With most of the key pieces back in place from a state championship team, many might be tempted to rest on their laurels.
Not the Windsor High School football team.
“Being the guy with the hardware, the bullseye is on your back,” coach Chris Jones said. “It’s a big target and you’ve got to be strong and move quick so that people can’t hit it.”
The Wizards got back to work — on the field, anyway — in April with 60-minute optional practices three times a week beginning at 6:15 a.m.
Of 84 players in the top three grades, an average of 67 has attended; spring-sport athletes are encouraged not to attend on competition days.
“The first day we had 78, and to be averaging 67, that’s a good turnout,” Jones said. “And I’m really proud of our offseason development so far.”
Jones said the Wizards make small adjustments in their offensive and defensive schemes in the spring, starting slow and then picking up the pace.
For instance, an offensive play is introduced with four words and a number to signify responsibilities. Through six practices, that same play had been reduced to one word and one number as players understand the concept.
“We put them in during these AM practices so that when we do our two-week camp in June, the kids know exactly what we’re doing and we hit the ground running,” Jones said.
“We’ve run a specific triple-option scheme for a couple of years now, but we tweak it a little bit. We run a different look off it, different option points, different pulls of the guards, different motions, different play-action passes.”
The Wizards have eight starters back on defense and seven on offense from the 13-1 team that rushed for 308.3 yards per game and didn’t allow an opponent to score more than 14 points.
One starter unable to play as of yet has been quarterback Brad Peeples, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the fourth quarter of the 35-14 state championship victory over Loveland.
Peeples, who rushed for 1,368 yards and 20 touchdowns while passing for 424 yards and seven more scores as a junior, is on track to be full strength in July.
“He’s moving forward,” Jones said. “I listen to the trainer and the trainer tells him what he can and can’t do for the week and that’s what we do. The toughest thing for injured kids is that they might feel great and want to do more, but who knows how the injury is really healing? Right now it’s April, and that’s not the most important month of the football season.”
In his place, junior-to-be Connor Apodaca and sophomore-to-be Chase Lanckriet have been getting reps with the No. 1 offense.
“Those guys have been working hard all offseason,” Jones said. “Our kids are hungry and want to play, and those guys see it as an opportunity to start. Every year, no one is guaranteed a spot. It’s the guy doing the work, doing it on the field, in the classroom and in the community.”
Linebacker Corte Tapia spearheads the Wizards’ defense again after taking part in 157 tackles last season, including 15.5 quarterback sacks. The senior-to-be, 6-foot-2 and 222 pounds, is drawing interest from the likes of Colorado State, Wyoming, Air Force, Boise State and Northern Colorado, Jones said. Tapia set the Colorado high school career sack record (39) during last season’s state championship game.
“We move him around (on defense) and that changes people’s blocking schemes and open up plays for other guys to make,” Jones said.
The Wizards like to keep Storm Fox (78 tackles, 14 sacks in 2014) opposite Tapia to cash in when teams focus too much on Tapia.
Fox and wide receiver/outside linebacker Zach Moser are among those receiving interest from upper-level college programs, Jones said.
Meanwhile, the Wizards are preparing for a schedule that will include the likes of Pine Creek (the 4A champions in 2013 and 2014) and 2012 champion Monarch.
“It’s a pretty challenging schedule,” Jones said.
But the Wizards are getting ready for it.