With a sophomore quarterback at the helm last season, outside expectations weren’t very high for the Broomfield football team.
The Eagles began 2016 ranked No. 10 in Class 4A, and that might have been largely based on their year-to-year reputation of being competitive. Essentially, many viewed Broomfield as a possible playoff squad but not much more.
That forecast, however, didn’t take into account just how proficient sophomore signal caller Steven Croell would turn out to be. The son of former Broomfield girls basketball coaching legend Mike Croell threw for 22 touchdowns and only five interceptions. The effort helped lead the Eagles to an 11-3 record and unexpected appearance in the state championship game.
“His arm has gotten a lot stronger, so it was good to see him get the ball in some tight windows in our seven-on-seven competitions,” Broomfield coach Blair Hubbard said. “His overall understanding of our offensive scheme and what we want to do has really improved, and we’ve expanded some things in the passing game to take advantage of his ability to throw the ball.”
This season, Broomfield begins the season ranked No. 2 in the preseason CHSAANow.com poll. That has a lot to do with the left-handed Croell’s return, but the Eagles do have many holes to fill after the graduation of their top running back and receiver and the need to replace their top four tacklers.
Senior Tanner Garner (476 rushing yards, 512 receiving yards) is the top returning playmaker, and he’ll maintain his role as a slot back. Matt Foster, who played sparingly as a sophomore last season, will be the other. Competition is still open for the vacant tailback spot to replace the graduated Jalon Torres, who rushed for 1,889 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.
Likewise, the Eagles will have to replace 1,000-yard receiver Ryan Mazzola. Senior Hunter Nassar appears to have the primary wide receiver job locked down, and several others are clamoring to be part of Croell’s arsenal.
On the defensive side, top-returning tackler Adam Forbush moved to Wyoming. The second- and third-leading tacklers graduated. Fourth-leading tackler Kevin Burkel moved to Hawaii. That leaves senior inside linebacker Noah Jenson (43 tackles last season) as the most accomplished tackler.
So yes, the Eagles might have position battles to figure out than last season prior to their customary opener against crosstown-rival Legacy on Sept. 1. One thing that won’t be missing after last year’s runner-up finish to Pine Creek is confidence.
“Our team really worked hard through the offseason and the spring,” Hubbard said. “The guys are really motivated to try and make another run at it.”
Broomfield will play in a solid Longs Peak League that also includes No. 6 Loveland, the 2015 state runner-up, and perennial contender Greeley West.
The overall state favorite once again is Pine Creek, which has appeared in four of the past six state championship games and won it all in 2013, 2014 and last season with a 36-14 triumph over Broomfield. The Eagles and coach Todd Miller will have the luxury of returning DM3 — running back David Moore III — who rushed for 1,585 yards and 18 TDs as a freshman.
Pine Creek also returns standout receiver Wyatt Wieland (eight touchdown receptions last season) and fierce pass rusher Isaak Rolfe, who registered 10.5 sacks. The clear favorite in the Southern League, the Eagles’ top challenger could be No. 10 Pueblo West, a playoff squad last season.
Other top-flight contenders include:
Ponderosa: The Mustangs begin the season ranked No. 3 and are the only team other than Pine Creek and Broomfield to garner first-place votes (they received two). Last season’s impressive run to the quarterfinals included five shutouts, and top tackler Quinton Ostdahl returns.
Ostdahl’s twin, Sterling, also is back and might get more attention, simply because he’s the quarterback. A monster 2016 season doesn’t hurt either. Sterling Ostdahl’s threw for 2,484 yards, 24 TDs and 10 interceptions. Kade Ongna is his top returning target.
The Mustangs are a heavy favorite in a Foothills League that also includes 2016 playoff squads Pueblo South and Grand Junction Central.
Chatfield: The Chargers were beastly during their first season in 4A last year, racking up an 11-2 record and a trip to the semifinals. Utilizing a balanced offense, they topped the 50-plateau seven times en route to 535 points overall.
The Chargers begin the season ranked No. 4 and return quarterback Colton Arne, second-leading rusher Ben Frenette (715 yards, seven touchdowns) and second-leading receiver Keland Rumsey. Four of the Chargers’ top five tacklers were juniors last season.
Chatfield will assume the role of favorite in the Plains League, which also includes playoff entrant Heritage and always-solid Dakota Ridge.
Windsor: The Wizards shocked the 4A landscape by winning it all in 2015, then had a reputable encore last season with another run to the semifinals under first-year coach Skylar Brower. With quarterback Connor Apodaca and second-leading rusher Brandon Ramirez back in the fold, Windsor begins the season ranked No. 5.
The Wizards are known for their stingy defense, and it will help having senior middle linebacker Joel Kopcow back in the mix. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder was responsible for 93 tackles last season. Windsor could face stiff competition in the Northern League from No. 8 Monarch, which won the league last season but fell in the opening round of the postseason.
Fruita Monument: The Wildcats advanced to the quarterfinals last season, their first in 4A, and gave Chatfield a battle before falling 36-28. Braeden Graham, who rushed for 1,633 yards and 19 touchdowns, is back in action along with junior quarterback Zach Rush.
That’s the good news, but the Wildcats will have some work to do on defense after the graduation of their top nine tacklers. Despite that, they should be right there with Denver South and Wheat Ridge in the race for the Mountain League championship.
Denver South: Many thought the Rebels were en route to the championship last season after an 11-0 start. They were tripped up by Windsor in the quarterfinals, which put a damper on an otherwise fantastic season.
This fall will be a study in how quickly the Rebels can retool, as their top playmakers have graduated. Brandon Martin played an auxiliary role last season and will be back in the ball-carrying mix, and second leading tackler Dashawn Griffin, a strong safety, also returns for the Rebels, who begin the season ranked No. 9.
Others of note: To be clear, Loveland, Monarch and Pueblo West belong on the contenders list. They didn’t receive separate breakdowns since each was mentioned along the way in the story.
Likewise, Heritage, Dakota Ridge, Pueblo South and Greeley West are among the teams that begin the season in the “receiving votes” section but could make a pronounced impact before things are said and done. To a lesser degree, that also applies to Rampart, Vista Ridge, Wheat Ridge, Montrose, Mountain View and Grand Junction Central.