Cherry Creek and Valor Christian will once again be in the 5A state championship picture, the big question is who will be joining them. The full scope of the 5A classification will be on display when games get rolling on Aug. 26. Colorado Preps looks at EVERY team in the classification with our preseason capsules.
ARAPAHOE WARRIORS: After a 4-3 season, coach Rod Sherman stepped down to move back to California. He helped bring the Arapahoe program from a 3-7 season and got it competing in a tough Centennial League. Quarterback Cole Hansen returns for his senior year after throwing for 1,167 yards and eight touchdowns. Although he lost two of his favorite targets in AJ Schekenbach and Ethan Sampson to graduation, he does get back senior tight end Colin Farquhar who had 316 receiving yards and a touchdown. New coach Joe Nuu would like to see a better overall showing defensively as the Warriors were outscored 182-151 last year despite finishing with a winning record.
CHEROKEE TRAIL COUGARS: The Cougars turned around a two-game losing streak to win the next four and advance to the 5A state playoffs. They were well-balanced on offense, averaging 212 passing yards and 170 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Jayden Lavigne is gone (graduation) but running backs Nathan Gaye and Ciaran Hyslop are back after combining for over 1,000 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Linebacker Gabe Johnson should have another solid year rushing the passer after bringing down opposing quarterbacks twice last year. He also recorded 31 total tackles. Cherokee Trail loaded up its non-league schedule with traditional powerhouses in Mullen and Columbine, hoping to be battle tested by the time Centennial League play begins in October.
CHERRY CREEK BRUINS: Clearly the most talented team a year ago, the Bruins rolled through their schedule to capture their second straight state title. This version of Cherry Creek will look vastly different than last year’s after losing big time players in Julian Hammond III, Myles Purchase and Chase Penry to name a few. Junior quarterback Marte Russell appears to be in line to take the snaps as he saw limited action last year, completing seven passes for 84 yards. Blake Purchase could replace some of the production from big brother Myles as he recorded two sacks and picked off one pass last season.
EAGLECREST RAPTORS: A hot start to the season didn’t sustain itself as the Raptors were victims of two lopsided losses to end the season. The Raptors showed off a bit of fireworks in the first two weeks, scoring a combined 105 points in wins over Cherokee Trail and rival Grandview. They have a lot of star power that was lost to graduation and it will be interesting to see how coach Shawn Marsh handles an influx of new players. Ty Robinson, JP Luketu and Seyi Oladipo won’t be easy to replace. The most productive offensive player coming back is running back Diego Cearns who caught nine passes for 53 yards. It should be a breakout year for the junior but he’ll need a lot of help from a lot of young players around him.
GRANDVIEW WOLVES: A 3-4 season wasn’t what the Wolves had in mind, and it turned out to be the last year under head coach John Schultz. He stepped down after the year and Tom Doherty now heads up the program. Doherty has a little bit to work with in terms of returning players as leading rusher Moosah Alsaffar is back after rushing for 746 yards and six touchdowns in 2020. Also back is the team’s leading receiver, Evan Johnson, who caught 14 passes for 254 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Wolves will have a lot of questions to answer at quarterback but with a couple of playmakers and a strong defensive core making a return, the Wolves should be right in the Centennial League mix as usual.
SMOKY HILL BUFFALOES: Last year wasn’t quite as successful as the previous two, but the schedule was much harder for the Buffaloes this time around. After great runs through the Metro League, they joined the Centennial and faced the likes of Cherokee Trail and Cherry Creek. This year could be challenging as the Buffaloes lost quarterback Leslie Richardson III to graduation. He turned out to be one of the best quarterbacks in the state last year, throwing for 2,534 yards and 31 touchdowns. Anthony Harris Jr. caught 15 of those touchdown passes and will be back to try and keep Smoky Hill a competitive program moving forward.
CASTLE VIEW SABERCATS: A 5-2 campaign ended without a playoff berth for the Sabercats, but a full schedule and full playoff bracket should benefit them if they repeat that success. Quarterback Johnny Colombi graduated after throwing for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns. David Brunell is set to step into the starting job and he’ll have enough returning players to take pressure off him. Marc Wessbecker rushed for 563 yards and five touchdown and Blake Haggerty hauled in 555 yards and six touchdowns. The Sabercats also get veteran defenders back as Beto Ledezma and Brody Ashworth combined for 136 tackles last year.
HIGHLANDS RANCH FALCONS: The Falcons showed a lot of fight early in the season, grinding out close wins against Lakewood and ThunderRidge and falling just short in games against Mountain Vista and Castle View. The tough part about 2021 is that they lost a lot of seniors in key positions. Jade Arroyo is perhaps the most productive member of the offense coming back from last year as he caught 23 passed for 325 yards and five touchdowns. Defensively, William Berg is the top returning tackler as he finished the year with 45. Highlands faces a tough slate of non-league opponents as they’ll, see Fruita Monument and Regis Jesuit early in the season.
MOUNTAIN VISTA GOLDEN EAGLES: Mountain Vista struggled against traditional powers in Regis Jesuit and Valor Christian, but its wins were a major demonstration of how the program has developed in recent years. Some significant talent returns this season as Dane Dougherty will still be in command of the offense after throwing for 566 yards and rushing for three touchdowns. Junior running back Kelly Rosel is looking for a breakout year after averaging 5.2 yards per carry over 25 attempts last season. The Golden Eagles only forced two turnovers on defense last year, but leading pass rusher Ryan Ford should help the team improve in that area.
ROCK CANYON JAGUARS: After struggling through much of the season, the Jaguars ended 2020 on a high note, beating Poudre 37-24 for its lone win of the year. Junior quarterback Luke Wennogle wants to build on last season as he threw for 181 yards and just couldn’t connect for any touchdowns. Senior Croix Burney should emerge as a leader on the defensive side of the ball after recording 15 tackles and recovering a fumble last fall.
THUNDERRIDGE GRIZZLIES: In 2020, ThunderRidge did not experience the success it has grown accustomed to. Quarterback Seth Frasier put together an admirable season, throwing for 783 and rushing for 281, but the team just had difficulty finishing out games. Three of the Grizzlies’ five losses came by a combined 15 points, an indicator that the team wasn’t as down as the 1-5 record would show. With Frasier back, the Grizzlies should have a bit of a rebound year and should be well-tested with non-league games against Far Northeast, Doherty, Eaglecrest and Arapahoe. It also helps that Derek Pacheco will be back in pass coverage after leading the Grizzlies with two interceptions.
VALOR CHRISTIAN EAGLES: The only team that showed it was better than Valor Christian was state champion Cherry Creek. The Eagles rolled through the regular season and most of the playoffs, outscoring opponents 348-42 before getting beat 21-0 by the Bruins in the state title game. The Eagles get senior running back Gavin Sawchuk after he exploded for 1,239 yards and 17 touchdowns last year. Senior Colton Allen is likely to take over at quarterback after he saw limited, but productive, action last season. Jordan Norwood should continue to be productive on both sides of the ball after totaling 91 rushing yards and 44 tackles last season. The Eagles head into 2021 as a major favorite to claim the 5A football crown.
ARVADA WEST WILDCATS: The 2020 season started and ended with wins, but the Wildcats struggled in between those two victories. The good news is that there is plenty of talent coming back to the team. Running backs Mason Hagel-Pitt and Cade Russell combined for over 550 yards and six touchdowns on the ground and can help the team control the ball and the clock throughout the season. Receiver Ean Lee will also help the offense remain productive, especially with Ethan Cook, a junior, taking the reins at quarterback. He saw some action last fall, throwing for 144 yards and one touchdown. The Wildcats are hoping to get off to a fast start this season with early games against Legacy and Horizon.
COLUMBINE REBELS: COVID-19 was a mess for a lot of teams throughout the year, but perhaps no one was hurt more than Columbine, The Rebels went 5-1, losing to Pomona 14-11 and ended up missing the playoffs. That’s likely to remain on their minds throughout 2021 and there are several players from last year’s team that will remember those circumstances. Seth Cromwell should be one of the top rushers in the state after rushing for 814 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior. The Rebels will likely remain a run-heavy team, especially after averaging nearly 300 yards per game on the ground.
LAKEWOOD TIGERS: A relatively young team put together a strong finish at the end of last season, getting its only two wins in the final two weeks. The Tigers will try to hang on to that momentum and improve on productive seasons from several players on the roster. Senior quarterback Max Schadler threw for 549 yards and three touchdowns last year and also led the team in rushing yards with 278. Connor Ladd will help the ground game as he averaged 6.6 yards per carry last year and scored one of the Tigers’ eight rushing touchdowns on the year.
MULLEN MUSTANGS: One of the traditional 5A powerhouses last year had a rare one-win season. But the Mustangs are primed for a rebound this year, especially after getting some young players some very valuable experience. Quarterback Blake Palladino was thrown right into the fire as a freshman in 2020 and managed to complete 61% of his passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns. He should get some help from the run attack as Kyle Krebs returns after leading the team in rushing with 395 yards. They’ll also be very tough on the defensive side of the ball as Jaxon Heil, Connor Warren and Ishmael Aceves Jr. – the team’s three leading tacklers last year – are all back as upperclassmen.
POMONA PANTHERS: As usual, Jay Madden’s team looked like a powerhouse throughout the regular season and grabbed one playoff win before falling to eventual state champion Cherry Creek. This year, Madden is gone and Nathan Johnson takes over as head coach. Johnson will get some experience back such as Dominick Nochols, who totaled 517 all-purpose yards and accounted for two turnovers on the defensive side of the ball. Quarterback Jack Pospisil is gone, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Panthers looked much differently on the offensive side of the ball in 2021.
RALSTON VALLEY MUSTANGS: Losses to Pomona and Valor Christian dashed Ralston Valley’s playoff hopes in 2020 but an experienced roster should put the team right back in the playoff hunt. Quarterback Zach Friedman is a bona fide all-state candidate after throwing for 1,007 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. He also rushed for 185 yards and five touchdowns, making him a versatile threat this fall. Safety Bubba Harr is back in the secondary after an impressive junior year in which he recorded 72 tackles and also caused a fumble and recovered two. Harr also played a big role on special teams, totaling 219 kick return yards and 40 punt return yards. The Mustangs will see a big challenge early in the year when they face defending 4A state champion Loveland on Sept. 9.
ADAMS CITY EAGLES: The Eagles went 2-4 in Season C this past spring and are hopeful they can improve as the schedules get back to normal. They’ll have a bit of offense returning as Bo Lapenna comes back after leading the team with 272 yards and three touchdowns. Miguel Hernandez is also back after leading the Eagles with 132 receiving yards and one touchdown. Hernandez was also big defensively as he totaled 21 tackles and picked off two passes with causing and recovering a fumble.
BOULDER PANTHERS: Boulder advanced to the Season C 5A title game before losing to Far Northeast. It was the kind of season that the program will help lead to a resurgence, especially considering there are some key players that got valuable experience in that time. Declan Culberson emerged as the team’s leading rusher in the spring, running for 476 yards and six touchdowns. Ty Chandler will become the top pass-catching threat after he hauled in 10 passes for 184 yards and a pair of scores. Julian Mechels sacked opposing quarterbacks 11 times last year and will be a big piece of the Panthers defense in the fall.
FORT COLLINS LAMBKINS: A promising start to the year ended with back-to-back losses to the two teams that played in the Season C 5A title game. But that shouldn’t discount what the Lambkins might be able to do this fall as they get quarterback Andrew Seest back after he threw for over 1,000 yards and 18 touchdowns. Leading rusher Matt Jones will also return after rushing for 535 yards and three scores in the spring. Junior defensive back Nicky Maguire will try to build on his experience after he led the Lambkins with a pair of interceptions and five defensed passes in his six games of action in the spring.
MOUNTAIN RANGE MUSTANGS: What ended as a 1-5 season for Mountain Range could have easily been a 5-1 campaign. The Mustangs lost four of their five games by 10 points or less, remaining competitive throughout the year despite their record. Anthony Vieth will be back in control of the offense and will try to build on a season where he threw for 748 yards and seven touchdowns. Dylan Sherman led the team in rushing yards with 216 yards and two touchdowns and should be more polished as a junior. The team averaged about 225 yards of offense per game last spring and will look to push that number up a bit this fall.
NORTHGLENN NORSEMEN: The Norse got their lone win of the season in Week 1 of Season C then struggled the rest of the way. Deandre Singleton averaged 5.7 yards per carry early in the year and he should be the focal point of the offense this fall. It’ll help that receiver Atiir Manil is also back after he averaged 20 yards per catch in a two-game stretch.
WESTMINSTER WOLVES: A well-balanced schedule resulted in a balanced win/loss record for the Wolves. Victor Lopez put together a solid junior year with 413 yards and four touchdowns and should be a vital piece of the offense in the fall. Quentin Lor showed flashes of brilliance defensively as he picked off three passes and returned two of them for touchdowns. Seeing tough teams in Vista PEAK, Boulder and Far Northeast last spring could help the Wolves develop into a stronger program moving forward.
DENVER EAST ANGELS: Despite a rough start to the year, the Angels put together a solid run to the playoffs before getting an upset win over Denver South in the first round. Quarterback Dylan Wigglesworth will be back under and Isaiah Davis will be a huge asset to him after rushing for 380 yards and five touchdowns. The offense should have some balance and the defense will get some key pieces back such as Berto Zepeda, who totaled 40 tackles and picking off three passes last season. Marquez Higgins is also back after leading the Angels with three sacks.
FAR NORTHEAST WARRIORS: Early losses to Denver South and Vista PEAK came before the Warriors truly found their stride. Once they did, they never looked back. Following the loss to the Bison, FNE tacked off five straight wins, all by at least three scores. That included a 34-0 win over Boulder in the Season C state championship game. Greg Anderson showed why he is one of the best athletes in the state as he totaled 366 rushing yards and 370 receiving yards all while totaling 11 touchdowns. He’ll be a big piece to replace but little brother Emmit might be up to the challenge as he averaged 4.1 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns.
HINKLEY THUNDERBIRDS: The Thunderbirds lost their first two games of the year and then forfeited the remainder of the season. Wondame Davis Jr. showed promise as a freshman as he rushed for 69 yards on 11 carries.
OVERLAND TRAILBLAZERS: The rare team in the Metro 2 league that played in Season A, Overland had a rough stretch in 2020. A close loss to Legacy was followed by a string of lopsided losses to traditional Centennial League teams. Khalil Ali-Fisher should see an increased load in the running game after he rushed for 64 yards on 12 total carries. Ismael Cisse should also be a bigger factor in the offense for the Trailblazers this fall.
PRAIRIE VIEW THUNDERHAWKS: Prairie View went winless in 2020 and scored just 12 points all season. With an easier schedule in 2021, the Thunderhawks will try to find some of the good moments from last year and build on them moving into the fall.
RANGEVIEW RAIDERS: Rangeview got off to a hot start to the season before slowing down. The Raiders will have some guys to keep an eye on through the course of the year and one that sticks out is running back Brian Figueroa. In a 44-0 win over Adams City last spring, he carried the ball just 10 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns. In that same game, incoming senior Donavon Cooks also scored a rushing touchdown.
FAIRVIEW KNIGHTS: After advancing to the Season A playoffs last fall, Fairview has a good amount of rebuilding/reloading to do. Quarterback Liam O’Brien is gone after a standout year in which he threw for 2,355 yards and 23 touchdowns. He was the only member of the team to attempt a pass last fall, leaving a lot of questions for the Knights at quarterback. The good news is that whoever takes over will get receiver Grant Page back. The senior caught 58 passes for 815 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Fairview didn’t quite lose as much on defense as Zach Wilson comes back as a junior after making 63 tackles and recovering two fumbles last year.
FOSSIL RIDGE SABERCATS: Three wins in the first four games of the season was exactly the start to the year that the Sabercats were hoping for. They just couldn’t end it as strongly, losing three of their last four. The incoming junior class is full of players who got valuable time at valuable positions as quarterback Tyler Kubat put together a strong year, throwing for 1,154 yards and 13 touchdowns. Mac Busteed caught half of those touchdown passes and also totaled 561 receiving yards and the duo should only be better this season. Nathan Hallmark should have a big role defensively after recording three sacks last fall.
HORIZON HAWKS: After a 1-6 year, coach Frank Ybarra sailed off into retirement and former Coronado head coach Rob Wetta takes over. He’ll have some experienced players to rely on, including senior quarterback Xavier Harris, who threw for 577 yards and four touchdowns last season. Will Tagart also comes back as a senior. Tagart accounted for 130 receiving yards and one touchdown from his classmate and their senior year should produce more promising results for a Horizon program looking to be turned around.
LEGACY LIGHTNING: The eight-team playoff bracket for 5A certainly hurt the lightning, who lost just two games in the regular season. They were competitive against Fairview and then lost by 20 to Ralston Valley which resulted in them missing the playoffs. They’ll rely on the ground game, especially with Braelon Tate returning after he ran for 643 yards and nine touchdowns last fall. The Lightning had five players attempt passes last year and the quarterback picture heading into Week 1 isn’t certain, but the benefit is that the team isn’t short on pass catchers as junior Will Thurston led them all with 189 yards and one touchdown. A full slate of games and opponents should benefit Legacy and get the Lightning back into the playoffs.
POUDRE IMPALAS: A winless season likely won’t repeat itself as the Impalas have plenty of talent returning from last fall. They get back their top two leading rushers in Adam Kraft (196 yards) and Jordan Niesent (153 yards). They’ll get some defensive help back as well as Alec Lucas returns after being one of two players last year who recorded more than one sack. The Impalas will have a solid non-league slate that includes a rivalry game with Fort Collins.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN LOBOS: After trading wins and losses throughout the year, the Lobos are in a position to greatly improve on their 2020 season because of the experience coming back. Junior quarterback Gage Brook saw valuable time last season and threw for 914 yards and seven touchdowns. He’ll get one of his favorite targets back in Mac Marconi, who totaled 196 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, they get a solid pass rusher back in Spencer Chupik. The incoming senior totaled 3.5 sacks last season and that number should only improve in his senior year. Cade Schroeder should also play a key defensive role after he finished his junior year with 36 total tackles.
CHAPARRAL WOLVERINES: A big win over Rock Canyon was the lone bright spot of the year for Chaparral. The Wolverines scored a combined seven points in their first three games and will head into 2021 looking to forget about the results of 2020. Junior quarterback should be more polished after receiving extensive playing time last year and throwing for 341 yards and five touchdowns. He should be able to lean on the running game somewhat as Nathan Ward and Kylan Wilson each return after rushing for over 300 yards apiece. Brayden Munroe will also be a viable passing target as he caught 24 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns.
DOHERTY SPARTANS: The 2020 season was a bit of a step back for the Spartans, but this fall should see them trending upward. Quarterback Kaden Becker showed the ability to throw and gain yards on the ground as he finished the year with 603 passing yards and 229 receiving yards. It also helps that running back is also back after rushing for 343 yards and three touchdowns. Jevon Young should help on the defensive side of the ball as he hauled in Doherty’s only two interceptions on the year. The Spartans will face a tough test to open the season when they host Cherry Creek at Garry Berry Stadium.
DOUGLAS COUNTY HUSKIES: A well-balanced offense helped the Huskies finish the year at 2-3 and they have a few key seniors coming back in 2021. Quarterback AJ Jackson threw for 630 yards and ran for another 327. Tyler Stonebraker was the leading rusher on the roster with 347 yards and three touchdowns. But Jackson is the guy that should be the overall playmaker. He excelled in pass coverage with two interceptions and also totaled 25 tackles.
LEGEND TITANS: The Titans put together a solid year in which they won a league championship and got to the 5A semifinals before getting beat by Valor Christian for their first loss of the year. This should be a breakout year for Bryce Vaz. He showed flashes of his potential when he ran for 310 yards and six touchdowns in the playoff win over Fairview. With the graduation of Connor Eise, Vaz should be a standout player for the Titans and one of the best overall players in the classification. They try and keep some level of focus on the defensive side of the ball as they return four players who each recorded at least two sacks each.
REGIS JESUIT RAIDERS: The lone regular season loss for the Raiders came at the hands of Legend, but it didn’t stop them from getting to the playoffs. Junior quarterback Exander Carroll is primed for a breakout year after completing 61% of his passes for 700 yards and four touchdowns. Zavier Carroll should assume most of the work in the rushing game after running for 237 yards and three touchdowns as a junior. Dallas Macias should be a consistent target for Exander throughout the season after totaling 151 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Macias was also the primary return man and ended the season with 575 all-purpose yards.
PINE CREEK EAGLES: Although Pine Creek plays in a 5A league, the team will qualify for the 4A playoffs. The Eagles played a 5A schedule last season and won their first two games before losing the final two of the regular season. Zion Hill will be one of the vital members coming back as he ran for 218 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles also get back quarterback Josiah Roy, who averaged 132.2 passing yards per game and threw for six touchdowns.