Cyclone gridders relying on basics, tradition
Pueblo West High School head football coach Monte Pinkerton doesn’t have much stomach for the spread offense and its derivatives that are all the vogue in high school and college football.
He’d rather look you straight in your eye and run the ball down your throat.
“We have no secrets here,” Pinkerton said. “We play smash mouth football, using running and defense. That’s how you win championships.”
Of course, Pinkerton knows what he’s talking about. Five straight 4A state playoff appearances, a state semifinal appearance in 2012 and the 2007 state championship is proof that the Pueblo West approach works.
The Pueblo West squad is built from the inside out. The main focus is on the lines, where the offensive and defensive lines are the foundation.
“That is the key to our success,” Pinkerton said. “We must control the line of scrimmage and stay aggressive.”
The line opens up seams for the quarterback and running backs on offense. Defensively, swarming, ball hawk linebackers are the focal point.
On both sides of the ball, the receivers and defensive backs keep opponents honest.
It really is a truly basic approach. And it’s an approach that West has down to a science.
“We put a big emphasis on being physical and putting a hat on a hat,” he said.
That style of play will be reliant on an experienced offensive line that returns three starters and a defensive front led by ends Ryan Olson and Brandon Firkins. Malik Jones and Josh Medeiros play both ways, giving the Cyclones experience on both sides on the lines. After establishing dominance in the trenches, West plans on a very athletic offensive backfield and linebacking crew to lead the way.
At quarterback, former tight end Dean Thompson, a junior, steps in to run the Cyclones’ ball-control offense. Thompson, at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, has a high football IQ, Pinkerton said, and is the ideal person to lead this offense.
“He had played quarterback all of his football life except for last year,” Pinkerton said. “But he understands everything about the offense because he’s been there. He knows the routes. He knows the blocking assignments. He’s done all those things before.”
Thompson will be handing the ball off to a trio in the backfield comprised of halfbacks Cameron Vaughan and Shane Larson and fullback Kaden Wills.
A year ago, Wills was the top ball carrier, rushing for 896 yards and averaging seven yards per carry. Vaughan wasn’t far behind with 623 yards and also averaging seven yards per carry. Larson was a starter before his season ended with an injury, which was a recurring storyline for the backfield unit in 2013.
“When we were going through [the injuries], it was tough,” Pinkerton said. “We were forced to push some younger guys into those starting roles. But now we’re better for it and we have experience at that position.”
The receiving corps is led by senior Travis Myers, who is the downfield option in the Cyclones’ option offense.
Defensively, Brandon Summer is the focal point at middle linebacker, flanked by Wills and senior Curtis Gilbert. Playing in the defensive backfield, as well, is Vaughan, who is as solid at safety as he is at halfback.
“We put a big emphasis on our linebackers and safety,” Pinkerton said. “Our line controls the line of scrimmage and we let our linebackers do their jobs, which is to fly around and make plays.”
With West’s “dare-you-to-beat-us” attitude, it’s appropriate, then, that the Cyclones took full advantage of its schedule as members of the new 4A Southern League. West will have to face down a tough conference comprised of defending conference champ Pueblo South, defending 3A state champion Coronado, Centennial, Cheyenne Mountain and Palmer.
In non-conference matchups, it will open with the Pigskin Classic at Pueblo County followed by three consecutive playoffs teams - Vista Ridge, Falcon, and defending 4A state champ Pine Creek. Its non-conference schedule closes with Pueblo West, which is a dark horse pick to make the playoffs this season.
“Our mindset is that we want to play the toughest non-league schedule we can,” Pinkerton said. “We want to play the best.”
“That plays into our ultimate goal, which is to win games in the playoffs and win state.”