• League outlook: Resurrection Christian rolled through the league and an undefeated regular season last year, and the Cougars will still be the squad everyone else is shooting for. More success in the postseason is the next goal. Eaton, which competed in 3A last year, drops down and will be an immediate contender, while University and The Academy are looking to emerge.
PROSPECT RIDGE ACADEMY
COACH: John Roberts (4th year, 16th overall; 1-8 at varsity level at PRA).
LAST YEAR: 1-8 overall, 1-4 in Patriot West.
RETURNING STARTERS: Tyson Anderson (Sr., OL-DL, 6-2, 225); Nic Carder (Sr., TE-LB, 6-2, 190); Josh Cordova (Sr., WR-DB, 5-11, 175); Liam Fitzgibbons (Sr., OL-DL, 6-1, 195); Spencer Herivel (Sr., OL-DL, 5-11, 230); Micah Honea (Sr., RB, 5-7, 160); Reilly Lavelle (Sr., WR-DB, 6-2, 170); Dillon Lucas (Sr., RB-LB, 5-9, 160); Jake Thiret (Sr., QB-DB, 6-2, 180); Tyler Walls (Sr., OL-LB, 6-2, 230); Austin Weber (Sr., OL-DL, 6-1, 250).
OTHERS TO WATCH: None.
DIVISION I/COLLEGE PROSPECTS: Walls.
MUST-SEE GAME: Sept. 14 vs. Arvada.
STRENGTHS: The Miners finally have a senior class that is eager to cement a legacy at the new school and they have a solid running game.
WEAKNESSES: They only have about 30 kids and they need to get stronger. There is not a lot of speed.
OUTLOOK: The Miners got their feet wet the first two season in junior varsity and C level play and had great success. But the move to the varsity level was a bit overwhelming and it showed in the overall record. That being said, they were competitive in games down the stretch and that should and will be used as a building block heading into this season. The Miners will try and run the ball and do so with the intention of shortening the games against what will most always be bigger and stronger competition. The playoffs are still a few years away, but this is certainly not a one-win team this season.
• League outlook: Defending champion Strasburg went through the entire campaign undefeated, knocking off top-seeded Meeker 34-14 in the title game, and the Indians enter the year as the No. 1 team in the classification. Highland's only league loss was to Strasburg, and the Huskies will contend again. Look for either Lyons or Cornerstone Christian to jump up and be a second challenger to the Indians dominance.
COACH: Jason Yantzer (second year, 3-6 record).
LAST YEAR: 3-6 overall, 2-3 in Class 1A Northern League.
RETURNING STARTERS: Karson Bean (So., OL/LB, 6-1, 200); Andrew Booth (Jr., WR/DB, 5-11, 165); Jake Laurienti, (Sr., RB/LB, 5-11, 165); Konner Mauck (Jr., OL/LB, 6-0, 190); Joe McCain (Sr., QB, 6-0, 150); Gabe Paznokas (Sr., OL/LB, 5-10, 205); Dante Traghella (Sr., RB/OLB, 5-10, 165).
OTHERS TO WATCH: Tristan Chavez (Jr., WR/DB, 5-10, 160); Brandan Evans (Jr., OL/DL, 6-0, 215); Nathan King (Sr., WR/DB, 6-0, 180); Coleton Roberts (Jr., OL/DL, 6-0, 235).
COLLEGE PROSPECTS: Paznokas.
MUST-SEE GAME: Oct. 6 at Estes Park.
STRENGTHS: The Lions are returning a solid group of skill position players that has a desire to change the culture of Lyons football, which has driven them to put in extra work this offseason.
WEAKNESSES: While the Lions do have enough players to field a junior varsity team this season, depth and low numbers could potentially become a problem again if injuries begin to take their toll.
OUTLOOK: It has been several years since the Lions have been able to put together a winning season, but the program's first year under Yantzer at least felt like a step in the right direction in 2016. Trying to build a winning culture is no easy task but based on the number of players signed up for football and present at preseason and offseason workouts, it appears that the players are becoming more and more invested in getting their program back on track. McCain and Bean provide the Lions with a pair of athletic players with experience and quarterback and returning tailback Jake Laurienti returns as the team's leading rusher from 2016.
• League outlook: Pikes Peak Christian went undefeated in league last year, but was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. Rocky Mountain Lutheran ended the season on a three-game winning streak and will look to build on that. Justice started strong but dropped its last two games to miss out on the postseason. They'll look to make the next step this season. Nederland will play 8-man ball this year, but is not eligible for the postseason.
COACH: Nels Thoreson (5th year, 7-25).
LAST YEAR: 5-3 overall, 3-2 in 8-man Central.
RETURNING STARTERS: Mario Diaz (So., OL-DL, 5-8, 150); Justin Hunyadi (Jr., WR-LB, 6-1, 180); Pedro Martinez (Jr., OL-DL, 5-9, 185); Zach McFarland (So., WR-DB, 5-11, 150); Joseph Middaugh (Jr., QB/TE-DL, 5-9, 165); Enrique Romero (Jr., QB/TE-DE, 6-2, 185); Llir Sokolaj (Jr. OL/TE-DL, 6-2, 200).
OTHERS TO WATCH: Jose Almanza (Jr., WR-DB, 5-8, 155); David Briones (Jr., WR-LB, 5-9, 140); Victor Cortez (So., WR-DB, 5-7, 145); Vince Cortez (Jr., RB-DB, 5-7, 150); Dakota Elliott (So., TE-DE, 6-0, 170); Gabe Salee (Jr., OL-DL, 5-10, 200); TyShawn Silva (Jr., RB-CB, 5-10, 145); Destiny Valdez (Jr., OL-DL, 5-6, 135).
DIVISION I/COLLEGE PROSPECTS: None.
MUST-SEE GAME: Sept. 1 vs. Nederland (Recht Field).
STRENGTHS: Returning starters have a lot of game experience. Another year in the offensive/defensive system.
WEAKNESSES: Team chemistry. As stated previously by Thoreson, "I truly never know what I am going to have until my first practice.
OUTLOOK: Justice won more games last year than they had in the previous three combined under Thoreson and they are hopeful that with the large number of returning starters that they can build off of that. The Phoenix were right in the game in their final two losses and if the can stay mentally strong in those tight games, they will a threat not only in the league, but may have a chance to surprise the rest of the state with a long overdue playoff appearance.
COACH: Beth Buglione (1st year, 0-0).
LAST YEAR: 5-3 overall.
RETURNING STARTERS: Garrett Ceurvorst (Jr., RB-DB, 5-11, 165); Aubrey Charlson (Sr., RB-LB, 5-9, 150); Ian Dunham (Sr., OL, 5-11, 220); Taylor Hoffman (Jr., TE-DB, 6-2, 185); Rain Larrabee (Jr., WR-DE, 6-2, 170); Adler Mueller (Jr., RB-LB, 5-9, 150); Damon Vigil (Jr., QB, 5-11, 190).
OTHERS TO WATCH: Lance Bell (Jr., OL-DL, 5-11, 170); Chris Francis (So., OL-DL, 5-10, 180); Cooper Nielsen (So., OL-DL, 6-3, 210); Brandon Schreiner (So., RB-DB, 5-11, 185).
DIVISION I/COLLEGE PROSPECTS: None.
MUST-SEE GAME: Sept. 23 vs. Rocky Mountain Lutheran (homecoming).
STRENGTHS: Aggressive, fast and tight brotherhood.
WEAKNESSES: Sheer numbers ... just 11 guys. They already had to cancel their season opener with Hayden because they didn't have enough players with enough practices under their belt.
OUTLOOK: It will be an interesting season for the Panthers and for obvious reasons. They understand that they will have a lot of eyes on them after hiring the first female head coach in state history, but Buglione has urged her team to take advantage of that and go out and make a name for themselves. They are a young team that will play one more season as an independent before making the jump back into league play. If they can score some wins and head into 2018 with some momentum it will be a positive and likely send a message that the Panthers aren't going anywhere.
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