Depending on how his arm is feeling, John Sullivan can just about throw a football from his house and hit Vista PEAK Prep, which is one of the reasons he wanted the head football job when it came open.
While extremely convenient for Sullivan, he’s found the remote location of the newest Aurora Public Schools high school isn’t completely conducive to full summer attendance of football players.
It’s not a surprise considering he served as an assistant coach for two seasons with the Bison under previous coach Pat Rock, but it’s meant he and his staff worked with an ever-changing group throughout camps and 7-on-7 tournaments.
“I love living out here, and it will be nice once we get a grocery store,” Sullivan quipped about the school located in the remote neighborhood off Gun Club Road just north of Murphy Creek Golf Course.
“We are so far out, and very few of our kids live out here, so they have a hard time getting rides out here. I live right next to the school, but I’ve spent so much gas money going to get kids here.
“But, if the kids that are supposed to be here will be here, we’ll be OK.”
It was Sullivan’s integration and understanding of the Vista PEAK community — and the APS district in general after 15 years at Rangeview — that led athletic director Michael Hughes to hire him to replace Rock, who guided the program to a 12-18 record in its first three varsity seasons, including 4-6 in 2014.
“His ties to the Aurora community go back 15 years in APS and his understanding of our kids is also a major strength for John,” Hughes said after announcing Sullivan’s hiring in January.
“He has everything you could ask for in a head coach,” Hughes added.
When official practices begin on Aug. 17, Sullivan will be one of five new head coaches in place among Aurora prep football programs — along with Aurora Central’s Travis Peeples, Rangeview’s Justin Hoffman, Regis Jesuit’s Danny Filleman and Smoky Hill’s John Trahan — Sullivan is thrilled with his situation, geographical challenges or not.
He takes over a program still in its early stages of growth — it will likely stay in Class 3A for football for the next two-year cycle as the school’s enrollment is expected to be around 1,200, while the school’s other sports compete in 4A — that is still in search of its first .500 or better season and its first trip to the playoffs.
A growing pool of young talent, especially in the sophomore class — with players like the quarterback-receiver duo of twins Derrick and Daniel Shashum — could help make both of those milestones happen in the near future.
Best of all, the players seem to be responding to the mentality of competing in all things from drills to weight room work that Sullivan and his staff — which includes holdover defensive coordinator Brian Wool and former Rangeview assistant Joe Ryan — preach constantly.
“The worry when you come in as a new coach is how the kids will take you and a new staff; I think our kids have embraced the new staff and the freshness of it,” Sullivan said.
“We’ve had some kids really step up with the work ethic throughout the summer, so I’ve been proud of them.”
As he did when he served on Dave Gonzales’ staff at Rangeview, Sullivan will call offensive plays as Vista PEAK transitions into more of a pro style attack.
While the depth and size of his line is “concerning” — which is usually the case with new schools — Sullivan was encouraged by his team’s performance at the Denver Broncos’ 7-on-7 competition, a full contact camp in July and a scrimmage against George Washington and Bishop Machebeuf.
“We looked like we belong,” Sullivan said. “We’ve been able to get everything installed for our first game, which can’t come soon enough. This is the worst time of the year when you have to wait.”
The Bison make their debut under Sullivan on Sept. 5 when Eagle Valley visits them at Aurora Public Schools Stadium. Vista PEAK looks for payback from a 41-21 loss to the Devils last season.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel