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Football: Forget fantasy stats, top area linemen key for success

Monarch lineman Jimmy Grace during practiceon August 23, 2022.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Monarch lineman Jimmy Grace during practiceon August 23, 2022.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

If the high-scoring offenses of today’s football are on the same “cool” trajectory as what slicked-hair college grads were to Wall Street in the 1980s, then linemen have to be the suits working to keep them out of trouble.

Local big man Jimmy Grace is a protector in his own right.

Last fall, Monarch football’s Jimmy G was at the heart of Phil Bravo’s double-wing offense, pressing his 5-foot-8, 265-pound frame into other bodies in the trenches, freeing up ball carriers as the Coyotes ran over and over (and over) again.

“We go as Jimmy goes,” said new coach Aaron Paddock, who’d been a longtime assistant under Bravo. “He leads us in workouts. He’s our strongest kid. He’s our anchor on both sides of the line of scrimmage.”

Part of Grace’s senior season goals are to improve at pass blocking. It’s something he admitted is a bit foreign for him after playing in a smash-mouth offense his first three years of high school under Bravo, who retired last fall.

“I’ve definitely had to fix that up, tune that up a bit,” Grace said with a grin. “Now it’s not just passing once or twice a game, but more of a 40-60 split.”

While Grace in the trenches is needed for a program in search of its first winning season since 2017, trust in the line is too something that can’t be overstated.

Even for a contender like Erie and its star quarterback Blake Barnett.

The dual-threat QB helped the Tigers run over just about everyone last fall (3,247 rushing yards on 8.6 yards per carry) en route to a runner-up finish in 4A, but the regularly-scheduled high school graduation turnover has shaken things up a bit for them in 2022.

The team lost all-state big men John Pastore and Ryan McConnell while it returns 4A second-teamer Logan Gilmore and an assumed all-state guy in Jackson Clancy, who missed 2021 with an ACL tear.

Expectations remain high, starting up front.

“Blake reassures the whole line and trusts us to do our jobs,” Clancy said days before Erie’s home opener against Ponderosa. “Of course, we’re going to block as well as we can for him and always support him. But if we were messing up somewhat — me, Gilmore and him are going to be the ones talking to each other. ‘OK, we need to do this, need to do that.’”

Others look to take those QBs down.

Legacy has a trio of returning defensive ends in Ryan Bynarowicz, Alex Gottschalk and Noah Williams, who are all multi-year starters. While also filling in at other spots, each is expected to be a menacing force for a team under new leadership.

“They’re extremely tough and smart,” said coach Jay Madden, who takes over for the Lightning in 2022, touting one of the best coaching resumes in Colorado. “They play football as fast as you can play it and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Miles from there, Broomfield is also eager to see what uber-talented DE Garrett Keeler can do to opposing backfields. The senior has drawn interest from Mountain West programs with his proven explosiveness and top-tier strength.

And it’s already been settled for this season: He’s going for 20 (20!) sacks.

“I sat down with one of my coaches and we set some goals aside, and one of them was to become a conference top player as well as get 20 sacks this season,” said Keeler, a statement which can elicit something of gasp.

He smiled, “Yeah, I know it’s a big number … but we’re trying to make it to the championship this year and that gives me 14 games to do it.”

From the Boulder, Broomfield and Longmont areas, there are 10 linemen ranked inside the recruiting site Colorado Prep Redzone’s top 200 2023-24 prospects.

Among some not mentioned above are Legacy’s Owen Lee and Kade Smith, Broomfield’s Devin Furuiye and Landen Davidson, and Fairview’s Jack Lillie.

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