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Zach Kinnison is competing with Blake Montgomery for the starting quarterback job for first-year Niwot coach Dylan Hollingsworth.
David R. Jennings / Staff Photographer
Zach Kinnison is competing with Blake Montgomery for the starting quarterback job for first-year Niwot coach Dylan Hollingsworth.

NIWOT — Dylan Hollingsworth signed up for a long-term project when he decided to take the reigns of the Niwot football team. Not having had a winning season since 2008 lays that all out there for everyone to know.

Establishing a foundation for that turnaround doesn’t happen without the upperclassmen, and the Cougars have a good group of players ready to create a new, lasting image.

Senior Blake Montgomery saw a lot of division last year between guys who were invested and others who were not. Going 0-10 in 2014 would make anyone swallow their pride, but Montgomery was sure to encourage anyone who could come back this year to stick out the changes that were made.

It was a little bit easier to know that a new coach was going to be hired soon after the fall season, as Josh Brewer resigned within a couple weeks of their last game.

“Coming off tons of weight room hours and going 0-10, is never going to be easy,” Montgomery, a versatile player on the field for the Cougars, said at the team’s media day. “One of our main focuses was trying to keep guys from giving up after an 0-10 season, and coach Hollingsworth has come in and helped along with that. We’ve had great weight room attendance all summer and the new offense is better for our program and our players.”

There are still a lot of players that will be introduced or reacquainted with the game this year, and Hollingsworth acknowledged the process will continue through the season.

But for those who make up the starting lineup on both sides of the ball — and most of those players will start on both offense and defense — there are a lot of expectations for improved play and improved results.

Montgomery, who is looking to play in college, joined a couple of teammates this summer in getting down to Matt McChesney’s gym (Six-Zero Strength in Centennial), taking advantage of the high-intensity atmosphere provided by McChesney, the former Cougar and Colorado Buffaloes player.

Among those who joined Montgomery were a trio of talented juniors that provided some explosive plays as sophomores. Zach Kinnison took over as the starting quarterback a few games into last season, and wide receivers Alex Oelsner and Aidan Tollefson both produced numbers that stood out despite the overall struggles of the team.

“We’ve got talented wideouts that want to play,” Oelsner said after making 19 receptions in 2014, “and we’ve got a lot of experience at the varsity level even among our juniors simply because of the low numbers we’ve had. I think that’s to our advantage.”

“We have lots of athletes that are juniors, and they just need to keep working hard,” added Montgomery, who will play outside linebacker and is competing with Kinnison at the quarterback position. “Once we as seniors leave this year, I think that class will be just as talented.”

After averaging a mere 1.6 yards per carry last year, the Cougars are looking to run the ball a little more and one could expect them to veer away from the spread offense.

Defensively, Hollingsworth is expecting a lot more maturity, and that starts with the defensive coordinator he hired. Former Colorado Buffaloes star Ron Woolfork will direct the troops, and Oelsner said the players feel a lot more comfortable with the system designed to fit the players they have on the field, rather than adapting the players to the type of system a coach wants to run.

The coming season may still see growing pains, but it’s the growth that has Hollingsworth and Oelsner excited.

“It’s a process of building depth behind the ones we know can and have played and know what’s going on,” Hollingsworth said.

“With the new staff and a lot of new players out, there’s just been a new level of energy,” Oelsner said. “Not only are there more guys out here, there are more guys that are committed and that want to play and win football games.”

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