LONGMONT — Oakley Dehning made his debut at quarterback as a freshman last season when he entered the second-ranked Longmont football team's biggest regular season game against No. 3 Windsor in relief of injured starter David Speidel.
It was quite a debut.
With his only completed downfield pass of the night, Dehning connected with senior received Eli Sullivan on a 45-yard touchdown pass with six seconds to play. The Trojans were successful on a two-point conversion and won the game, 8-7.
Not many people expected a freshman to jump into a game like that and make that type of play. But a year later, Dehning is one of many Longmont Trojans who will be expected to shoulder more of the high expectations that accompany one of the state's top programs.
"We lost a ton but we've also gained some new weapons this year," junior linebacker Avery Peterson said. "There are lot of new faces but all of the guys who have been here are pushing each other and new guys are getting to that varsity level. Creating a new team, a new family, makes this a really exciting year.
Last spring, the Trojans graduated a talent-laden senior class that led the team to a 22-5 record in the last two seasons, a Class 4A state title game appearance in 2014 and a 4A state semifinal appearance in 2015. During the past two seasons, the Trojans have outscored their opponents 897-450.
While the Trojans players are stepping up their responsibility to fill the many holes left by graduation, the team is moving down in classification. After over a decade at the 4A level, the statewide shuffling of prep football has the 2016 Trojans playing in the Class 3A Northern League.
Moving to 3A, the Trojans will face a handful of new teams and some others they have been facing for years. But whether his team is classified as 4A or 3A at this point doesn't matter much to Trojans head coach Doug Johnson. At this point, Johnson says the Trojans are just ready to start playing the games.
"I'm just looking forward to football," Johnson said. "There's something about Thursday or Friday night. You come out here, the sun has gone down, it's not so blasted hot and you watch a football game. It's the best game in the world and there's not a close second. These kids are out here, they're working and they're ready to go."
For the third season in a row, the Trojans will open the campaign against Pueblo East. The Eagles have won the past two 3A state titles, and also defeated the Trojans head-to-head in the 2014 season opener, so Longmont's many new faces will have to be ready to hit the ground running.
"We're taking it one game at a time so this week we're all about Pueblo," senior tight end Kelvin Townsend said. "We're just going to go out there every week this season and show everyone what the blue and white can do. This year, we have some players. We can play."
COACH: Doug Johnson (17th year, 122-59)
LAST YEAR: 12-1, 5-0 Class 4A Longs Peak League; Lost to Windsor in 4A state semifinals.
RETURNING STARTERS: Oakley Dehning (So., QB, 5-9, 175); Jarod Fixmer (Jr., OL/DE, 6-4, 245); Austin Hassler (Jr., LB, 5-10, 180); Avery Peterson (Jr., LB, 6-0, 205); Brandon Ramirez (Sr., DL, 6-0, 270); Jason Schneider (Jr., LB, 6-0, 216); Jarred Snow (Sr., DE, 6-3, 230); Kelvin Townsend (Sr., TE, 6-3, 225); Telvin Townsend (So., OL, 6-2, 280); Brenan Watts (Sr., OL, 6-5, 250); Drew Williard (Sr., OL, 6-2, 290).
OTHERS TO WATCH: Lane Chestnut (Sr., LB, 6-0, 175); Caden Dion (Jr., S, 6-0, 175); JJ Lord (Jr., C, 6-0, 250); Koby Martin (Sr., HB, 5-11, 165); Nick Paone (Jr., CB, 6-2, 175); Will Preuss (Jr., TE, 6-3, 215); Carson Willis (Sr., DB, 6-0, 165).
MUST-SEE GAME: Sept. 30 vs. Holy Family
STRENGTHS: The Trojans return most of their defensive front, a group that limited teams to 13.4 points per game last season.
WEAKNESSES: It will be important to replace significant talent in the defensive secondary and at the offensive skill positions, two areas where the turnover from graduation was highest.
Sept. 3 — at Pueblo East, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 — GREELEY WEST, 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 — ROOSEVELT, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 — at Mead, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 — HOLY FAMILY, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 — THOMPSON VALLEY*, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 — at Centaurus*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 — NORTHRIDGE*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 — at Silver Creek*, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4 — FORT MORGAN*, 7 p.m.
Note: Home games upper case and at Everly-Montgomery Field.
* Asterisk denotes 3A Northern opponents.