Fairview football coach Tom McCartney knew entering this season that his defense would take some lumps. Eleven starters graduated off of last year's unit after all.

The coach figured his offensive firepower would be able to help gloss over some of the growing pains on defense. Then his starting quarterback broke an ankle before the season began.

Suddenly McCartney wondered whether an offense that had planned to air out the football every chance it got would have to rein in its aspirations. Three sophomores stood next in line behind projected starter Anders Hill, who'd been the varsity backup last fall, enjoyed a big offseason and had even been voted in the preseason a team captain -- a distinction McCartney can remember few, if any, of his past juniors ever earning.

Hill, who has been practicing for three weeks, was cleared for game action by doctors Wednesday for Friday's home contest against Legacy. And McCartney has said that Hill would be the starter when he returns.

But it's one of those sophomores who's turned out to be a major reason the Knights are still in position to reach many of their preseason goals as Hill gets set to take snaps.

Johnny Feauto's 2,268 passing yards through six games lead all classifications in Colorado by more than 500 yards. And while there have been some bumps along the way with 15 interceptions to counter his 20 touchdown passes, the 6-foot, 143-pounder's presence made it possible for the Knights to employ exactly the attack they'd hoped for this season.

"It's huge because sometimes you've got to take on the identity of what your quarterback can do," said McCartney, who was coy about whether he would rotate quarterbacks upon Hill's return. "We weren't sure in the beginning.

"Johnny has allowed us to be able to (stick with the original plan), and obviously he's thrived and done really well."

Some of the early questions surrounding Feauto stemmed from the fact that he was not only a sophomore, but that he'd also spent much of his summer playing baseball and hadn't gotten as much of a chance to show what he was capable of on the football field.

But all it took was a solid performance by Feauto -- whose father Trent and uncle Grant were athletic standouts at Boulder High in the mid-1980s at the same time McCartney attended BHS -- in the Knights' preseason scrimmage against Fossil Ridge to put the coaches' minds at ease.

Of course, the Knights' speedy receiving corps has certainly helped Feauto along.

Junior Sam Martin -- whose father Scott lettered one season for the Colorado Buffaloes in the early 1980s -- and senior Cole Scheifele are 1-2 in receptions and receiving yards in 5A. And junior Cameron Frazier is in the top 15.

The crew makes the Knights a dangerous bunch any time they step on the field. And despite a rough patch during which Lakewood and North Metro League power Ralston Valley outscored the Knights by a combined 108-43, Fairview still sits at 4-2 overall and 1-1 in conference play. Win two of their last three games, and a first-round home game in the playoffs is a distinct possibility. From there, who knows?

Such an outlook is one that was very much in doubt when the season began with the news of Hill's injury. And it's one that might not have been possible if not for an impressive sophomore save.

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