Planning the future: Vista PEAK Prep coach John Sullivan was pleased with the work his team did during the summer and like Aurora’s other coaches, is trying to plan for the best use of time before the football season, which is now scheduled for the spring due to the threat of COVID-19. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

Assuming Colorado prep football teams actually take the first snap of official practice on Feb. 22, 2021, it will have been 442 days — thank you Leap Year — since the last official snap.

That snap happened on Dec. 7, 2019, when the Class 5A state champion was crowned and so much has changed since then in the world of sports, especially in football.

The Colorado High School Activities Association held out longer than most other states before announcing last week that football would be a spring sport and the regular season and postseason schedule shortened.

That leaves Aurora coaches and others around the state with six unexpected months to prepare for the season, not to mention rosters that may not look like expected for many reasons. All were disappointed, but here’s what they told the Sentinel about their impressions of the change, their biggest concerns and plans until spring:

DAVAUGHN THORNTON SR., AURORA CENTRAL

Considering he just got hired officially July 20, Thornton is the one coach who might benefit the most from the delay. Though as a competitor — not too far removed from his playing days at Denver East High School and the University of Colorado, would have liked to kick off as usual — he thinks the decision was the “best result” football could have asked for from CHSAA all things considered. He heard optimism from senior such as Andrew Portillo that they would even get to play a season. Thornton learned a lot from his time as Overland’s interim coach last season and will have more time to use those lessons, as well as get better acquainted with his players, work on installation of new offense and defense and continue to build continuity with his assistants.

JOE JOHNSON, CHEROKEE TRAIL

The veteran coach came away disappointed with the decision to delay the season as he lauded his players for how they “responded beautifully to all the inconvenience and change,” however he also believes the spring season gives the sport a chance to play with better of hope of not having a disruption due to COVID-19. Johnson is facing a “very strange fall” without football. The change may have robbed Cherokee Trail of its best player, however, as Ohio State commit Sam Hart reacted on social media by saying he planned to graduate early and would not be around in the spring, though a lot of uncertainty is in the college ranks as well.

SHAWN MARSH, EAGLECREST

Marsh and his coaching staff had an outstanding, productive summer in terms of workouts that included high numbers of athletes and creative solutions to working out safely, which put the program in “a great spot” with momentum towards the expected start of camp for the fall season. Marsh got the news that the season would be postponed about 10 minutes before a scheduled workout and described the players as “crushed” when he delivered the unwanted news in person. Marsh’s program may experience some losses with players such as standout defensive back Seyi Oladipo that will attempt to graduate early and head to the college ranks. On the plus side of the delay, the Raptors will have use of their newly-installed turf field when they can work out again beginning in September.

ROBB WETTA, GATEWAY

Another Aurora coach entering his first season with this program, Wetta used summer workouts to help establish the importance of his core set of expectations with his players. A remodeled indoor weight room and one outdoors at the school has helped workouts and Wetta said he and his staff will make themselves available virtually and as much in person as they will be allowed: “They will have every tool possible given to them, they have to be the one to want to do it.”

JOHN SCHULTZ, GRANDVIEW

The longest-tenured coach of an Aurora program (and math teacher) knew the statistical odds of making it through the fall without a disruption were virtually zero, but he is concerned about how such a lengthy break from competition will affect his team, especially one that draws well over 100 athletes. Schultz was pleased with the responsible work his team did over the summer and on the positive side will have more time to get to know incoming freshmen and help them incorporate into one of Aurora’s tradition-rich programs. When it plays, Grandview will be without standout running back Noah Schmidt, who moved to Arizona over the summer to give himself a better chance to play his senior season.

T.C. NEWLAND, HINKLEY

Another coach in his first year with his program, Newland may also be able to use the extra time to his benefit. Summer workouts for the Thunderbirds were small, but the group that showed up will be those that Newland expects to be difference makers when the season comes around such as hard-nosed running back Ty’Ren Draper. Newland’s message all summer was that the program would “focus on what we can control” and he noticed a more positive attitude about the future from his players later in the summer than the beginning.

Overland’s Kyle Reese is one of four Aurora football coaches that are in their first years with their respective programs. The new coaches now have six months of extra time to get to know their players and work on the installation of new systems. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

KYLE REESE, OVERLAND

Another of the coaches in their first seasons with their respective programs, Reese — an assistant coach on that Cherry Creek team that took that last official snap in the 5A state final — is trying to find a way to manage the unexpected timeline for the season. He hoped CHSAA would rearrange the sports calendar to move low-risk track & field to the fall, which would have helped football players tremendously, but he will try to use the extra time to implement plans he and his staff hadn’t had enough time for over the summer.

BRANDON ALCONCEL, RANGEVIEW

Alconcel wished the decision from CHSAA had come earlier rather than later, but in the end he understood what had to happen if Colorado was going to have any chance of a season. Alconcel knows that a lot can still change between now and when the season is supposed to happen, but he and his Rangeview staff will focus on preparation and maintaining as much contact with players as possible to keep them mentally and physically ready when the chance comes to compete.

DANNY FILLEMAN, REGIS JESUIT

Filleman — whose team made it to the quarterfinals of the 5A state playoffs last season — experienced a wide range of emotions about the decision to delay the season. He’s concerned about the scholarship chances for seniors that needed early film to be seen by college programs, so he and his Regis Jesuit staff will work on ways to get them in front of college coaches. Filleman also must work in a new quarterback with two-year starter Nicco Marchiol among the Colorado wave that moved out of state.

TOM THENELL, SMOKY HILL

Thenell knew the delay was coming when a decision hadn’t come down three weeks ago and the veteran coach — who has led Smoky Hill to two straight undefeated regular seasons — plans to prepare his players to overcome adversity. The expected return of a three-year starting quarterback in Leslie Richardson III gives Thenell comfort despite a very difficult schedule.

JOHN SULLIVAN, VISTA PEAK

Sullivan prepared his team all summer for the likelihood the season would be delayed and was very happy how his players handled it and did their work. With Division I cornerstones such as Braylen Nelson and Ja’Derris Carr-Kersh set to return, Sullivan believes the Bison are primed for another big year like last season.

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

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