NIWOT — It has been a long time — eight years in fact — since the Niwot football team posted a winning season.
In 2008, the Cougars won seven games. In the seven seasons since, they have gone 10-59, averaging less than two wins per year and spanning three different coaching staffs. On Oct. 30 of last year, Niwot defeated the winless Frederick Warriors 34-7 to snap a losing streak that had lasted 25 months.
But the bottom line was that the Cougar did snap the streak. Now they're looking for more wins in 2016 than they've had in any of their previous seven seasons.
"In the four years I've been here, the buy-in is completely different than anything I've seen," Cougars senior tight end Alex Oelsner said. "You can feel the energy at practice, in the weight room, in the community, everywhere. Last year we had a new coach so learning everything was a little chaotic but this year we all know the plays and we're determined to keep getting better."
The good news for the Cougars is that their 2016 schedule lines up rather favorably for them. They open the season at home against Adams City and then play back-to-back road games against Summit and Air Academy. Those three teams won a combined seven games in 2015.
"We feel good," senior left guard Fox Garza said. "We feel like we have a good connection between our starting O-line and even our backups. We have good communication which should help us against teams that like to blitz and show different looks. Together, we've talked about how this season is our chance to really buckle down and help Niwot rise back up."
Second-year head coach Dylan Hollingsworth said how well Garza and the offensive line gel and perform will play a major role in the Cougars' level of success this season.
Cougars senior middle linebacker Chris Jensen, who transferred to Niwot as a junior, said the team will also have to overcome being undersized and, in some positions, inexperienced. But most of all, while they are undoubtedly hoping for a less-barren win column in 2016, the Cougars aren't going to heap pressure onto themselves by assigning a number of wins to measure whether the campaign was a success or a bust.
"We don't have as much size as other teams but we make up for it with speed," Jensen said. "I don't think you can really put a number of wins on it that you have to get but we're really focused on working hard and getting better every day."
In Oelsner, the Cougars have one of the best tight ends in the area. At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, he has already received offers from Colorado School of Mines, Northern Colorado, Penn and North Dakota.
The Niwot seniors all proclaimed the Cougars have an unprecedented commitment to turning things around. Hollingsworth agreed.
"I think at the end of last year, we were playing really well," Hollingsworth added. "We probably could have had a couple more wins. Just getting those little things fixed could go a long way. Our expectation is that we're going to come out and be a competitive team. I won't speak for the players and say we're going to win five, six, seven games, whatever, but I haven't seen the kind of buy-in that we've had in the weight room this year in a long time."
COACH: Dylan Hollingsworth (2nd year, 1-9 record).
LAST YEAR: 1-9 overall, 1-6 Class 3A Northern League.
RETURNING STARTERS: Jake Bock (Sr., OL/NG, 5-7, 200); Fox Garza (Sr., LG/NG, 5-11, 205); Alec Helgeland (Sr., WR/FS, 6-3, 185); John Hibar (Sr., LT/DL, 6-3, 220); Cody Holliday (Sr., WR/FS, 6-1, 160); Jeremy Hollingsworth (So., RB/CB, 5-9, 185); Chris Jensen (Sr., FB/ILB, 5-9, 200); Zach Kinnison (Sr., FB/TE/OLB, 5-10, 190); Dallas Lackovic (Sr., WR/CB, 6-0, 155); Nick Lackovic (Sr., CB, 6-0, 150; James Lerner (Jr., P/K, 5-7, 140); Nate Nielsen (Jr., WR/SS, 6-1, 185); Alex Oelsner (Sr., TE/OLB, 6-4, 235); Eddy Olivas (Sr., RG/DL, 5-10, 245); Luis Olivas (Sr., OL/DE, 5-10, 220); Jayden Pentzel (Sr., RT/NG, 6-0, 320); Anton Sandoval (Jr., RB/SS, 5-10, 170); Trent Tadewald (Jr., C/ILB, 6-0, 185): Shane Timmerman (Jr., FB/DE, 6-1, 185).
OTHERS TO WATCH: Adam Barber (Sr., WR/SS, 6-4, 180); Matt Baun (Jr., QB, 6-3, 180); Braden Golon (Jr., OL/OLB, 6-2, 200); Trae Gomez (Sr., QB/ILB, 6-0, 185); Brendan Hale (Jr., TB/ILB, 5-7, 155).
DIVISION-I PROSPECTS: Oelsner.
STRENGTHS: The Cougars have a large number of athletic returning seniors who got a lot of playing experience last season and have a better familiarity with the coaches this season.
WEAKNESSES: Trying to build confidence after a few rough seasons will be a key for the Cougars to succeed. Depth along the offensive line is also a concern.
Sept. 1 — ADAMS CITY, Everly-Montgomery Field, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 — at Summit High School, 7pm.
Sept. 16 — at Air Academy, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — MOUNTAIN VIEW, Everly-Montgomery Field, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — SKYLINE, Everly-Montgomery Field, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — at Brighton*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 — LOVELAND*, Everly-Montgomery Field, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 — at Broomfield*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 — at Greeley West*, Northridge High School, 1 p.m.
Nov. 1 — GRAND JUNCTION*, Everly-Montgomery, 1 p.m.
* Asterisk denotes 4A Northern League opponents.