Three days before the start of its season, the Mancos High School football team conducted a spirited practice on its home field. As shoulder pads crunched and whistles sounded, both the team’s offense and defense appeared to be firing on all cylinders.
Throughout the two-hour practice, senior quarterback Breccen Morelli barked out signals, senior running back/wide receiver Anthony Medina brought defenders to their knees with nifty cuts, and junior linebacker Colt Fury delivered numerous bone-crushing hits.
While no one on the field openly admitted it, the early-season practice had the feel of something special, and after the two-hour session concluded, it was evident that the Bluejays, who finished with a 9-1 record last season, will contend for a state title this year.
“I think we want to be the same place that every other team in the state wants to be at the end of the season – holding that state trophy,” Morelli said. “Even more importantly, we get to be out here with our brothers. Being out here and being with these guys is what matters most.”
In chasing its first football state championship in school history, the Bluejays will lean heavily on Morelli, who added muscle while working a construction job over the summer, and brings leadership and experience to the huddle.
In addition to those intangibles, the senior gunslinger will bring a powerful arm and uncanny running ability to the table as evidenced by the 538 passing yards, 648 rushing yards and 16 total offensive touchdowns that he produced last season.
“Last year, we had an amazing season, but we did lose in the first round of the playoffs,” Morelli said. “I think last year, we got a little lazy and thought we ran the world. We want to work harder this year.”
While Morelli’s dual-threat ability will play a key role in the Mancos offense, the senior gunslinger will be far from the only talented skill player sporting a blue-and-white jersey when the Bluejays take the field.
Lining up in the backfield behind Morelli will be senior running back Medina, whose big-play ability was on full display last season when he rushed for 636 yards and nine touchdowns. Sophomore Chase Moore will also see significant time in the backfield after he rushed for 489 yard and eight touchdowns as a freshman.
“We’re just going to run the ball down (our opponents’) throat,” Moore said. “We’re just going to work our butts off this season.”
“Chase Moore could have run the ball for over a thousand yards last year, but he was behind Chance Garcia,” associate head coach Allen Matthews said. “I expect Chase Moore to be one of the top running backs in Colorado across all classifications.”
Complementing Morelli, Medina and Moore at the skill positions and figuring to add plenty of flair to the passing game will be junior receiver Christian Cova, who blossomed last season while accumulating 329 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns.
Anchoring the offense will be senior linemen Nick Dan and Andrew Ruatti, junior linemen Ty Everett and Fury, and sophomore lineman Andres Moreno. The ability of that quintet of lineman to control the line of scrimmage figures to be key in the always-physical A-8 Mountain League.
On the defensive side of the ball, Mancos will be led by numerous returning starters, including Fury, who led the team with 128 tackles last season, and Morelli, who notched a team-high 9½ sacks.
Also looking to turn the tide on the defensive side of the ball will be ball-hawks Cova and Medina, who combined for five interceptions last season.
“I’m just excited to hit,” Cova said. “We’ve been out here hitting each other in practice. I’m excited to get into a game and hit someone.”
While Mancos enters the season as the clear favorite to win the A-8 Mountain League, several league teams, including Sargent, Norwood and Dove Creek, will be much improved and could push the Bluejays.
Players and coaches agreed that this year’s team is unlikely to fold, however, after suffering a humbling, yet motivating, 40-0 loss to Merino in the first round of the 8-man playoffs last season.
“I think (our loss to Merino) definitely made the team work harder during the offseason,” Fury said. “We got some kids to show up to the summer stuff and we’re going to build on that as we move through this season.”
One final factor that could aid the Bluejays in soaring to new heights this season is a new state-of-the-art turf field that was installed as part of the school’s overall remodeling project prior to this season. “It’s pretty nice,” Fury said. “It’s faster than our old field.”
“We’re super fortunate,” added Matthews. “We’re thankful for what the state and what our town has done for us. We have one of the nicest facilities within 250 miles and we’re excited for that. It’s something for our community to be proud of.”
After opening its season on the road against Plateau Valley on Aug. 31, Mancos will play road contests against Merino and Sargent before returning home to face Del Norte for homecoming on Sept. 27.
“I’m excited to play on our new field at homecoming. That will be a good entrance,” Fury said. “We’re going to have a good season.”