Football: Niwot confident it is on the upswing

Cougars finding ways to play through 48 minutes of football in 2019

  • Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer

    Niwot High School's quarterback Ayden Bartko looks for a receiver during football practice on Sept. 11, 2019.

  • Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer

    Niwot High School's Jarrett Norterman runs the ball during football practice on Sept. 11, 2019.

  • Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer

    Niwot High School's quarterback Ayden Bartko throws during football practice on Sept. 11, 2019.

  • Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer

    Niwot High School's running back Liam Flanagan carries the ball during football practice on Sept. 11, 2019.

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NIWOT – For years, the Niwot football team has been fighting the uphill battle of reconstructing a program that hasn’t experienced much success over the past decade.

That’s no easy task and there’s plenty more hill to climb. But the Cougars think they’ve made progress and can at least look back on the past couple years under head coach Jeremy Lanter and see some distance between where they are and where they began.

After a solid start to the 2019 campaign, including their first victory in a season opener since 2016, junior quarterback Ayden Bartko and company are determined to keep climbing that hill and make sure the Cougars get the respect they feel they deserve.

Niwot High School's quarterback Ayden Bartko ...
Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer
Niwot High School’s quarterback Ayden Bartko looks for a receiver during football practice on Sept. 11, 2019.

“We feel really good about it but we’re not satisfied yet,” Bartko said. “We’re going to keep working hard in practice and stay excited for the rest of the season. It’s always in the back of our minds at practice, during pregame and during the games because we know how long it’s been since Niwot was in the playoffs. We want to take us back.”

Niwot football won a state championship in 1990, before Bartko was born. The Cougars last participated in a postseason in 2008, which was the last season in which they won more games than they lost and the final year in a run of successful campaigns under then-head coach Ron Tesone.

In the 10 years since, Niwot football has not won more than three games in a single season and has posted a 16-83 overall record. But this year’s group hopes to architect the watershed season to catalyze a turnaround the program has been grasping at for years.

“Our goals are to finish .500 or better and to make the playoffs,” Bartko said. “We have other goals, too, but those are the big ones.”

In his third season as the Cougars’ starting quarterback, Bartko is doing his part thus far. Bartko is averaging over 100 passing yards a game and combined with senior running back Liam Flanagan, who averages over 100 rushing yards a game, the Cougars have developed a solid run-pass balance on offense.

Defensively, the Cougars held their first two opponents to an average of 17.5 points a game. Then, the Cougars have do-it-all players like senior Jarrett Noterman, who plays receiver, cornerback, punter, kicker and kick returner.

“Our team feels a lot different this year and everyone is on the same page,” Noterman said. “I’m just there wherever coach Lanter needs me and ready to do whatever they need to the best of my ability. That’s our approach.”

That sense of both promise and purpose is contagious and as it continues to permeate the program at a play-by-play level, the Cougars hope it translates to wins.

Flanagan has noticed several differences in the Niwot team this season. For example, the Cougars gave up a long run for a score in the fourth quarter against Greeley Central in Week 2 that was a potentially deadly blow to their chances of winning. What he saw next led Flanagan to believe the Cougars have matured, and grown more confident and positive.

“Last year, when a team made a big play or something bad happened against us, we would just give up like, ‘Let’s just go home,’” Flanagan said. “We have a different mentality this year. We don’t talk about giving up anymore. We push to the end.”

Led by coach Lanter, the Niwot coaching staff also believes itself to be significantly improved this season. Flanked by older brother Cory Lanter and incoming younger brother Link Lanter, who was nominated for assistant coach of the year as the defensive coordinator at Roosevelt last year, Jeremy Lanter thinks the Cougars coaches and players are far more familiar with one another this fall.

Most importantly, like Flanagan, Jeremy Lanter has noticed plenty of seemingly small occurrences that may be indicative of big changes. They team eventually lost the game against Greeley Central, 17-14, but it was a fight to the end as Flanagan indicated.

“They have a lot to feel good about,” Jeremy Lanter said, his team preparing for a home game against Fort Lupton on Friday night. “They’ve been as successful so far as any team since I’ve been here and our kids have shown a lot of resiliency. One of our players, Jesus Amaya, posted on Twitter after our second-week game, ‘Undefeated against adversity.’ If that doesn’t sum up our mentality, I don’t know what does.”