FREDERICK — Battling the weight of starting the season ranked the top 3A football team in Colorado, the Frederick Warriors have the leader they need to keep them upright while they try to maintain their spot atop their classification. His name is K.C. Rivera and he’s a middle linebacker through and through.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior was clocked running a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash at multiple camps this summer. Rivera made 191 total tackles in 13 games last year and led the team with three interceptions. He said a 200-plus senior campaign, making sure to break 190 through the 10-game regular season, would be satisfactory.
Frederick’s top player has all the tools to lead the Warriors on their quest for a state title. But if you ask him, he’ll tell you he draws most of his strength from a longstanding brotherhood with his fellow seniors.
The veteran group’s mantra is “As one.” And they take it seriously.
“When we say it, we don’t just say it for a word or a phrase,” Rivera said. “We say it because we’re a family and we’ve grown up with each other in this town since I can remember. We just treat each other like a family.”
Rather than separate the seniors and alienate the other players, “As one” has spread throughout the entire team. Players have stitched the mantra into towels and display it all over their gear.
The 2012-13 season has special feel for the Warriors and the promising team’s unity is spreading through the town of just under 9,000 people. The players were struck by the number of fans in the stands for the season-opening midnight practice at the new stadium on Aug. 13 and for the blue and gold scrimmage.
The Warriors lost to Windsor in the state semifinals last year. Rivera said they’re aiming to reward the town’s support with a state title.
“This year, the town and all the people and the teachers are looking to us to win a state championship,” Rivera said. “I feel like if we don’t win a state championship, we’ve let the town down. That’s a good pressure because it keeps us on our toes and keeps us working hard.”
Rivera will reprise his role as the heart of the Warriors’ vaunted defense that allowed 16.5 points per game in 2011. He’ll be joined by senior pass rusher Jakob Vargas, who had 11.5 sacks his junior season, and several other returning defensive players who started last year’s semifinals.
Vargas is just one of dozens of Warriors who have set high goals as far as their personal performance, especially since he won’t have to share sacks with Jordan King (12 sacks) in 2012. As confident as the Warriors are, however, they still feel like they have plenty to prove.
“We’re bringing a lot of talent back from last year and we’re not taking that number one spot for granted,” Vargas said. “We feel like we have to earn that spot.”
Since the Warriors graduated Dalton Hall, last year’s leading rusher with 1,042 yards, Rivera will also be more involved in the running game.
Rivera averaged 6.0 yards per carry last season and finished with 542 yards and five touchdowns. He also had the team’s longest rushing play (92 yards) so he’s feels comfortable picking up a few extra carries along with seniors Ryan Miller and Jordan Sleeth.
Rivera also led the Warriors with eight catches on offense.
Offensively, senior Jaron Balman will lead the Warriors in his second season at quarterback.
“I’ve been working a lot during the summer when I wasn’t playing baseball and it’s looking a lot better than it has,” Balman said. “Now that I have the experience, I’m expecting to pull through every game and make good throws.”
Pete Vargas, the current seniors’ youth football coach from third to seventh grade, is responsible for instilling the “As one” idea in them. He is now the principal at Frederick High School and he said the current group feels like it has been building up to this point.
“To watch them now, they’re young men,” he said. “It’s about team with them. That final prize is that championship and they know they only way they’re going to get it is if they’re doing it as one.”
If the Warriors are to accomplish their lofty goals this season, head coach Thad Lear said Rivera and the “As one” seniors will be the reason.
“They’ve got a motto and it’s ‘As one’ and they’ve had it since they were little kids,” Lear said. “It’s a special group of seniors that are leading the way. They definitely bring something different to the table as a unit. There’s something special about them and their commitment to one another.”
On top of having a confident veteran group and a No. 1 preseason ranking in the Denver Post media and coaches poll in 2012, the Warriors also get a new school, new weight room, a new stadium and will move to the 3A Northern League. Everything seems to be falling into place for the Warriors.
Still, despite the myriad distractions and new influences, the Warriors are still approaching the 2012-13 season “As one.”
Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradCochi