If the 2016 season taught us anything, it’s arguably the following: You can take the Centennial League out of Class 5A football, but 5A football can’t decide a title without Centennial League members.
A year ago, there was the debut of the controversial waterfall proposal, which ignored traditional leagues still in place in other sports in 5A and came to fruition basically based on recent finishes in an apparent attempt to balance the class.
But what happened?
Teams from the last version of the Centennial (2015) won five of the seven new leagues, were an aggregate 25-0 and outscored the opposition by a combined 1,122-327 or an average of 45-13. Many of the blowouts were secured early, so first-teamers didn’t play much. Hence, big-school teams loaded up nonleague schedules with the toughest foes they could find, an exercise that will be repeated.
In addition, Highlands Ranch’s Valor Christian, thrown into the Centennial from 2014-15, won its seventh title in eight years (over three classes) in 2016 to make it 22 championships for league (and former) members since 1982 — and five in a row — so not much has changed with big schools, has it?
In 2017, look for more of the same and, yes, stay with Valor. This is a recording. Sure, the Eagles lost a third McCaffrey brother, Dylan, a quarterback now at Michigan, but the fourth and final brother, Luke, a junior, already is receiving offers, is in a battle for the quarterback position and can also play wide receiver, running back or wherever else he wants.
“Luke has thrown the ball well and been offered by Ohio State as an athlete, by Michigan, by UCLA as quarterback, Washington, too, there are a lot of them,” Eagles head coach Rod Sherman said.
McCaffrey is vying with Blake Stenstrom (committed to the University of Colorado) to lead the Eagles, and as Sherman said, “both are athletic and have a little bit of different skills. If we get a way of using both quarterbacks, we can be pretty tough to defend. And we can be multiple.”
Valor returns eight of its top nine offensive linemen, Sherman, said, who aren’t as big as the Eagles usually are up front, but definitely are more athletic. Throw in the team’s top three halfbacks, the top two fullbacks, two inside linebackers and a gifted secondary, and the Eagles, also champions of the inaugural Mt. Lincoln League, have the goods to defend their 5A crown. Again.
However, replacing a considerable defensive line is a top priority and Sherman said “we could be in trouble if we can’t run the football.”
Concerning the rest of the Centennial gauntlet that lasted over five leagues a year ago, Aurora’s Grandview rolled in the Mt. Massive and it was fitting — the Wolves’ 262 points in league were a class-high. Senior wide receiver Gunner Gentry returns as do a number of defensive regulars, which isn’t unusual for a John Schultz-coached team.
Mt. Elbert winner Cherry Creek had a rash of injuries the past season, but several younger Bruins gained valuable playing time. And look for wide receiver/defensive back Dimitri Stanley, a CU commit, to get the ball. Regularly.
A 17-point home loss in southwest Denver to Cherry Creek in the quarterfinals still doesn’t sit well with Mullen. The Mt. Cameron winner wants to do something about it, led by the gifted Adrian Jackson (safety, linebacker committed to Oregon) as well as offensive lineman Florian McCann III and back A’Jon Vivens (both committed to Colorado State). Plus, the Mt. Cameron group clearly was the strongest a year ago, including Columbine, Fairview and ThunderRidge, and a rerun won’t be a surprise.
And the east side’s Eaglecrest, which probably benefitted from the breakup of the Centennial as much as any league team, roared to the first Mt. Wilson championship and won its first 11 games. Returning are the very versatile Victor Garnes (1,790 all-purpose yards and 21 TDs) and quarterback Jalen Mergerson (2,272 yards rushing and throwing).
Out of the Centennial, consecutive title-game showings have kept Jefferson County’s Pomona well within the mix and there’s little reason to consider otherwise this season. The speedy Max Borghi, who changed his commitment earlier this summer from CU to Washington State, is coming off two ligament injuries in a knee, and senior quarterback Ryan Marquez threw for more than 2,200 yards and 20 scoring passes as the Panthers actually split with Valor, beating the Eagles 23-16 in the regular season. A second consecutive Mt. Evans title appears imminent.
In the Mt. Antero, Aurora’s Regis Jesuit waltzed to a 216-36 combined scoring advantage on the way to a semifinal showing. The Raiders are returning quarterback Justin Lamb as well as running backs Kiahn Martinez and D.J. Jackson.