Ahead of the 2023-24 season, we spoke with schools and coaches as well as our cadre of sportswriters, photographers and freelancers to determine our 10 must-watch high school teams of the season.
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August is here and football is all everyone is talking about. With good reason. High school teams across the Denver area are gearing up for their opening week, and Colorado Community Media’s coverage area is vast (to put it lightly).
From Arvada in the northwest to Parker in the southeast, and the towns and suburbs in between that make up the Denver area, our reporters have a lot of action to cover. And, there’s no shortage of dominant schools, state champions, elite quarterbacks and more.Ahead of the 2023-24 season, we spoke with schools and coaches as well as our cadre of sportswriters, photographers and freelancers to determine our 10 must-watch high school teams of the season.
First, a disclaimer: with so many great teams, this list was difficult to put together. And with our two dozen community newspapers, this list could have gone way beyond just 10 teams. There’s a method to the madness, though. The teams, coaches and players who were referenced most by our expert sources were compelling. We did our best to highlight the best in our coverage area – north, east, west and south.
One interesting takeaway, too: The dominant teams are not the only captivating teams. There are countless reasons to watch any number of teams in the area.
Before we reveal our top 10, here are a few testimonies from our experts on teams around the metro area:
But the teams play the games for a reason. So, here is who to keep an eye on this fall (in no particular order).
2022 record: 12-2, 5A state champions
Week 1: August 25 vs. Ralston Valley
What to watch for: Can the Bruins keep up the tear they’ve been on? Cherry Creek has all the bragging rights. They’re coming off their fourth straight 5A state championship, including a hard-fought victory last year over Valor Christian. A big question is how will the Bruins replace star running back Carlson Tann? He was dominant last season and helped rally the Bruins in the second half of their championship win. But they can be beat. Last year, Cherry Creek did lose two games. But when it comes to Cherry Creek, just sit back and enjoy the show.
2022 record: 11-3, 5A state runner-ups
Week 1: August 26 @ Regis Jesuit
What to watch for: Can Valor Christian get over the hump this season? The Eagles lost just two games early last season before going on an undefeated run to the state championship, where they ran into Cherry Creek and fell short 24-17. Reloaded with experienced, returning players, Valor will aim for its first championship since 2018.
2022 record: 10-2
Week 1: August 25 @ Mullen
What to watch for: How does Coach Andy Lowry reload after losing his top running back? Columbine opened last season on fire with a six-game winning streak in which the Rebels beat their opponents by at least 20 points. If the 5A League 1 allows them to start hot again, it could mean trouble for the rest of the league, including teams like Ralston Valley and Arvada West.
2022 record: 8-4
Week 1: August 18 vs. Northridge
What to watch for: Frederick hopes to push for a league title. The Golden Eagles joined the 3A League 6 just last year, but nearly snagged the league title with a 4-1 record. Second only to Denver’s George Washington last season, Frederick took some time to get rolling last year. But Frederick managed to win a playoff game before a tough 21-6 loss to Lutheran to end the season. If they can continue their late-season success early this season, they could make a strong push for 10 wins plus a strong showing in the playoffs. Head Coach Matt Loyd is off to a strong start going into year two.
2022 record: 10-3
Week 1: August 18 @ Mountain Vista
What to watch for: Senior Logan Madden is expected to be one of the top quarterbacks in the state this year. Last year as a junior, Madden was a selection for All-Colorado, First Team All-State, and First team All-Conference, while throwing for nearly 2400 yards and 24 touchdown passes with a 71% completion percentage. If he can keep up his stellar play, the Mustangs could push for double digit wins.
2022 record: 12-1
Week 1: August 25 vs. Golden
What to watch for: A very strong senior class headlines Green Mountain this season. The Rams’ perfect season hopes last year were ruined when they fell to Roosevelt brutally in the semifinals. But now they have all the tools to compete for the 3A state title if they can continue their dominance and play as expected this fall.
2022 record: 11-2
Week 1: August 25 @ Arvada West
What to watch for: After going 11-2 and 4-1 in the 5A League 5, the Grizzlies emerge as perhaps the biggest mystery on this list. With a lot of graduated talent, and brand-new coach in Sam Campfield, it will be interesting to watch if ThunderRidge can keep up its dominance. The culture and reputation is strong, but now there are new faces. It should make for a must-watch season this fall.
2022 record: 6-6
Week 1: August 25 vs. Pueblo West
What to watch for: Senior quarterback Blake Palladino is back for his final season. The Division I QB committed to the University of Northern Colorado in the offseason, and is determined to bring a state championship home for the Eagles. The Eagles graduated RB Noah Triplett, leaving some big shoes to fill. But Palladino tells me he’s excited about the season and is ready to get to work. If nothing else, the Eagles will be a highlight show.
2022 record: 9-3
Week 1: August 25 vs. Fort Collins
What to watch for: If it wasn’t for a two-game skid in the middle of their season, Ponderosa could have very well been undefeated going into the playoffs in 2022. Now they bring back nearly everyone, and know how to win cohesively. The Mustangs are strong and experienced at skill positions like receiver, and since the core group is returning, Ponderosa could be scary in 2023.
Week 1: August 25 vs. Mountain Vista
What to watch for: The Heritage Eagles could be primed for a breakout year. With returning players like senior quarterback Kurt Rossner and All-State senior linebacker Nick Long, the Eagles could make a push for double digit wins. After dropping two games early, Heritage went on a hot streak winning seven in a row. If they can start hot this year, watch out.
CCM’s Alex K.W. Schultz’s breakout team of the year: Mountain Vista Golden Eagles (Highlands Ranch)
“A team that might really surprise people this year is Vista, which has been an afterthought on the gridiron in years past but looked to have a great foundation in place last season. The Golden Eagles finished 7-4 and ranked No. 16 in Class 5A in 2022, but all their key pieces are back, including junior quarterback Austyn Modrzewski (who passed for a state-second-best 3,327 yards last year) and their three leading receivers (Sean Conway, Jakhai Mack and Ja’pree Jennings), which is huge given that Vista’s offense is built on slinging the ball around the yard. After the Golden Eagles played Valor Christian last year (a game in which Vista led with just a few minutes left), Vista coach Garrett Looney told me, “[Modrzewski] is only a sophomore, and he’s doing things that I haven’t seen seniors do.’”
2022 record: 5-12
Week 1: September 10 vs. Las Vegas
What to watch for: Can Coach Sean Payton get the best out of quarterback Russell Wilson and lead the Broncos to the playoffs?
2022 record: 1-11
Week 1: September 2 @ TCU
What to watch for: The Deion Sanders show. Are the Buffs finally ready for prime time? Gearing up for a Big 12 return.
2022 record: 13-3
Week 1: August 31 vs. Grand Valley State
What to watch for: Quarterback John Matocha. Can he continue his record-breaking success from 2022?
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