In so many ways, 1989 can feel like it was just yesterday. Then again, in a lot of ways, 1989 feels every bit the actual 34 years ago that it says on paper.

When considering football state championships, that year is very significant to Thomas Jefferson High School and all of Denver Public Schools for that matter.

It was that fall season, in the friendly confines of All-City Stadium that the Spartans beat DPS rival Montbello 34-32 to claim the school’s second state football title.

To date, that is the last time a DPS won a state football championship, that is if you don’t count the Season C title that TJ during the chaotic COVID season in the spring of 2021. While recognized as an official championship by CHSAA, it was a championship won against a very limited crop of teams from that season. Loveland won the fall state championship in December of 2020 in a game famous for the fact that it attempted zero passes in a 42-6 blowout win over Palmer Ridge.

Loveland, Palmer Ridge, Montrose, Erie, Broomfield.

Those are the teams that the Spartans want to topple as they try and claim the Class 4A championship this season. They very much look the part through eight games of the 2023 season. They sit at 8-0 and are currently the No. 4 team in the Colorado Preps Select Media Football Poll.

But it’s more than a record or an acknowledgment of their place amongst the best teams in the state. The Spartans are fueled by hometown love in the form of head coach Mike Griebel.

No stranger to success, Griebel led Heritage to the 2009 4A championship with his son Mitch as the starting quarterback. He then joined Andy Lowry on the staff at Columbine where his younger son, Mikey, became an all-state player for the Rebels.

Once Mikey graduated, Griebel still had the pull and the desire to coach and there was no better opportunity than to take over the city team that he grew up watching.

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John Andrew called me and said there was going to be an opening,” Griebel said. “I thought about where I was and how that would be full circle. When I was a little kid, I used to watch TJ practice. I’d jump on my bike and ride up there to watch them practice when I was just a little tiger. It was my neighborhood school.”

Since taking over the program, he’s been fortunate enough to have Mitch and Mikey finish up college football careers (Mitch at Montana State and Mikey at North Dakota) and both have since returned and joined his staff.

The journey itself to try and bring TJ back into prominence was a rewarding challenge for Griebel and to add Mitch and Mikey to the mix has only made everything happening this fall much more special.

“There is a word and it’s called a blessing,” Griebel said. “It’s a great blessing to be able to coach with both your sons here with the varsity. I’m cherishing every minute of it.”

Looking at the results on the field, he should be cherishing it. In the eight wins this season, seven of them have been by at least 13 points – and as many as 48 – with the one exception being that pesky rival, Montbello. Rivalry games will alway be tricky, but outside of that one-point win, the Spartans have been the dominant team that the Griebel family foresaw coming into the season.

“We take a lot of pride in this,” running back Jake Tapia said. “They come out here every single day and work their butts off. We just want to win.”

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They have all the tools to do it. Quarterback Dimitri Haralambopoulos possess a deadly combination of skill and smarts. When he gets into space, he can make defenders miss. When he passes the ball, he’s making smart decisions and limiting the chances of making a mistake.

At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Tapia is a problem as a running. When he gets moving downhill, tackling him sounds about as trying to slow down a locomotive with a rope.

“The way our offense is set up, we have seven weapons that can light it up,” tight end Jake Scobey said. “When you key one of us, the rest will just go off.”

That’s all evident when looking the season stat sheet. Haralambopoulos has already rushed for over 1,000 yards with Tapia likely to join him before the regular season is over. Haralambopoulos has also thrown for over 900 yards and has a better than 2-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio.

“I take a lot of pride in this,” Haralambopoulos said. “Last year around this time we were struggling on offense and I had to move from running back to quarterback. Now I had the whole offseason to make that transition and really solidify what I’m doing for this offense.”

But like each standout player on this roster, he works both sides of the ball. He has 38 tackles to his name, has defended four passes and hauled in an interception.

But he’s not a unicorn on the roster. Brayden Larimer leads the team in tackles with 76 but has also rushed for over 400 yards. Luke Cuellar is a reliable receiver when Haralambopoulos needs to look his way and he also leads the team in interceptions.

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This is the level of dedication that has contributed to massive growth for the program. In 2022, the Spartans were on the outside looking in at the playoff bracket. With just two games remaining in the regular season, they’re a virtual lock to advance to the postseason.

“We’ve come from last year being 25th, the last team out of the playoffs, to now we’re in the top five,” Larimer said. “We have a lot of pride in that.”

And it has built confidence up and down the roster which can be seen anytime the Spartans are on the field.

“We’re playing with swag now,” Cuellar said. “Everyone’s pushing it. Every Monday we come in and we’re working. And we have that swag this year.”

The top end of the 4A field is certainly loaded, but with the way the Spartans are playing and carrying themselves on the gridiron, they could be in line to party like it’s 1989.

(Dan Mohrmann/