AURORA | For a program that hasn’t had so much as a .500 record in a decade, the Smoky Hill football team has made a splash on the Colorado prep football scene.

The Buffaloes believe they’ve taken a big step forward for the future with the hiring of coaching veteran Tom Thenell, who had successful stops at Bear Creek and most recently Mullen.

Thenell was still the head coach at Mullen when Smoky Hill first posted its football job opening, but when athletic director John Thompson had to late reopen the position, the situation had changed. Thenell applied and immediately rocketed to the top of the list of candidates.

“Obviously he was our guy,” a smiling Thompson said Wednesday after he introduced Thenell to returning players in a gathering in the school’s lecture center.

“I’m just so excited for our kids right now, I can’t stand it,” he added. “I know Tom is excited too. I think it’s an excellent match.”

Thenell served as head coach at Bear Creek from 1992-2011, a stretch in which he went 147-81 before he took the job at Mullen, his alma mater. He coached the Mustangs for six seasons and finished 34-31, including 5-6 in the 2017 season.

Thenell fills the position that was open with the departure of John Trahan, who is now at Highlands Ranch.

“Ready to take on a new challenge with a new group of kids and see what I can do with it,” Thenell said. “I’m just a regular guy who likes to work with kids and loves football.”

Thenell has long known of Smoky Hill’s past athletic prowess — citing a long run of state championships by the track team under former coach Mark Cooper — and hopes to tap into that.

“You have to back and remember they won state championship in track and field with Mark Cooper as the coach and there are some traditions here. With football, we have to have a new focus.”

Thenell has been formulating a staff of some coaches he’s worked with for a long time with some new ones.

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