MEAD — No one took Mead's heartbreaking loss to Longmont in the Class 3A quarterfinals harder than those Mavericks who had just played their final high school football game.
For certain, Saturday's 30-26 loss to the eighth-ranked Trojans will bother every senior on the Mead football team for some time to come.
But as surely as the season-ending defeat will hurt each member of the Mavericks' 2018 graduating class, it won't define any of them. This year's group of seniors will be remembered as the unit that led the way for the Mavericks to develop from the four-win team they were in 2014 and into the top-ranked team in their classification that they became this fall.
"Our senior class, we worked our butts off," Mavericks senior quarterback Tyler Keys said. "I know that we left a culture behind that those underclassmen are going to follow. They're going to work in the offseason and they're going to come back and listen to coach. I trust them to carry on the tradition."
Midway through his eighth-grade year, Tyler Keys moved to the Mead High School area from Thornton. Four years later, he quarterbacked a Mavericks football team that went undefeated until the state quarterfinals and earned its first regular-season No. 1 ranking, as well as the program's first No. 1 seed in the postseason.
"I didn't have any friends when I moved up here and now I have the best friends I've ever made," Keys said. "I wouldn't have done it any other way."
Keys teamed up with other seniors leaders like Derek Edwards, Nathan Mackey, Tristen Lee, Evan Hansen, and others to follow up 2016's semifinals appearance by leading the Mavericks back to the quarterfinals in 2017. It was a group that frankly believed it would go all the way and was understandably devastated when that didn't happen.
Of all the groups he has coached since taking over in 2012, Mavericks head coach Jason Klatt said this year's seniors stood out for their devotion to the program's success and to its future.
"We've come a long way but I feel really bad for the seniors," Klatt said. "Sometimes you get that one group of kids that just does everything right, from a character standpoint, from a work standpoint, a commitment standpoint, they did everything right. I'm going to miss them so much. They're on to bigger and better stuff and this won't define them.
"They're much better kids than just playing a game. They're going to be so successful in life because they know how to work hard, they know how to commit. They know how to do all those things that people aren't doing these days that gets them fired. They seed the bigger picture here at Mead: that this is about much more than just football."