The Pueblo West View

CYCLONE FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Big shoes to fill? Big deal.

Time heals.

Last November, just three hours after losing a heartbreaker in the state 4A semi-finals, many of the Pueblo West Cyclone football players got off the team bus and went straight to the gym.

For offensive lineman Drew Jones, it was a therapeutic workout.

“We were shocked, mad ... disappointed. We wanted to stick together and work out our frustrations. And we knew there was still a lot of work to do. For us, the new 2013 season started that day.”

For quarterback Zac Drury, it was also a way to honor his teammates who had just played their last high school football game.

“We had an outstanding group of seniors that provided strong leadership,” Drury said. “They really set the example and showed us what it takes to get to the top.”

That outstanding group of seniors included four all-state players: running back Derek Jackson, offensive lineman Diego Rojas, linebacker Jacob Torres and linebacker/wide receiver, Peter Ward. Running behind Rojas and a very talented, hard-nosed offensive line, Jackson re-wrote the record books — scoring 29 TDs and piling up 3,343 total yards (9.8 yds. per carry). Torres and Ward also lead a defensive unit that was statistically among the state’s best. The 2012 Cyclones captured the Foothills Conference Championship in their first season in the league, and matched the record of the 2007 state championship team with 12 wins.

With these very big shoes to fill, it comes as no surprise that the football pundits are unsure what to make of this year’s team. In most preseason polls the Cyclones are simply listed among the “others to watch”.

That suits Drury just fine.

“We will use that as motivation. It is always hard to lose a player the caliber of a Derek Jackson. But D-Jack was always the first to say that he could not have been successful without every one of his teammates. There were plenty of ‘others to watch’ on our team last year ... and there will be many more that will step up this season. We believe in our coaches, and in our system.”

Head coach Monte Pinkerton has developed and refined his system over the past nine seasons.

When asked about the keys to his success, “Coach Pink,” as he is affectionately known, points to good old-fashioned hard work.

“Last season our guys learned what’s possible with a lot of hard work,” he said. “We were right on the doorstep. Again this season we have great players that are willing to do the things necessary to put themselves in a position to be successful. The support we get from the families and our community is tremendous, and allows us to continue to grow as a program.”

With 5 a.m. practices, year-round strength and conditioning, summer contact camps, sweating through “hills and boxes,” and 7 on 7 competitions, all become part of the Cyclone tradition.

Exceptional offensive line play is the hallmark of Coach Pinkerton’s system.

This season the Cyclones offensive line returns four starters, including big No. 54, Keith Hed.

At 6-foot 7-inches, 265 pounds, Hed is a dominating presence in the middle.

Currently ranked among the state’s top linemen, Hed is a legitimate Division I prospect.

Fellow starters Cody Ortiz, Bret Ryder and Malik Jones round out the formidable front line that will continue to open holes for the “next men up” in the Cyclone’s backfield. Waiting in the wings is another impressive group of explosive and powerful ball carriers, including Kamron Clough, Kaden Wills, Ryan Olson, Travis Myers and Shane Larson.

It is no secret that the Cyclones will continue to run the ball — again and again.

However, this season the opposing defenses may not always know who will run the ball.

Drury is an experienced and intelligent

playmaker that runs the zone-read offense as well as any quarterback.

His passing skills are still somewhat unknown since he averaged just five attempts per game last season.

But Drury has shown that he can complete the clutch passes to sustain key drives, and his receiving core is more than ready to carry some of the load. The receiver slots are hotly contested this pre-season, with Dean Thompson, Tristen Ross, Levi Nineman, Jacob Enriquez and several others looking strong.

Defensively the Cyclones return seven starters from a team that shut down some of the state’s best offenses, including the eventual state champions. The talented and very physical group of defensive backs include seniors Brock Wahlert, Brad Padilla and Josh Casias. The line backing core features senior Justin Krakow, along with junior Brandon Summer.

The men in the trenches are Aaron Avila, Eric Mears, Trevor Encinias, Austin Stoltz, Brenton Martin, Zack Napier and Kelston Coats. Look for the Cyclones to continue to play a very physical style of defense that can deliver the big turnover.

As the season opener draws near this new team is building its identity on a foundation of confidence. Their resolve is palpable. The football experts seem to have nailed it. The Pueblo West Cyclones are indeed a team to watch in 2013.

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The Pueblo West View