ENGLEWOOD • Two of the top prep football programs in the region got a quick look at the other Friday, not that they needed one.
“There are a lot of overlap kids in terms of kids that grew up playing football together and now one is at Pine Creek and one is at Palmer Ridge,” Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford said.
With Pine Creek’s press conference starting 30 minutes before the Bears’ at Colorado High School Activities Association’s second annual media day at Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse, there was plenty of time to get reacquainted with the opposition ahead of a Week 6 contest for area supremacy. The Class 4A Eagles got the best of Pulford’s 3A Bears, 27-12, in a highly anticipated Week 1 matchup last year. With the 2019 showdown in the middle of the schedule, it was a little too early to think about the rematch for Pine Creek senior Max Lofy, who recently committed to Wisconsin, but each team’s lofty goals and competitive nonleague schedules were popular talking points Friday.
“It was a great game last year, but truly, we take it game by game. We can’t overlook these first five games otherwise it’s not a good situation,” Lofy said. “You kinda always get fired up when you know some guys that you’re working out with that you play against, but that only comes that week when we play them.”
For now, Pine Creek’s focus in on Week 1 opponent Rio Rancho, a perennial power in New Mexico, according to coach Todd Miller. The Eagles hope a nonleague schedule that features Palmer Ridge and Valor Christian prepares the team for a deeper run after a quarterfinal exit a year ago.
“It’s not a bad thing that our program is at that point where you go to the quarters and it’s disappointing, but it is,” the Pine Creek coach said. “We want more.”
Palmer Ridge rebounded from a 1-2 start in 2018 to win a second straight 3A title after avenging a regular-season loss to Pueblo East in the finale. Despite significant losses on both sides of the ball, the Bears are thinking about a three-peat.
“I think we can,” senior running back Raef Ruel said. “I just think that we want to be the best program in the state, the best program that we can be.”
Losing 21 seniors from last year, the Bears figure to have a little more rebuilding to do. Star quarterback Ty Evans plays at North Carolina State, while defensive end Aidan Cullen, entering his freshman season at Colorado State, led an experienced front seven that returns one starter in K’ya Martin.
“When you have that many people leave, it’s really important to onboard the new faces and the new people in your organization the right way,” Pulford said, “so building strong personal relationships, equipping them with what they need — whether that’s knowledge … whatever it is that they need — to build those strong personal relationships within your team so that culture permeates into everybody in the organization.”
The Eagles’ offensive attack will look much the same with quarterback Gavin Herberg handing off to David Moore III or throwing to seniors Lofy and Eddie Kyle behind an experienced line that’s bigger than any unit Miller remembers coaching.
“I’ve been with these guys for four years, some of them even longer,” Herberg said. “Eddie over there, I’ve been (teammates) with him since sixth grade, so we’ve been together for a while.”
The region’s marquee regular-season matchup between two familiar teams stocked with college prospects and championship aspirations comes a little bit later this year, but that might increase anticipation when the time comes.
“We’re looking forward to seeing Palmer Ridge again,” Pine Creek lineman Ethan Kramer said.
“There’s a lot of history with us and that team,” said Palmer Ridge lineman Cameron Reiman, a former teammate of Moore’s. “I know a ton of guys on their team, and I know they’re working hard, and I know that our guys are working hard. I think it’s going to be a great game.”