BROOMFIELD — Holy Family quarterback Chris Helbig was putting up record-setting passing numbers before he was injured in Week 9 last season.
With the senior quarterback out, freshman Stone Samaras was thrown into the fray and tasked with leading the state's top passing offense for the rest of the 2015 campaign. Somewhat surprisingly, the Tigers proceeded with fairly similar production under Samaras.
Now in his first full season as the starting quarterback, Samaras is currently second in Colorado with 1,601 passing yards and 19 passing touchdowns. The sophomore signal-caller is just one of a large group of emerging first-year quarterbacks that are playing extraordinarily well for their teams in the BoCoPreps.com coverage area.
"Last year when I got thrown in, I was able to lean on a lot of the older guys," Samaras said. "But I was in a passing offense in middle school and I played with Top Gun for 7-on-7 so I was ready to go for installs this year. I know a lot of the other quarterbacks around here and everyone is stepping their game up. A lot of us have been playing in passing offenses for a while now so we were ready for high school."
Just across town in Broomfield, Legacy went into the season having to replace 2015 star passer Matt Lynch, who is now at UCLA. Senior Alec Lewis stepped in under center and is currently sixth in the state with 1,251 passing yards and has thrown 13 touchdowns for the Lightning.
In his first season as the starting quarterback at Centaurus, senior Shaquille Ebadi is ninth in the state with 1,201 passing yards and also has 13 passing TDs.
At Fairview, senior Jake Willemsen has thrown for 1,201 yards and 17 touchdowns despite missing a week of play for the undefeated Knights. The Knights have had a different 3,000-plus-yard passer in each of the past three seasons.
"We have a lot of schools in our area that are tradition rich and have good passing systems in place," Holy Family head coach Mike Gabriel said. "We start prepping our kids as incoming ninth-graders so we try to get them up to speed as soon as possible and keep things as simple as possible to help them learn it quickly."
Silver Creek senior Dylan Ordway is 14th in Colorado with 1,115 passing yards and a dozen touchdowns. In Week 5, Broomfield sophomore Steven Croell threw for 232 yards to help the Eagles beat Monarch for the first time since 2010 and Longmont sophomore Oakley Dehning led a comeback victory against Samaras and Holy Family. All of them are first-year, full-season starters.
The list goes on.
Some of the area's football programs, like Silver Creek, Fairview and Holy Family, have been known for their passing prowess for several years now. Silver Creek head coach Mike Apodaca said he definitely has noticed an increased emphasis on the passing game spreading to other programs and added that he could point to a number of factors — the high school game catching up to the college style, a proliferation of 7-on-7 play, younger assistant coaches getting jobs, etc. — for many teams starting to sling the ball around the field more.
"I think the high school game is slower to change," Apodaca said. "Schools like us and Fairview have been following the trend in high school towards spreading things out and getting kids in space. So we've got kids in the program who are doing the same things and have been running a variation of this system for years. We also have been lucky to have a lot of multi-sport guys and great receivers come through.
"That style of play does so many things like get more players involved and seems to better fit the personnel that most high schools have. It's rare that you can get five linemen who are so dominant that you can just line up and run over people in the old 'three yards and a cloud of dust' style. So we feel like spreading things out and opening up our passing game makes us more balanced and gives us a better chance to win."