From left, Vista PEAK’s Ezekiel Taylor and Nathan Hunholz and Rangeview’s Jose Rodriguez pose after the Big Boyz Wars competition July 18 at Vista PEAK. The three were tone-setters for their respective teams, which meet in Week 1 of the upcoming prep football season. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

When the Friday Night Lights kick on in a few weeks, it could be easy for the players in the trenches get overlooked.

Long runs, deep passes and other feats of athleticism displayed by skill players draw the attention, but none of it would be possible without the grueling work done at the line of scrimmage.

So Vista PEAK coach DaVaughn Thornton Sr. could not sit idly by and and let the summer pass without giving his linemen and others a chance in the spotlight. Linemen from Vista PEAK, Rangeview and Smoky Hill along with nearby Montbello got that opportunity at the Big Boyz War July 18.

“Broadcast the kids that put in the most work, that was what this was all about,” Thornton Sr. said. “When you win football games, it’s because of the O-Line and D-Line, any coach will tell you that. To put the spotlight on them is big. We couldn’t move forward with our season without them, that’s how important it was to do this.”

Since 2005, Aurora offensive and defensive linemen — aka “Hogs” — have had Rangeview’s Hog Wars event to look forward to during the summer. Lost in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but back last season, it was canceled again when new Rangeview coach Chris Dixon found he didn’t have enough teams committed to hold the competition.

Thornton Sr. organized the Big Boyz War on short notice, as he gathered two other Aurora programs and Montbello from Denver Public Schools. Aurora Central and Hinkley also had interest, but were unable to compete.

The Big Boyz War consisted of a monster tire flip, relay race, plate carry, power clean and tug-o-war.

Vista PEAK’s top team of senior Ezekiel Taylor, juniors Nathan Hunholz, Alex Siby, Cahlel Barthlow and sophomore Moses Cooper racked up 354 points for a comfortable win over Rangeview, which edged Montbello’s top unit by three points for second place.

The Bison racked up plenty of points in the power clean — where one point was awarded for each successful attempt with no time limit — as Hunholz (who checks in at a 6-foot-2 and nearly 250 pounds) turned in 102 reps and Taylor added 80-plus.

“They are just menaces on the field and in the weight room,” Thornton Sr. said of Taylor and Hunholz. “What they did today is just a reflection of what they do in the weight room. They got to come out and show it with their peers. …If Zeke and Nate are successful on the field, we will be a successful team.”

Taylor, a state-qualifying wrestler as well, has big goals for the upcoming season and is one of only a few seniors this year (after 19 graduated from last season’s team) that will need to set the tone for the Bison’s younger players.

“I think for the younger guys, it shows them how the upperclassmen set the tone,” Taylor said. “How to lift and come out here and put in hard work. I think it’s really good for all of us.”

Hunholz — who placed as a thrower at the state track & field meet in the spring — inspired his team with his performance. He came away pleased with what he saw from his teammates in taxing conditions.

“We worked well in the heat and we didn’t quit, which was good,” Hunholz said. “Everybody works really well together. …It was really, really good to get out and have some fun and compete.”

Vista PEAK opens its season against Rangeview — with which it has developed a strong rivalry within the Aurora Public Schools district — and the teams definitely kept an eye on each other throughout the competition.

Rangeview linemen were disappointed with the loss of Hog Wars, but poured their all into the new chance. They won the tug-o-war — defeating Smoky Hill head-to-head — to cap the day.

“I’m honestly just happy to get out here with my teammates and compete,” said senior Jose Rodriguez, who hyped up his team the entire day.

“It’s a bummer that Hog Wars is out, but whatever we get to do — especially as linemen — we can’t take for granted,” he added. “We don’t get the same opportunities that the skill players do. Whenever we can come out and compete, that’s all I can ask for.”

Dixon was pleased with what he saw from his trench players and even had them ease off the intensity a bit for the sake of health and so they could be fresher for upcoming practices.

“They are probably more upset with me because I had to stop them a bit, but they showed me enough,” Dixon said.

New Smoky Hill coach Brandon Alconcel — who ran Hog Wars while he was at Rangeview — saw good things from his group, which got notable performances from seniors Calem Grimble and Amir Copeland. The Buffaloes had strong performances in the power clean and tug-o-war.

The Aurora teams all have different things ahead in the coming days as the summer wraps up and practice begins Aug. 8.

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

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