AURORA | DaVaughn Thornton Sr. picked up his first win as a head football coach last season against Aurora Central, but it turned out to be much more than just that.
Without his knowledge, how he handled his Overland team in an interim role during that victory last September at Stutler Bowl may have started the ball rolling toward his next job.
Thornton Sr. accepted the offer to become Aurora Central’s new head coach on Monday, filling an opening created late in the summer by the departure of Austin Able. Thornton Sr., 29, is pleased to get the chance to turn around a program he defeated a year ago.
“It’s amazing how the tables turn,” Thornton Sr. told the Sentinel. “I think that’s kudos to the coaching staff when you go against a team and those administrative people on the other side might like those qualities and want their program to be similar. To beat a team for my first 5A victory and now be the head coach of the team that I beat, it will be a little bit easier to get buy in. The players remember.”
Any returning Trojans will likely recall the 30-6 defeat they suffered last season at the hands of the Trailblazers, which was followed by seven more losses as they finished 1-9 for a second straight season under Able, who departed unexpectedly a month ago due to a job opportunity for his wife in another state.
A lengthy coaching search — conducted late in the game as far as football is concerned and after most every other Colorado vacancy, including three others in Aurora at Gateway (Robb Wetta), Hinkley (T.C. Newland) and Overland (Kyle Reese) had been filled — included candidates both local and from out of state.
At the end of a unique process made more challenging by the realities of the coronavirus pandemic, new Aurora Central athletic director Ryan Widemon and a search committee that included his predecessor Rob Harrison and others came away convinced Thornton Sr. was the right choice.
Thornton Sr. is a former multi-sport star at Denver East High School who went on to a Division I career as a tight end at the University of Colorado (playing also at Colorado State-Pueblo) and got his feet wet in the coaching game last year with Overland after taking over on an interim basis in place of his mentor, Steve Sewell.
“We were really fortunate to have a pretty deep pool of really qualified candidates, even this late,” Widemon said. “It took us a little while to get through the process. We had other candidates that we felt good about, but ultimately for our program in the long term and trying to avoid having the turnover in the football program we’ve had, DaVaughn made the most sense for us. We felt like he would be the guy that would be here for more than the one or two years the program has become accustomed to.”
Indeed, the last three Aurora Central head coaches — Able, Jamarr Kerney (2016-17) and Travis Peeples (2015) — have lasted two or fewer seasons on the sidelines either because of a variety of reasons. Before that, Taylor Calvert coached three seasons between 2012-2014.
Thornton Sr. soaked in difficult lessons on and off the field last year, which has given him a different perspective on his new chance in coaching.
“I learned to not take myself so seriously,” he said. “I put myself under a lot of pressure at Overland I was trying my hardest for a job in the future. Now, I’m going to live in the moment and enjoy every day. I played football at a high level and I know it, so the development of the kids is what I’m going to be focused on.”
Thornton Sr.’s eagerness to dive into the job came across immediately to Widemon, who saw his new head coach in the building laying the groundwork with some of the holdover Aurora Central coaches that will be on his staff along with some of his former assistants from Overland.
One major difference Thornton Sr. will experience with Aurora Central — assuming COVID-19 doesn’t stop the season — is level of competition.
Instead of preparing to play in a league that included the likes of defending Class 5A state champion Cherry Creek, Grandview, Eaglecrest and Cherokee Trail like he did with Overland, the Trojans have a schedule with just two teams that finished with winning records (Hinkley and Vista PEAK) last season and only two that made the postseason in the Bison and Grand Junction.
Thornton Sr. is not softpedaling his goals, which are high, even as he takes over late with a program that hasn’t won more than one game in a season since 2016.
“I expect to win, that’s my makeup,” he said. “My parents instilled that in me and it’s what I instill in my children. If you don’t win, recalibrate and go at it again, but you have to attack it in a manner where you believe you are going to be successful.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports