Grand Valley football preview: Fun is in the Cards for Grand Valley
Post Independent Sports Editor
GRAND VALLEY CARDINALS
HEAD COACH: Danny Manzanares (First season)
LAST SEASON: 0-9 overall, 0-7 Class 2A Western Slope League play, no postseason.
RETURNING STARTERS, OFFENSE/DEFENSE: 4/4
BASE FORMATIONS, OFFENSE/DEFENSE: Double Wing/4-4
KEY RETURNERS: Leon Hernandez, Sr., QB/DB; Damien Vigil, Sr., WR/LB; Alfonso Garcia, Jr., OL/DL; Zach Kelty, Jr., OL/DL; Austin Walck, Soph., RB/LB.
COULD MAKE A SPLASH: Caleb Hughes, Soph., QB/LB; Cristian Gomez, Sr., RB/DB; Mike Lewis, Jr., OL/DL.
POTENTIAL KEY GAMES: Aug. 29 at Aspen; Sept. 26 at Paonia. With so many new things this season, starting the season strong against a former league rival in Aspen could be a big confidence boost. The first league game the Cardinals play as a member of the 1A WSL is at Paonia, the defending state champ. It’s definitely not a gimmie game.
PARACHUTE — It’s safe to say that the players on the Grand Valley High School football team have a whole new outlook this year. Just ask them.
“I think all of the change from last year is a very positive thing,” junior offensive and defensive lineman Mike Lewis said. “We have new techniques that we’re learning and a new outlook. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Fun and learning is the emphasis this season for first-year Grand Valley coach Danny Manzanares, a former assistant coach at the school who took over following the resignation of former longtime coach Mike Johnson. He admits that he’s been pleasantly surprised by the turnout this season, which as of Aug. 12 was up to 33 players.
That’s a number that has continued to grow, though — along with the overall enthusiasm of the team.
“We had our mini camp here a couple of weeks ago, and I would have been thrilled with getting 20 kids out,” Manzanares said. “We wound up with 25, which was incredible.
“Truth be told, I really didn’t know what to expect coming into this job, especially with the way things went last year,” the first-year coach continued. “But the amount of enthusiasm and dedication that all of these kids have shown me so far has been a very pleasant surprise.”
Grand Valley finished the season 0-9 in 2013, with two of those losses coming by forfeit thanks to a paperwork error that helped pave the way to the use of an ineligible player. The Cardinals also dropped down from the Class 2A Western Slope League to the 1A WSL thanks to declining enrollment, joining a league that includes Paonia, the defending 1A state champ, and Cedaredge, which won it all the year before that.
Hotchkiss and Meeker, along with Lake County of Leadville, will also prove to be tough opponents. Manzanares isn’t concerned about that, though.
“I’m actually excited,” the coach said. “This was the league I played in when I was here. And this is a tough league to be in.
“But that’s not really a concern. It’s more of a positive for me. We get to see exactly where we stand, not just against the league, but against the best in the state.”
Grand Valley isn’t too far removed from that classification. In 2012, the Cardinals finished 8-2, with some unforseen, season-ending injuries contributing to their loss to Middle Park in the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs.
The Cardinals, who had a pass-happy offense last season, will switch to a double-wing set where their running game will pick up a good chunk of the yardage during the season. Grand Valley is also switching from a base 3-5 defensive front to a 4-4 set, putting an emphasis on a player’s responsibility to cover a particular area of the field against and opposing offense.
Sophomore running back Austin Walck, who became an impact player for the Cardinals near the end of last season, will be a key in the Grand Valley running game. Senior Leon Hernandez will take snaps at quarterback, and junior Zach Kelty will also help anchor his team’s offensive and defensive lines.
“We have a lot of running backs now, but we don’t have a go-to guy yet,” said senior Cristian Gomez, who will be one of those running backs this season. “Maybe we’ll have that later in the season, but right now we’re just starting and everyone is the same.”
Lewis is also expected to make an impact on both the offensive and defensive lines. And senior Damiel Vigil, along with sophomore Caleb Hughes, will help anchor the Cardinals’ corps of linebackers.
Grand Valley opens the season at Aspen on Aug. 29. The Cardinals will play their home opener on Sept. 12 against Coal Ridge.
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