As a 1A school, Olathe High School isn’t afforded the luxuries schools in other classifications are able to enjoy. With a smaller roster and less batch of students out for football, there’s more of a need for players to play positions on offense and defense.
But that style isn’t new to the Pirates.
“We play iron man football,” coach Ryan Corn said after practice on Wednesday. “We always have. Even our good teams played iron man football. It’s one of those things that we would love to be able to platoon, but the honest truth is we’re going to put out our best players on the field.”
After five straight seasons hovering around .500, a heavy group of returning players should give the Pirates a chance to play some postseason football. Among them include starting quarterback Gavin Hall, running back Wyatt Mansker, safety Xzavier Waterman, wide receiver Brandon Nicolas, defensive end Dustin Young, all with experience against teams they’ll be facing this season.
The Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA), after reforming league alignments for Season A (fall), largely kept the 1A Western Slope League intact. Paonia, Cedaredge, Hotchkiss and Meeker were all held over along with Olathe, with Gunnison acting as the newcomer.
Though the Pirates were outscored 114 to 90 in league play a season ago, the team went 3-2 thanks to a ground game that helped them control the clock more often than not.
That game plan won’t change in 2020.
“That’s one area we’ve focused a ton of energy on this year, really focusing on what we can do line play wise. Our line really focused on what techniques we’re using and how to get guys to block them because we’re not the biggest line out there, so we’re going to really try to utilize our speed and angles," Corn said.
The shorter schedule should have some benefits, Mansker and Hall said. With uncertainty as to how many games they’ll be able to play, and having to play that style of “iron man” football, there shouldn’t be a problem focus wise come game time.
“It’s not much different for us,” Hall said. “We have to just go out and play every game like the last one — give everything we got and everybody’s got to do what they can.”
“It might motivate us a little more because we don’t have those extra four games. With COVID and everything, we don’t know when our last game is going to be so we got to definitely play every game like its our last.”
The team, with its run first approach, has some juniors ready to shoulder some carries alongside the senior Mansker. It’s added experience that could help the Pirates further their game plan even more.
“It gives them an advantage because now they understand the concepts a little bit better,” Corn said. “If we can get the line play going, really get our quarterback reading well with the triple option, good things can happen.”
That offensive trend can continue this fall if the Pirates establish their attack throughout the course of a game with little to no penalties. Though Olathe scored over 25 points in three games last season, two of those games were back-to-back.
Consistency on the offensive end will be key for a Pirates team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2013.
“Same teams as last year,” Hall said. “We got to play everybody the same way. Give everything we got as a team.”
Following a five hour ride to Trinidad for a non-conference game, the Pirates will rotate home and away against Paonia and Cedaredge, and will then have the benefit of back-to-back home games. Olathe will finish at Gunnison, which will be played at Western Colorado University as part of senior night in the Mountaineer Bowl.
With just a six-game schedule, and a smaller playoff bracket (eight teams), the student-athletes and Corn are well aware of the importance each game will carry.
“With a short season, every game counts now,” Corn said. “It’s one of those things — they want it, especially this senior class. They know that only eight teams qualify this year. Every game counts. We can’t have one bad game.”
Meeker was the lone team in the 1A Western Slope League to find a spot in preseason rankings. The Cowboys come into the 2020 season ranked 3rd in 4A after finishing 9-2 in 2019.
Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press