Monarch head football coach Phil Bravo is not making excuses, but after one understands his track record and hears how he looks back on 2015 for the Coyotes, the longtime MoHi field boss deserves the benefit of the doubt.
It was forgettable by all accounts — perhaps the entire two-year cycle in Class 5A was, matter of fact — but Bravo and his team are ready and excited to get back to prominence and they're not willing to take time to do it.
"You know, our 2015 team is one where I feel I made a lot of mistakes as a coach in dealing with our chemistry and dealing with our organization — we had a lot of things happen that for me has never happened in 31 years," Bravo said after practice last week. "I learned a lot about myself and about managing kids last year, and I made a lot of mistakes.
"I put a lot of the blame on myself, but I think we're better as a squad and as a staff because of some of those things. We are excited to hit the field and we're hoping for good things."
Monarch moves back down to Class 4A this year, and despite coming off a 2-8 mark in 2015, the Coyotes received votes in the CHSAAnow.com preseason poll. That is just a small sign of the reputation the program carries.
The last cycle as a 4A team saw Monarch win a title (2012) and make the semifinals (2013). This year's senior class may not have played significant roles back then, but that doesn't hinder their desire to get back to winning football.
"I think we would have been better even in 5A this year based on everything I've seen, but we're excited," senior quarterback Stone MacIntyre said. "We're ready to move on and looking forward to getting some wins."
"Everyone is more optimistic this year, and all the guys are really into practice which is awesome. I've seen more guys, even this year's juniors, who are stepping up and wanting to lead the team," added wing back Alex Bradfield. "Not everyone was as invested in the team last year. We struggled at the beginning and couldn't recover from that. But we've got guys who want to take on a bigger role, and that's good to see."
The excitement has built all summer, beginning with a team camp in early June headed up by none other than Denver Broncos quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Prior to that, however, the foundation of experience was being poured in the midst of the struggle last fall. This year's depth chart features nine starters on both offense and defense — and most of those players won't play both sides of the ball if the team stays healthy.
"One of the circumstances from last year is that we had a lot of young kids playing, and there were times out there on the field when there were only four or five seniors out there," Bravo said. "Those kids have passed the test of physicality out there in a game situation ... they're seasoned, and it's helped in our refinement of techniques."
Behind a beefy-for-4A offensive line, the Coyotes will run the football and then run it some more. Bradfield is the leader in the clubhouse as far as getting carries after coming off a 1,000-yard season (1.025 yards and eight touchdowns, to be exact), and the Peak to Peak student is geared up for however he can help the team reach its lofty goals.
MacIntyre, meanwhile, has grown into the quarterback that can catch the opposition off guard when MoHi decides to test the air. No one is expecting even double the number of passing plays (56 total last year), but MacIntyre has some bigger targets to throw to in Easton Hall, Nico Magri and Max Ryterski.
"I'm going to be honest, I want to be in the end zone a lot," Bradfield said. "I can't wait to run behind the guys on the line, and we should be able to put up a lot of points."
In this season of rejuvenation, Monarch's schedule lends itself to a reset mode. The 4A Northern League consists of MoHi, defending 4A champion Windsor, Fort Collins, Mountain View, Greeley Central and Skyline — none of which Monarch has more than a game or two against in its history.
"It's exciting to have a conference with some new teams we've never seen," Bravo said.
Before diving in to the league slate, however, Monarch will travel this week to Orlando, Fla., to play one of the Sunshine State's largest schools — Colonial. Additionally, a clash against Broomfield is on the docket.
COACH: Phil Bravo (19th year, 167-46 record)
LAST YEAR: 2-8, missed Class 5A playoffs.
RETURNING STARTERS: Jackson Beck,(Sr., SS, 5-11, 175); Alex Bradfield (Sr., Wing, 5-11, 190); Ben Cole (Jr., OL, 6-4, 260); Zach Farrow (Sr., NG, 6-5, 270); Keegan Feenstra (So., LB, 6-1, 215); Ben Fuchs (Jr., LB, 6-0, 210); Easton Hall (Sr., DT/WR, 6-4, 210); Sam Hosewell (Jr., OL, 6-3, 285); Tyler Kretch (Sr., OL, 5-11, 200); Stone MacIntyre (Sr., QB, 5-10, 185); Nico Magri (Sr., TE/DT, 6-3, 260); Justin Powers (Jr., FB, 6-0, 210); Landon Sibley (Jr., CB, 5-11, 185); Noah Snyder (Sr., LB, 6-3, 220); Trey Strom (Jr., DE, 6-4, 220); Evan Williams (Sr., OL, 5-9, 240).
OTHERS TO WATCH: Zach Baestras (Sr., Wing, 6-2, 190); Trent Brenner (Jr., C, 6-3, 210); CJ Schmanski (Jr., DE/P, 6-3, 200); Trystin Fanatia (Sr., SS, 5-11, 175); Jack Kapushion (Jr., CB, 6-0, 185); Tyler Lanphear (So., K, 5-8, 150); Max Laychak (Jr., FB, 5-10, 210); Alex Matsumoto (Jr., DB, 5-8, 150); Max Ryterski (Jr., TE, 6-4, 200); Trey Stewart (Fr., DE, 6-6, 200); Ricky Stimic (Jr., Wing, 5-10, 180); Harrison Waldman (Sr., Wing, 5-9, 175); Alex Waschak (Fr., OL, 6-6, 220).
DIVISION-I/COLLEGE PROSPECTS: Cole, Farrow, Hall, Hosewell, MacIntyre, Magri, Strom.
MUST-SEE GAME: Sept. 30 at Broomfield.
STRENGTHS: With about nine returning starters on each side of the ball, the Coyotes should be able to get back to their rough-and-tumble play with effectiveness. Monarch has size to excel, and as long as the two platoons stay healthy the Coyotes should be four-quarter strong, too.
WEAKNESSES: Defensively, this is a group that gave up 30 points a contest last year. They'll have to cut that average in half against the likes of Windsor (99 PA in 14 games). While individual assignments are paramount, the team needs to stick together if the wheels start to come off the rails a bit.
Aug. 25 — vs. Colonial (Fla.), Disney Wide World of Sports, Noon ET
Sept. 8 — at Rampart, District 20 Stadium, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 — DENVER SOUTH, 10 a.m.
Sept. 23 — BRIGHTON, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — at Broomfield, Elizabeth Kennedy Stadium, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — at Skyline*, Everly-Montgomery Field, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 — WINDSOR*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 — at Mountain View*, Ray Patterson Stadium, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 — FORT COLLINS*, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4 — GREELEY CENTRAL*, 7 p.m.
Note: Home games upper case and at Spangenberg Field at Centaurus High School.
*Asterisk denotes 4A Northern League opponents.