FREDERICK — The story line is familiar to any football coach who has led a prep program in a small Front Range town through the area’s population explosion.
Just as Thad Lear thought his team was ready to turn the corner and become a perennial playoff contender in Class 2A, Frederick High’s enrollment dictated that the Warriors move up to 3A.
The leap year for FHS was 2004. Lear still has a photo of the pre-game coin toss against Niwot that year where every one of the Cougars’ captains towered above their counterparts from Frederick.
FHS went 2-8 that season and 2-8 the next. The Warriors reached the playoffs for the first time in Lear’s tenure in 2006 but then fell off to go 5-5, 2-8 and 4-6 the following three years.
“We just kind of got throttled,” Lear said this week of the jump to 3A. “Kind of philosophically we had to change some things. It’s definitely been a process of growth and change.”
Consider the corner turned (with no move up to 4A in sight for at least a few more years).
The Warriors graduated 17 seniors off of last year’s 7-5 state quarterfinal squad that was the best in school history. All they’ve done this season is one-up that mark with a 9-3 record entering Saturday’s state semifinal game at Windsor.
It’s perhaps fitting that the biggest game of Lear’s tenure yet at Frederick comes at Dudley Field, home of an old Tri-Valley League foe.
The head coach at Frederick for 14 years — just over a third of his life — Lear is a 1988 graduate of Windsor. He quarterbacked playoff teams in 1986 and ’87. His dad, Al, was the coach and led the Wizards to a state title in 1993. Al is now an assistant on Thad’s staff.
But while he acknowledges that road trips to his hometown are always fun, the last person Thad Lear really wants to talk about this week is himself.
“It’s neat,” Lear said. “But this game is not about me and not about my dad. It’s about the kids, everything that they’ve accomplished and everything that they’ve done. We’ve worked hard for them. But they’ve made it very easy to do because they’ve worked so hard for us.
“The kids do all the winning.”
That attitude is one that has helped keep players tuned in even through the tough times.
Lear’s young daughter ran up to him after Saturday’s win and said, “Daddy, your boys listen to you.” But Lear has also gotten a reputation for listening to his players.
Funny and approachable on the sideline, Lear’s leadership style is popular with his current group.
“He’s a great guy,” senior linebacker Jordan King said. “He’s got some good coaches in there. They really know what to do. The guys really connect with him well and learn a lot.”
And at a school where struggles on the gridiron have been a decades-long tradition, Lear’s greatest joy won’t come from who he might have a chance to beat or where the game is played this week but instead from getting the chance to keep seeing his players enjoy success.
Since a 1-4 start a year ago following that 4-6 2009 campaign, the Warriors are 15-4.
“It’s just really special,” Lear said of the current run. “We’ve been a part of the community now for 13 years. Our kids go to school here. It’s special for the team and for the town, not just me as an individual.”