p.m., Bulldog Stadium
Nonleague, sure, and the host Bulldogs are 4A, but it’s a matchup of growing schools in yet another growing area of Colorado.
Smoky Hill vs. Eaglecrest, Friday, 7 p.m., Legacy Stadium
Another rivalry game, this one in the Cherry Creek District. Visiting Buffaloes still looking for their first winning record since 1990.