Seven Aurora teams qualified for the Class 5A state football playoffs last season and four of them made it to at least the second round.
The 2013 football season has a chance to be just as good, with plenty of returning talent around the city, plus some new faces in the coaching ranks who have breathed energy into their programs.
Besides Cherokee Trail, last season’s 5A runner-up and an expected contender, Aurora had two others teams draw enough votes to land in the top 10 of the CHSAANow.com’s preseason poll: Grandview at No. 6 and Regis Jesuit at No. 10.
Coach John Schultz’s Grandview team won the last state football championship among Aurora schools — in 2007 — and Schultz expects to return to the formula that helped produce that title: a very run-heavy offense and a top notch defense.
Last season’s group that made it to the 5A quarterfinals before losing to ThunderRidge had a bit of a different look. The offense was explosive with playmaking quarterback Reece Weber and electric wide receiver Tanner Gentry, while the defense allowed more points per game than in the past.
With Schultz unsure who will emerge as the regular quarterback, the return to a strong ground game is vital. The Wolves should be even better in that area come Week 5, when junior running back Chukwuma Obinnah — a transfer from Regis Jesuit — is allowed to suit up.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder missed most of last season due to injury, but turned a lot of heads with a 241-yard rushing performance in his lone full game. Until Obinnah can play, junior Ben Marshall should see plenty of carries, running behind a line with plenty of size in returning all-league performer Gabe Cirivello, plus Isaiah Talbert and Connor Thrush.
Defensively, the Wolves will try to cut down on the 22 points per game they allowed last season and have the athletes to do it, with some aggressive players in the linebacking corps as well as the defensive backfield.
Regis Jesuit counted on a number of young players last season and they learned a lot during a 5-6 campaign that ended with a loss to Valor Christian in the second round of the 5A playoffs.
Consistency is a big goal for coach Mark Nolan’s Raiders, who return plenty of regulars on both sides of the ball, giving them a very optimistic outlook.
As many as seven sophomores started on offense for Regis Jesuit a year ago — including Matt Houghtaling at quarterback — so that unit looks to be better. Junior Tim Lynott keys the line, while the return of a healthy Grant Neal — who played just over five quarters last season — should solidify an experienced backfield.
Linebackers Joe Bozeman and Quinn VandeKoppel headline an experienced defense that had several fine showings last season and has only improved.
Mike Schmitt has built Eaglecrest’s reputation up in the past few seasons, with the Raptors’ upset-laden run in the 2012 playoffs garnering plenty of respect. Eaglecrest lost 27 seniors — including virtually the entire defensive backfield — but Elijah Ross takes over at quarterback in an offense that has a chance to improve.
Seth Replogle has a gamebreaker in junior QB Austin Conway and is armed with a better knowledge of his players in his second year at Overland. Linebacker Tre Thomas is on the radar of plenty of Division I schools. Taylor Calvert is also in his second season at Aurora Central, believing his team could go from two wins last season to as many as four or five in 2013.
Rangeview eyes a fourth straight league championship behind senior quarterback Darien Odegard, last season’s league offensive MVP, just one of Dave Gonzales’ experienced veterans.
Three Aurora programs have new head coaches — Gateway (Ashour Peera), Hinkley (Jaron Cohen) and Smoky Hill (Justin Hoffman) — and all have given their respective programs a jolt of energy in their own ways.
Hoffman — late of Gateway — has a new set of athletes and now faces a league that is arguably the state’s best from top to bottom, but he’s energized the Buffs and is eager to work with experienced senior quarterback Trent Clay and intriguing Dominique Carrasco, a transfer from Kansas.
Peera assumes Hoffman’s post at Gateway and the former assistant at powerhouse Miami Northwestern High School has changed virtually everything about the program. The Olys will depart from the veer offense the program’s run for nearly two decades in favor of a spread attack.
Cohen’s loved his move from Liberty in Colorado Springs to Hinkley, where he found some hungry, overlooked players. Vista PEAK enters its second varsity season with coach Pat Rock looking to continue to move forward.
AURORA 2013 FOOTBALL TEAM PREVIEW CAPSULES
Aurora Central — Cherokee Trail — Eaglecrest — Gateway — Grandview — Hinkley — Overland — Rangeview — Regis Jesuit — Smoky Hill — Vista PEAK