NIWOT — The process of toiling to drag their beleaguered football program out of Colorado's cellar and back into relevance has formed the Niwot Cougars into a tight-knit group.
When the Cougars lost senior David Louwers, one of their more ardent teammates who was killed in a small airplane crash in June, it rocked the team harder than any of the losses the Cougars have suffered on the field since their last winning season in 2008. But it also brought them closer together and gave a team with no shortage of motivation to be better — a celestial symbol to rally behind.
"He was the left tackle and I'm the left guard, plus I've known him for a long time, so I definitely took it hard," Cougars senior Fox Garza said of Louwers. "Every game it's very personal and for these past three games, we've always found a big reason to do it for him. We've found strength in that and we get excited to play because he would be excited to play with us.
"This would have been his senior year and we always have him in the back of our minds and that always affects us in a good way. We've come here to play and we've come here to change and his memory helps carry us to do what we want to do."
Motivated to honor their fallen teammate from the beginning, the Cougars was won all three of their games this season, beating Adams City, Summit and Air Academy. For a team that went 10-59 from 2009-15, starting a season 3-0 has been a revelation. The Cougars scored 91 points all of last season and have matched that total already through three games in 2016.
A more defining testament to the Cougars' newfound resolve in the eyes of second-year head coach Dylan Hollingsworth, they have won all three games despite being down at halftime. Senior tight end and outside linebacker Alex Oelsner said practice has been both more intense and more fun this season due to a confluence of factors, including an increased support from their classmates.
"We just want to win more this year and everyone, even in the school and in the community, has bought in more and that's been the difference. It's really that simple," Oelsner said. "And losing David this summer also brought us together a lot more. It has fueled our fire because we know that if we was out here, he'd be giving it his all so we're trying to honor him in that way.
"At assemblies and stuff, other teams used to get up there and crack jokes about the football team. There was no respect or hope for the football team. There's none of that this year. We feel like people believe in us and support us."
The Cougars even received 11 votes in the latest CHSAANow.com poll and are one of only five undefeated teams in their classification after moving back up to Class 4A this season. Sophomore tailback Jeremy Hollingsworth, who has rushed for 372 yards and eight touchdowns through three games, said the Cougars are excited to try to keep their win streak alive with their homecoming game against Mountain View scheduled for this Friday.
"Even at the end of last year, people started to get excited because we came off a win at Frederick and a close game at Erie," Hollingsworth said. "Everyone was just ready. We've got players coming in who are great athletes and were playing other sports, just not football. Everyone was just excited and that carried through the entire summer and into this season. We know what we can do and we're going to take this thing as far as we can."