The Boulder football team seemed to get back on the right track last year in the eyes of the Colorado prep gridiron scene. End zone to end zone, the three years under Bob Simmons gave the Panthers something to build on.
Now, it's up to Mikey Thompson and the rest of his teammates to bring the mortar, bricks and trowels in 2016 and continue to rebuild what was once a mighty program.
Getting back to the Class 5A playoffs might be a daunting task — just 16 teams will get the opportunity to play postseason ball — but Thompson made it clear that was still the goal of this new-look squad under new head coach Vincent Smith.
"A fair amount of what we're trying to do is make Boulder football be known around here, especially competing against the other school up the street," Thompson said after a practice last week, referring to Fairview's recent success in the city series. "The coaches have been great at getting us all to be the best we can possibly be.
"We're working with every position more intense than last year, conditioning and everything."
The Panthers have some familiar faces back on the field, Thompson's included among them after he caught 19 passes for 321 yards with five touchdowns as a junior. But with a number of possible position switches, BHS may look nothing like last year's team once they hit the field next Saturday against 4A No. 3-ranked Denver South.
Thompson is bidding for time at quarterback after Aiden Chandler opted to focus on baseball and Max Bajza injured his shoulder to the point that being under center was not an option. Bajza will be seen as a running back and a linebacker this year.
Juniors Wilson Maier and Patrick Fletcher had a smattering of carries last year to spell Todd Jones, but there's no hiding the fact the varsity experience in the skill positions offensively is lacking.
What has the Panthers excited is that Smith hopes to engage everyone in the offense, mindful that the offensive line has a tremendous amount of experience. Spencer Clark, Charlie Gustafson and Blake Patchet anchor that line crew.
"We're still learning a new system, but we're getting dialed in and at the end of the day it's just everybody playing hard," said Cole Peterson, who will most certainly play on both sides of the ball this year. "I think we can do some good things. We have a bunch of different things we'll be running, and it's going to be fun seeing more guys get a chance to do something rather than just one player all the time."
"We're working on a learning curve, for sure, but we're giving all of them a chance to contribute and be successful," Smith said. "Everybody knows that, but everyone also knows they are going to have to step up their game a notch or two. Everyone out there has to bring something more to the table ... it's going to be a win-by-committee, for sure."
Defensively, Boulder will rely on the experience of Ryan Travis, Jack Braymiller, Colton Brandt and Liam Faughnan — all playmakers who may have been under the radar because of last year's large senior class.
Boulder may have one of the tougher schedules in all of Colorado. Mount Massive league opponents include Grandview, Overland, Arapahoe, Smoky Hill and Doherty, while the Panthers will face Lakewood, Arvada West, Legend and of course Fairview in non-league play.
Over the past two seasons, Boulder's league opponents have gone a combined 63-44.
"I'm only worried about how much better we can get, how much stronger we can get in the weight room and how much more advanced we can get with our schemes," Smith said. "It's tough to learn a new system and even tougher when you begin learning that new system in June. But the kids are doing great and they are buying in."
COACH: Vincent Smith (First year)
LAST YEAR: 5-5, lost 38-14 to Legacy in first round of 5A playoffs.
RETURNING STARTERS: Max Bajza (Sr., RB/LB, 5-8, 185); Jack Braymiller (Jr., TE/LB, 6-1, 190); Spencer Clark (Jr., OL/DL, 6-2, 245); Charlie Gustafson (Sr., OL/DL, 6-2, 245); Blake Patchet (Sr., OL/DL, 5-11, 260); Cole Peterson (Jr., WR/LB, 6-1, 170); Mikey Thompson (Sr., QB/WR, 5-9, 160); Ryan Travis (Jr., DB/QB, 6-1, 170).
OTHERS TO WATCH: Ira Ah (Sr., FB/LB, 5-10, 190); Calvin Burkhardt (Sr., FB/LB, 5-10, 215); Joe Colucci (Jr., OL/DL, 6-2, 250); Liam Faughnan (Sr., DB, 5-10, 160); Patrick Fletcher (Jr., RB/CB, 5-8, 180); Jackson Hussey (Jr., OL/DL, 6-3, 280); Sam Lowery (Jr., P/K, 6-0, 160); Max McLoughlin (Sr., RB/DB, 5-7, 150); Wilson Maier (Jr., RB/DB, 5-10, 160); Jeremy Miller (Jr., LB, 6-1, 215).
DIVISION-I/COLLEGE PROSPECTS: Clark, Hussey, Braymiller, Thompson, Gustafson, Patchet.
MUST-SEE GAME: Oct. 14 vs. Overland.
STRENGTHS: The Panthers seem to be happy with the positive reinforcement that Smith brings about even while still holding the team accountable, and the former offensive lineman is liking the work that the group has put in.
WEAKNESSES: Smaller in size and numbers than most of their opponents, Boulder has a gauntlet of a schedule, including 4A No. 3 Denver South, 5A No. 5 Grandview and No. 10 Fairview, and Doherty and Arapahoe — which received votes in the CHSAAnow poll.
Sept. 3 — DENVER SOUTH, 1 p.m.
Sept. 9 — FAIRVIEW, 6 p.m.
Sept. 16 — at Arvada West, NAAC, 4 p.m.
Sept. 23 — at Lakewood, Jeffco Stadium, 4 p.m.
Oct. 1 — at Legend, 1 p.m.
Oct. 7 — GRANDVIEW*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 — OVERLAND*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 — at Arapahoe*, Littleton Public Stadium, 4 p.m.
Oct. 28 — SMOKY HILL*, 7 p.m.
Nov. 3 — at Doherty*, 6:30 p.m.
Note: Home games upper case and at Christian Recht Field.
*Asterisk denotes 5A Mt. Massive opponents.