LOUISVILLE -- He often is the forgotten man of the Monarch offense, but his hands are on the ball every play.
Center Logan Shapiro?
No, quarterback Cole Watson.
In the run-heavy system the Coyotes have employed since their inception, the QB often is an afterthought. But make no mistake, Watson's job is more intricate than merely barking out signals and handing off.
"There's definitely a lot that goes into it, and I also have to block too," Watson said. "It's a lot harder than it looks. Just pitching the ball seems easy, but there's a lot of footwork involved and then the matter of getting into the hole and finding someone to block."
True, the Coyotes, who will play Saturday in the Class 4A championship game against Denver South, run nearly exclusively. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Watson averages about three pass attempts per game (although with pronounced success). What makes Watson's job intricate are the numbers of formations the Coyotes unveil and the subtle variations they can run from each.
Sometimes principal tailback Ethan Marks might align deep in the backfield, other times on the wing, flanking the line. Sometimes the play calls for a quick-hitter to fullbacks Braden Pape and Dylan Glazer. Other times Watson utilizes a quick count and keeps it himself to pick up valuable first downs.
"There's a lot of ball maneuvering that starts with the snap, and a lot of execution details that are so refined," Monarch coach Phil Bravo said. "From a novice standpoint, a lot of people might look at it and say 'that's pretty simple to do.' But when you actually break down the execution portion of what he has to do, it's pretty intense."
Bravo has operated his system for 27 seasons, first in California and then at Centaurus before joining Monarch when it opened in 1998. The central theme he has observed over the years is that it takes an unselfish player to take on the quarterback role.
"Not everyone can play quarterback in the system," Monarch quarterbacks coach Gary Creek said. "It looks simple. In fact, I had some friends who came to the Pueblo West game and told me 'you guys only ran two plays.' There's a lot more to it."
Yes, Monarch does have a quarterbacks coach. Cynics might ask why, but Creek teaches more than just the throwing part of the game. He helps teach the system, as the quarterback is thought of as not just a QB, but a football player. And when the time does come to throw, Watson has taken advantage.
He has completed 21 of 35 passes for 322 yards. He has thrown seven touchdowns and just one interception.
"The thing about Cole is, if we asked him to throw the ball 25 times a game, he could do it. He's very accurate," Creek said. "That's not what we do. We throw it when we want to as opposed to when we have to."
Averaging a touchdown every five pass attempts is nothing to scoff at. Watson's most shining moment came in the quarterfinals against Vista Ridge, a 28-21 win on a chilly night in Colorado Springs. The senior connected on 6 of 7 attempts for 105 yards, including what turned out to be the deciding touchdown to Connor Fitzgerald.
"That was definitely fun," Watson said.
Most of Monarch's passing plays are produced via play-action, as defenses suck in to defend the run and are left vulnerable. Watson's lone interception of the season came in Week 5 in a win at Montrose.
Creek called it "as good as a punt" because it was on fourth down and accounted for a chunk of field position.
"He's one of the leaders on this team and he steps up every single game," Monarch linebacker Peter Mitchell said. "It's not just speaking, but his actions on the field."
Watson said he never considered attending a school such as nearby Fairview or Boulder, teams known to vigorously throw the ball. He lives across the street from Monarch and went to Monarch's K-8 school. He has been a varsity member for the past three seasons after being awarded the opportunity to dress for the playoffs as a freshman so he could take in the scene.
It's the place he's always wanted to be.
"Monarch, they win games," Watson said. "Fairview, they're sitting home watching TV or doing homework or whatever. We're still out here playing for a championship."
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