Ashour Peera doesn’t like to give his Gateway football players too much down time and they haven’t had much of it this summer.
Since he accepted the head coaching job in February, Peera — a transplant from Florida — has tried to keep his new band of Olys engaged and moving forward every day.
It’s been a different experience so far for Peera, who came to Gateway after a stint as an assistant coach at Miami Northwestern High School, a Florida powerhouse that had 19 players alone sign to play college football last season. Conversely, Gateway had one in Colorado State signee Zack Golditch.
Still, Peera is moving boldly forward with a group of players he is molding by the day in large and small ways.
“We’re going to be fighting some of the things Gateway’s had in the past in terms of depth and things like that, but everything is brand new,” Peera said June 13, after returning from a 13-day trip, five-state trip that took them to nine college football programs.
“It’s going to be exciting and we’re just going to keep working,” he added. “That’s the only way I know how to do things.”
Peera’s not taking over a program in disarray, as former coach Justin Hoffman — who accepted the job at nearby Smoky Hill, Gateway’s Week One opponent in 2013 — guided a senior-heavy group to a 7-2 regular season and a berth in the 2012 Class 5A playoffs.
Golditch and 26 other seniors graduated, however, leaving Peera with numbers much smaller than those typical in Florida, where programs have more than 100 players on average between varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams.
Peera is working with roughly half those numbers currently, but he’s doing everything he can to keep his players engaged as the countdown toward the season accelerates.
The highlight of a busy summer packed with leadership training from Marines, service projects at the Ronald McDonald House attending tryouts of the “X Factor” and the July 10 Hog Wars linemen competition has been the Olys’ cross-country bus odyssey, which took them through New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah and Wyoming.
Five coaches and 35 players — those who had filled out daily academic progress reports during the school year and attended weightlifting regularly — visited Division I programs at New Mexico and New Mexico State, Arizona and Arizona State, Southern California, Utah, Wyoming plus Division II Dixie State (Utah).
While getting to know each other on the road, the Olys toured stadiums, played in a variety of 7-on-7 camps, soaked up life around college campuses and most importantly, heard directly from college coaches what’s required academically and athletically to play college football.
They also met up with a former Gateway gridiron great, Zach Latimer — the 2002 Gatorade Colorado Player of the Year who played at the University of Oklahoma — in California.
Coming from his background at Northwestern, a hotbed of college talent, Peera’s biggest goal is to make his Gateway players attractive to college programs. Several got a boost from the road trip to that end.
Devin Johnson earned the top long snapper award at Southern California’s camp and Austin Hall, Jonah Mitchell and Lance Savage got their names on the recruiting radar.
“Our goals changed as a team; it’s not that we have to win this game against Rangeview or we have to get in the playoffs, the goals changed once they got a chance to see what college is like,” said Peera, who also plans to make his players better tailored for college by switching from Gateway’s traditional veer option offense to a versatile, pro-style set.
“We also created some bonds that cannot be broken, so that’s the priceless part of going on a trip like this,” he added.
“There were a few times when I just sat back and watched them interact with each other — freshmen to seniors — as friends. These guys became closer.”
Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at [email protected] or 303-750-7555