Cardinals searching for consistency under Lenard | PostIndependent.com

Cardinals searching for consistency under Lenard

Grand Valley goes through tackling drills during an early fall sports practice in Parachute.
Kyle Mills / Post Independent

Despite having an experienced, explosive offense and a hard-hitting defense, the Cardinals just weren’t able to put it together consistently week-to-week last season, finishing 2-7 on the year. They’re out to change that this season.

“A lot of people are writing us off early this season,” said Taylor Clark, Grand Valley senior tight end/defensive end. “We’re out to prove people wrong and make the most of our season. This is a really good group. Now it’s time to get the results we’ve been working so hard for.”

Along with Clark, senior running back/linebacker Jonathan Pena, senior running back/linebacker Levi Nolan, senior guard/defensive lineman Justin Andrews, and senior center/defensive tackle Bo Berger all return for the Cardinals, providing varsity experience this fall.

Under Lenard, the Cardinals are shooting for a top 3 finish in the 1A Western Slope League, which features teams like Paonia, Meeker, and Olathe to name a few. With the amount of experience back on both sides of the ball, and a renewed optimism after a rough year, the Cardinals are pushing for a playoff berth once again in Parachute.

However, the Cardinals need to replace dual-threat all-state quarterback Jeffrey Holbrook, who graduated. Last year, Holbrook racked up nearly 1,000 total yards in six games before missing the rest of the season because of injury. Although injuries are never good, it afforded Lenard and the Cardinals a chance to get a look at backup quarterback Sam Gomez, who returns for his senior year as the favorite to start the season under center.

“We really don’t have a replacement for a kid like Jeffrey,” Lenard said. “We do think Sammie is going to step in for us this year and pick up where he left off. He did a real nice job for us last year, and he’s a lot more mature. He’s been working hard this off-season, and his arm looks a lot stronger. We’re excited to see what he can do.”

With Gomez under center, the Cardinals have an experienced backfield, led by Pena, who rushed for 396 yards and four touchdowns while adding 11 receptions for 107 yards and a score last season.

For his career, Pena has 1,023 career rushing yards on 239 carries, scoring nine touchdowns on the ground. With the steady senior back in the backfield, the Cardinals can rely on him heavily to start the season, allowing Gomez to adjust to the starting role.

“Jon is poised for a big year,” Lenard said. “It’s great to have a guy back like him, not just for his talent, but for his leadership. He’s a big part of what we do here, and obviously teams are going to be keying on him this year. But his leadership is so big for us. He’s played all four years on varsity, so that will be huge for us on both side of the ball.”

Grand Valley made a lot of noise the last two years from an offensive standpoint, but this year the Cardinals are hoping to get the defense going to match the offensive attack.

During the 2017 season, Grand Valley lost three games in which they allowed 21 points or less, but in the four other losses, the Cardinals allowed teams to put up at least 34 points. Compare that with the Cardinals pitching two shutouts for their wins during the 2017 season.

“I think the defense is going to be slightly better,” Lenard said. “It all depends on how the kids come together and play. They gelled well down the stretch last season, so we’re hoping to keep that going and have the kids focus on their own assignments and not try to do too much this year.”

“We’re not as inexperienced as we were in year’s past,” Pena added. “That’s a big thing for us. A lot of these guys have been playing together forever, so there’s a lot of familiarity. We just need to take it one step at a time, focus on our roles, and push towards our goals. The talent is here. Now it’s time for us to show it.”