Cardinals hoping for big jump in second season under Lenard | PostIndependent.com

Cardinals hoping for big jump in second season under Lenard

Heading into the 2015 season, things seemed very dire for a rebuilding Grand Valley program under first-year head coach Tim Lenard.

Results on the field weren’t great, but there was plenty of exciting young talent on the way. Finally, at the very end of the regular season, the Cardinals had a breakthrough on the field, snapping a 26-game losing streak that stretched all the way back to Oct. 21, 2012, against Coal Ridge.

Now, with a win in its pocket, the vibe around this year’s version of the Grand Valley football team is more upbeat, and expectations are higher with those same dynamic skill players and a veteran group of leaders in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

The level of excitement and commitment heading into year two under Lenard is apparent just by watching the Cardinals practice on their brand new field in Parachute.

“Excitement is very high right now,” Lenard said. “That comes with what we did at the end of last year and what he have in place this year. The commitment has also been great all offseason. We routinely had 15 to 18 guys in the weight room this summer, and they’re excited and much stronger.”

Unlike last season, the Cardinals now have quite a bit to be excited about, starting at the skills positions as dynamic sophomore running backs Jonathan Pena and Levi Nolan return with tons of experience at the high school level, while senior linemen Austin Walck, Evan Hoff and Austin Fox return up front to pave the way.

But despite having all of this young, experienced talent returning, it appears as though most in the 1A Western Slope League continue to overlook the improving Cardinals as a serious threat.

Frankly, that’s OK with the Cardinals’ coaching staff.

“We like being in that position of being overlooked,” Lenard said. “Hopefully we can sneak up on some people this year. I think we’re definitely going to be improved from last year, and I think if the kids keep buying in and continue to work hard, we’ll have some success. I like being the underdog, but if we don’t have a goal of the playoffs, we’re wasting our time out here.”

With the roster in place, there’s no telling how high the ceiling is with the Cardinals, not only this season, but moving forward with Lenard at the helm.

But despite being young at key spots, having the right seniors in place will help develop the program moving forward, especially with teams overlooking them.

“It definitely drives us,” Hoff said. “Other teams are looking down on us like we’re nothing, but we can show up and smack them in the mouth and show who we are. There’s a sense of pride in that.”

On the field, the Cardinals have plenty of experience — regardless of class level — to rely on in 2016 on both sides of the ball, especially around the line of scrimmage.

Offensively, the Cardinals will feature a heavy dose of Pena and Nolan in the running game with Fox, Hoff and Walck opening up holes.

There is a quarterback battle underway between Jeff Holbrook, Caleb Hughes, Jason Schubert and Emmet Kuper, but whomever wins the job will have plenty of talent to throw the ball to in receivers Laytham Magana, Angel Garcia, Garret Magee and Kalb Mercato.

“We want to be fast and physical, and aggressive,” Walck said. “We have a ton of skill and experience, so we want to put up some points this year and play an exciting style of football.”

Defensively, the Cardinals’ strength remains in the trenches as Fox and fellow senior Andrew Kinghen return to hold down the defensive line, while Hoff and Walck lead the way at linebacker.

Invert safeties Pena and Nolan will be asked to play all of the field in Grand Valley’s 3-3 Stack defense, while Holbrook, Magana and Schubert will look to force turnovers in the secondary.

Overall, the talent is apparent with the Cardinals, but it’s up to the commitment from the players to fulfill the vast potential they have as a team in 2016.

“We’re excited and we’re ready to win,” Nolan said. “We’ve worked so hard this offseason and that win to close the year has really fueled our hunger to win. It’s time to show teams how much better we are.”

SCHEDULE:

9/2 — 7 p.m. — vs. Vail Christian

9/9 — 7 p.m. — vs. Basalt

9/16 — 7 p.m. — vs. Roaring Fork

9/23 — 7 p.m. — at Aspen

9/30 — 7 p.m. — vs. Olathe

10/7 — 7 p.m. — at Meeker

10/14 — 7 p.m. — at Hotchkiss

10/21 — 7 p.m. — vs. Cedaredge

10/28 — 7 p.m. — at Paonia


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