Football: 2017 Cherokee Trail football team at a glance

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Senior quarterback Ethan Leisge will try to keep Cherokee Trail offense that experienced a lot of turnover going strong in the 2017 season. The Cougars — working on a 12-season streak of playoff appearances — transition to a new coach this season Joe Johnson, formerly of ThunderRidge. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | The 2017 Cherokee Trail football team at a glance:

Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel

CHEROKEE TRAIL

Mascot: Cougars

Coach: John Sullivan

Last year: 5-6 overall (3-2 in Mount Evans League), lost to Valor Christian in first round of Class 5A state playoffs

FOOTBALL 2017: CHEROKEE TRAIL COUGARS

2017 season outlook: The Cherokee Trail football team has its third head coach in as many seasons, as former ThunderRidge boss Joe Johnson made the move from Highlands Ranch to Aurora to take over a program has qualified for the state playoffs in 12 consecutive seasons across Classes 3A, 4A and 5A. Johnson indicated that he’s found some similarities between his old program and his new one, including a hunger to succeed that resonates with both. That and both have made at least one 5A semifinal appearances in the last five years (ThunderRidge in 2012 and Cherokee Trail in 2012 and 2013). The Cougars graduated some All-Mount Evans League selections on defense, but may be strongest on that side of the football, at least to start with, in Johnson’s estimation. Senior safety Darius Swanson earned second team all-league accolades last season and will be counted on to quarterback the defense, while senior linebacker Marc Anthony Thomas (who will also play tight end for the first time) is another all-league caliber player in the middle and senior defensive lineman Calvin Rodriguez, who finished tied for second on the team with six sacks a year ago, will be active up front. On offense, Cherokee Trail graduated all of its first team all-league players, but has a returning quarterback in senior Ethan Leisge who threw for 779 yards and seven touchdowns last season, plus a plethora of talented skill players headed by versatile junior Dylan James. James ran the ball, caught the ball and even threw the ball a little bit last season for Cherokee Trail (578 yards, 6 TDs total) and he’ll certainly be a focal point as Johnson calls him the quickest back with the best change of direction he’s ever had. Junior Malik Sparrow — a key fixture on the school’s lacrosse team — carried the ball just 10 times last season, but should see a huge number of attempts as the thump to compliment James’ speed. Junior Sean Roberts is a special teams weapon with his leg and Johnson is looking forward to the contributions of the All-Mount Evans League first team punter, who will also line up as a slot receiver on occasion.

Schedule breakdown: Cherokee Trail faces the same schedule it had in 2016, starting with a strong Sept. 1 season opener against a Highlands Ranch team it lost to last season. The Cougars’ non-league slate also includes former Centennial League rivals Overland (Sept. 15), Eaglecrest (Sept. 22) and Grandview (Sept. 28) in consecutive weeks. Cherokee Trail fared well in Mount Evans League play, but will certainly aim for better showings against Chaparral (Oct. 6) and Pomona (Nov. 3), which dealt the Cougars losses last season.

2017 CHEROKEE TRAIL FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

Home games bold and uppercased (home games played at Legacy Stadium): Friday, Sept. 1 — vs. Highlands Ranch at Shea Stadium, 7 p.m.; Thursday, Sept. 7 — DENVER EAST, 7 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 15 — OVERLAND, 7 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 22 — vs. Eaglecrest at Legacy Stadium, 7:30 p.m.; Thursday, Sept. 28 — vs. Grandview at Legacy Stadium, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 6 — vs. Chaparral at EchoPark Stadium, 7 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 13 — ROCK CANYON, 7 p.m. (HC).; Friday, Oct. 20 — at Hinkley, 7 p.m.; Friday, Oct. 27 — MOUNTAIN VISTA, 4 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 3 — POMONA, 7 p.m.