Colorado prep football: 100 impact players to watch in 2023

After scouring over prospect lists, CHSAANow all-state teams and 2022 stats, The Denver Post compiled a list of some of Colorado’s top high school football talents. Players are listed in alphabetical order and cover all of the 11-man football classifications.

Blake Barnett (Erie), QB, sr.: A Kansas State commit and returning All-Colorado pick, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound QB has topped 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing two years in a row. After leading the Tigers to the 4A final (2021) and semifinals (2022), there’s just one thing left to do: Win the whole dang thing.

Mikhail Benner (Broomfield), DB, jr.: Offensive coordinators beware: Nobody in the state has a better nose for the football than Benner, a 6-foot-1 All-Colorado defensive back with elite athleticism who led the state with 11 interceptions as a sophomore.

Blake Branham (Ponderosa), LB, sr.: The 5-foot-11, 200-pound middle linebacker showed a knack for rising to the occasion last fall, snagging two pick-6s and four tackles for loss in the 4A state playoffs. After averaging 11 tackles (1.16 for loss) over his last six games, a big senior year is in the cards.

Amari Brown (Pueblo Central), RB/OLB/S, jr.: Armed with excellent vision, power and speed, the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Brown needed just eight games to top 1,200 yards rushing as a sophomore. If Central breaks a 10-season playoff drought, he’ll be among the primary reasons.

Omari Bursey (Legacy), MLB/RB, sr.: A standout junior year (72 tackles, 9.0 for loss) caught the eye of FCS powers Montana and Eastern Washington. Given his size, agility and knack for delivering big hits, the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder should have the full attention of opposing ball carriers, too.

AJ Burton (Cherry Creek), LT, sr.: The 6-foot-5, 280-pound Iowa State commit is the anchor of yet another Bruins offensive line loaded with FBS talent. Before heading to Ames, a shot at a fourth 5A state championship awaits.

Carson Caplan (Pine Creek), OL, sr.: The Eagles’ leader in the trenches has a Big Ten body (6-foot-3, 290 pounds) and Ivy League brain (4.3 GPA) — a combination that makes the Cornell commit one of the top interior offensive linemen in the state.

Esai Carrillo (Delta), RB/DB, sr.: One half of a potent two-headed backfield for the 2A runner-up Panthers last fall, Carillo’s slashing running style (1,064 yards, 11 TDs in ’22) will be counted on more than ever now that running mate Konner Workman has graduated.

Cam Chapa (Eaglecrest), FS, sr.: A three-sport athlete with strong ball skills, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound free safety enters his third varsity season with 10 career interceptions and is coming off a 100-tackle junior campaign that led the Raptors.

Abraham Chatila (Rocky Mountain), RB, sr.: A workhorse for the Lobos last fall (267 carries, 1,486 yards), the shifty Chatila topped 100 yards rushing every time he stepped on the field. Even with mammoth left tackle Ethan Thomason off to BYU, the production shouldn’t stop.

Joe Ciccio (Lutheran), WR/FS, sr.: A threat to score anytime he touches the ball, the 4A 100-meter dash champ is both QB Ryken Daugaard’s top target (71 receptions, 1,240 yards), and a game-changing defensive back (6 tackles for loss, two turnovers).

James Cillessen (Columbine), MLB/RB, sr.: The middle of the field is an unforgiving place with the 5-foot-11, 220-pound linebacker (92 tackles) zeroing in on ball carriers. Toss in his ability as a runner, pass catcher and lead blocker (289 total yards, four TDs), and you have the complete package.

Jonathan Coar (Pine Creek), RB/CB/K, jr.: Pick your poison with the PC backfield, where Coar (158 carries, 1,019 yards) and senior Mason Miller comprise one of the state’s deadliest 1-2 punches. If one of them can’t punch it in, Coar (8 of 12 on FGs, long of 46) can split the uprights.

Anthony Cobb (Broomfield), WR, sr.: Cole LaCrue may be off to Wisconsin, but his favorite target (40 receptions, 745 yards) remains. As long as the Eagles find someone to get the rangy 6-foot-1 pass catcher the ball, he’s certain to make plays.

Cam Cooper (Pine Creek), QB, jr.: Given the reins of coach Todd Miller’s high-octane attack as a sophomore, Cooper held his own (1,536 yards, 15 TDs on 54.5% passing). With another year of growth under his belt, it’s time for the 6-foot signal caller to take make a leap.

Rylan Cooney (Holy Family), QB, sr.: Able to pressure defenses with both his arm (3,930 career pass yards, 33 TDs) and legs (788 career rush yards, 15 TDs), the last piece of the puzzle for the third-year starting QB is limiting turnovers. Manage that, and the Tigers are serious 3A contenders.

Sean Conway (Mountain Vista), WR, jr.: The pass-heavy Mountain Vista attack relies heavily on the arm of QB Austyn Modrzewski, but none of it works without the athletic talents of Conway (47 receptions, 951 yards) and fellow junior pass catcher Jakhai Mack (54-812).

Jackson Cowgill (Erie), DL, sr.: A Washington State commit and first-team 4A all-state pick, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Cowgill is best known for his work on the D-line (21 sacks last two seasons), but Coach Jeff Giger plans to use him on the other side of the ball as well this fall.

Mason Cowgill (Erie), TE, sr.: One of several weapons at QB Blake Barnett’s disposal, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound tight end is one big target. Just like his brother, Mason will look to add an iron-man edge to his game this fall by flipping over to defense more regularly.

DJ Crowe (Denver East), DE/TE/RB, jr.: The numbers from the 6-foot-3, 220-pound defensive end’s sophomore season speak for themselves: With 93 tackles (26 for loss) and 14.5 sacks, Crowe is the sort of defensive menace that demands double teams.

Carter Daniels (Mountain Vista), MLB/RB, jr.: The defensive leader of a loaded junior class at Mountain Vista, Daniels already has a pair of 100-tackle seasons to his name. After logging 176 tackles (33.5 for loss) as sophomore — tops among all non-seniors — the bar has been set high.

Ryken Daugaard (Lutheran), QB, sr.: After leading the Lions to a football title game for the first time in program history with 2,585 yards and 27 TDs passing, Daugaard added 15 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame in an effort to carry his team one step further.

Landen Davidson (Broomfield), LT/DL, sr.: One glance at the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Davidson is all it takes to understand why he’ll soon be playing Big Ten football at Nebraska. Then he rips off a 4.9-second 40-yard dash, and visions of Sundays start dancing in your head.

Chevelle Early (Denver South), RB, sr.: With the tandem of QB Joseph Capra and WR Rashad Caldwell off to college, it’s on Early to shoulder more of the offensive burden for South. After rumbling for 1,947 yards and 27 TDs his first two varsity seasons, he should be able to handle it.

Charlie Eckhardt (Arapahoe), WR/S, sr.: An all-phases contributor for the Warriors last season, Eckhardt is a three-star recruit with a CSU offer already on the table. Given his work in the classroom (4.2 GPA), it’s no surprise Harvard, Cornell and Penn are beating down his door, too.

Asher Ewing (Monarch), QB, sr.: MoHi’s first playoff bid in five years came on the dual capabilities of their gritty 5-foot-9 QB, who totaled 2,657 yards of offense (2,341 passing, 316 rushing) over 11 games with some of the prettiest deep passes on the Front Range last fall.

Lincoln Fa’apouli (Fountain-Fort Carson), OT, sr.: A self-professed “meanie on the field,” the 6-foot-5, 310-pound second-team 5A all-state returnee is a bulldozer in the run game with FBS offers from Kansas and Central Michigan.

Jace Filleman (Regis Jesuit), DE/TE, jr.: Strong finishes to their sophomore seasons should have the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Filleman (11 tackles for loss, six sacks over the Raiders’ final seven games) and linebacker Kai Shelton (78 tackles, five for loss over same period) primed breakout years.

Joey Finnegan (Berthoud), OLB/RB, sr.: Quick and powerful off the edge, the 6-foot, 200-pound outside linebacker brought the heat for a salty Spartans defense last fall with 101 tackles (17 for loss), 11 sacks and one forced fumble.

Cole Gaddis (Longmont), RB/MLB, sr.: Between two-way standout Gaddis (1,305 total yards, 20 TDs) and sophomore receiver Joey Foot (37 receptions, 533 yards), quarterback Kolby Holmes (2,176 total yards) has plenty of weapons to put points on the board this fall.

Gage Ginther (Fossil Ridge), OT, sr.: The state’s top-rated senior recruit, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound road grader chose Tennessee over a slew of FBS suitors. Strong, agile and polished, he’ll anchor a SaberCats line looking to build on last year’s breakout 9-win season.

Blake Griffin (Montrose), RB, sr.: An All-Colorado selection last season as 4A’s leading rusher (2,061 yards, 26 TDs), Griffin is the complete package of power (285-pound bench press), speed (4.6-second 40-yard dash) and smarts (4.05 GPA).

AJ Guida (Mullen), MLB, sr.: A third-year starter and three-star recruit for the Mustangs defense, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Guida can go sideline to sideline (104 tackles, 9 for loss in ’22). Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico State have all made offers.

Rex Guthrie (Heritage), DB, sr.: An All-Colorado selection last year after racking up 115 tackles (6.5 for loss), three interceptions and a forced fumble, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Guthrie enters his senior season with a commitment to Matt Rhule and Nebraska solidified.

Jackson Hansen (Ralston Valley), WR, sr.: A smooth route runner who plays bigger than his 5-foot-10, 140-pound frame, Hansen is best judged by his two-way production (62 catches, 778 yards, 11 TDs; 23 tackles, three interceptions) than how he might look in pads.

Dimitri Haralambopoulos (Thomas Jefferson), RB/ATH, sr.: A fourth-year varsity contributor, the 6-foot, 200-pounder is the kind of player who never leaves the field, whether it be as a runner (221 career carries, 1665 yards), defender (103 tackles, six interceptions) or special teams performer.

Bronco Hartson (Roosevelt), QB, sr.: A state champion quarterback (2,097 total yards, 28 TDs passing/running) and wrestler (25-2) for the Rough Riders last year, Hartson is one of the biggest reasons a potential Roosevelt repeat in 3A has to be taken seriously.

Jordan Herron (Cherry Creek), RB, sr.: Armed with a unique skill set that combines great feet with instinctive vision (124 carries, 997 yards) and excellent route running (17 catches, 292 yards), the 5-foot-9, 155-pound Herron stresses defenses out of the backfield and on the perimeter. No wonder Utah State is interested.

Derek Hester (Palmer Ridge), QB, sr.: A threat on the ground (1064 career rush yards) and through the air (4,122 yards on 62% career passing), the 6-foot-1 senior has led the Bears to the 4A quarterfinals and semifinals in his two seasons taking snaps.

Chris Hunter (Liberty), RB/OLB, sr.: The Lancers’ first winning season in 13 years was powered by the legs of Hunter (196 carries, 1,321 yards), a 5-foot-9, 175-pound bruiser with breakaway speed and a knack for making the first tackler miss.

Ahmed Hussein (Denver West), RB/LB, sr.: Whether it’s out of the backfield, on the perimeter, or in the return game, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound playmaker is a touchdown waiting to happen (15 career TDs). Then Hussein switches over to defense, and he’s even more of a problem (13.5 tackles for loss in ’22).

Tucker Johnson (Delta), OL/DL, sr.: A two-time all-state selection, the Panthers’ 6-foot-3, 230-pound team captain did the Ivy League football camp circuit this summer, honing his physical, high-motor game in hopes of finishing what last year’s 2A runners-up started.

Tyrese Johnson (Ralston Valley), DE, sr.: The RV pipeline to Air Force continues with Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound edge rusher who needed all of one game to register his first sack of the 2023 season in a dominant Week 0 win over Mountain Vista.

Isaiah Jones (Mesa Ridge), RB/LB, sr.: Whether it’s churning out yards on one side of the ball (1,517 yards, 16 TDs on 209 carries) or flipping the field with a big play on the other (11 tackles for loss, three interceptions), Jones’ two-way impact has the Grizzlies on the rise in 4A.

Jake Jones (Chatfield), QB, sr.: Handed the keys to new head coach Kris Rosholt’s spread attack last fall, Jones took flight with 1,896 yards and 18 TDs passing. With each of his top three targets back in the fold, expect even more fireworks from the Chargers.

Alex Jordan (Valor Christian), DE, sr.: Strong, agile and imposing at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Jordan is a disruptive force up front (68 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles) with offers from all of the service academies, not to mention Washington State and CSU.

Jaxon Killen (Montrose), LB/RB, sr.: An all-field middle linebacker with uncanny instincts and enough speed to take away the edge, Killen (29 tackles for loss, two sacks in ’22) is a critical cog for a Red Hawks squad primed to compete at the top of 4A once again.

Aiden Knapke (Cherry Creek), DB, jr.: A tough, physical playmaker who sets the tone on the back end of the Creek defense, the 6-foot, 190-pound safety has nine interceptions, two forced fumbles and a pair of state titles after two varsity seasons. No doubt, the FBS offers will soon follow.

Peyton Knoebel (Ralston Valley), LT, sr.: The cornerstone of the Mustangs’ offensive line, the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Air Force commit provides quarterback Logan Madden with plenty of protection to unlock one of the top passing offenses in 5A.

Solomon Latimer (Doherty), WR/S, sr.: Long and lean at 6-foot-2, 165 pounds, Latimer is a matchup nightmare on the outside. Even as Doherty’s obvious No. 1 target, opponents couldn’t keep him from compiling 1,110 yards on 79 catches as a second-team 5A all-state pick last fall.

Kullen Lerma (Legacy), QB, sr.: The 6-foot-2 dual threat signal caller blossomed under first-year head coach Jay Madden last fall, compiling 2,411 total yards (1,434 passing, 928 running) and 30 TDs in his first year as a starter. What will he do for an encore in Year 2?

Jordan Leslie (Mullen), WR/DB, sr.: A do-everything point guard on the basketball court, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior’s penchant for playmaking doesn’t stop there. With 25 catches for 677 yards last season, he’s also caught the eye of Air Force, New Mexico State and Dartmouth on the football field.

Nick Long (Heritage), OLB, sr.: One of the leaders of a stingy Heritage defense that allowed just 14.17 points/game last fall, the 6-foot-1, 209-pound Long has a habit of dropping ball-carriers for a loss (15 tackles for loss, 11 sacks) and delivering punishing hits off the edge.

Micah Lumpkin (Sierra), WR/FS, sr.: Not a whole lot went right for Sierra during last year’s 1-9 campaign, but that could hardly be pinned on Lumpkin, who caught 52 passes for 1,286 yards and scored 13 of the team’s 24 touchdowns as a second-team 3A all-state selection.

Logan Madden (Ralston Valley), QB, sr.: A student of the game who spends hours dissecting film, the returning All-Colorado QB’s blend of athletic skill and smarts (2,375 yards on 71.4% passing in ’22) is sure to have the Mustangs in the 5A title mix.

Treyton Marx (Limon), OLB/T, sr.: Relentless and powerful at the point of attack, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound 1A all-state returnee can wreck a gameplan with his ability to penetrate opponents’ offensive fronts (22.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, three forced fumbles).

DeAmonte Maynard (Manual), WR/OLB, sr.: Lose track of Maynard, and things get messy in a hurry. Be it as a runner (35 carries, 589 yards, six TDs) or lined up out wide (24 catches, 719 yards, 11 TDs), the 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior can detonate at a moment’s notice.

Albert Medina (Regis Jesuit), RB, sr.: A Raiders squad that lost three FBS talents to graduation could see a big leap from the 6-foot, 175-pound Medina, who piled up 1,510 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing in his first two varsity seasons.

Samuel Meisner (Wray), RB/MLB, jr.: A first-team 1A all-state pick as a sophomore, Meisner is a two-way menace who can punish defenses as a ball carrier (159 carries, 892 yards, 19 TDs) and lower the boom on offenses as a roving middle linebacker (138 tackles, 17 for loss).

Max Mervin (Ponderosa), WR/CB/ATH, jr.: There’s little this second-team 4A all-state pick can’t do. Take snaps at QB? No problem (256 yards, five TDs passing). Catch a few balls from another passer? Easy money (37 catches, 469 yards). Take off and run out of the backfield? That’s a yes, too (23 carries, 136 yards).

Mason Miller (Pine Creek), RB/LB, sr.: The 6-foot-3, 232-pound ironman is pledged to Iowa State next season. Expected to play linebacker (59 tackles, four interceptions in ’22) at the next level, he’ll leave more than a few bruises on would-be tacklers as a runner (184 carries, 1,311 yards) this season, too.

Jack Moran (Ralston Valley), DE/RT, sr.: Even after bulking up to an imposing 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, the CSU commit still maintains a chip on his shoulder, according to his coach, with his toughness and persistent energy off the edge a key element of one of 5A’s stingiest defenses.

Landen Mroczek (Lutheran), OG/NG, sr.: An explosive athlete at 5-foot-10, 250 pounds, the 3A all-state returnee wreaks havoc up front (36 career tackles for loss) with a unique blend of power, size and speed. Whether he’s putting his fingers in the dirt or lining up as a standup linebacker, he must be accounted for.

Austyn Modrzewski (Mountain Vista), QB, jr.: Entering his third season as a varsity starter, the 6-foot-5 gunslinger is the lone returning 3,000-yard passer in the state. After leading the Golden Eagles to back-to-back playoff appearances, an offer from Kentucky is on the table.

Brock Narva (Chatfield), RB/WR/KR, jr.: A top priority for the Chargers: finding ways to get their returning 5A all-state pick the football. With elite speed and uncanny anticipation, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound burner is a blur in the open field (3167 career all-purpose yards, 21 TDs).

Justis Nicholson (Pine Creek), WR/DB, sr.: Underestimate Nicholson at your peril. From his command of the Pine Creek secondary (seven interceptions, four pass breakups in ’22) to his game-breaking 4.4 speed (26 career catches, 400 yards), the 5-foot-7 senior punches above his weight.

Jordan Ochoa (Castle View), OLB/DE, sr.: Bound for Wyoming next fall, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound edge rusher added 15 pounds of muscle over the offseason with an eye on going out with a bang.

Trey Olsen (Loveland), WR/CB, sr.: With seven of Loveland’s top eight rushers gone, Olsen, a shutdown corner with three interceptions and three pass break-ups last fall, will get a chance to build on last year’s production (71 carries, 556 yards) in the Red Wolves’ run-heavy attack.

Blake Palladino (Dakota Ridge), QB, sr.: The always-entertaining DR offense should light up scoreboards yet again this fall with the 6-foot-3 UNC commit taking snaps for a third straight season. After racking up 2,000 total yards as a junior (1,392 passing, 608 rushing) the sky’s the limit.

Brock Paquet (Windsor), OLB, sr.: Among the top 10 tacklers in the state last season with 141 (three for loss), the 5-foot-10, 165-pound senior is the leader of a sturdy Wizards defense.

Max Parrott (Cherry Creek), RT, sr.: Inserted into the Bruins’ offensive line in Week 8 of his sophomore season, the 6-foot-4, 280-pound Purdue commit held his own on what eventually became a state championship front five and hasn’t looked back since.

Colton Patterson (Green Mountain), OL/DL, sr.: Athletic and nimble at 6-foot-4, 280 pounds, the returning 3A all-state pick is a handful pulling into open space and one of the driving forces behind an offense that averaged 243.8 rushing yards per game last season.

Colton Pawlak (Fossil Ridge), RB, jr.: Despite having to sub in at QB in a pinch, Pawlak still managed to lead the SaberCats in rushing (1,272 yards, 16 TDs) by a wide margin as a sophomore. With Tennessee-bound tackle Gage Ginther opening up holes, expect him to do even more damage this fall.

Angelo Petrides (Cherry Creek), LB, sr.: A third-year starter in the middle of Creek’s 3-4 defense with an innate feel for the game (278 career tackles, seven interceptions), the 6-foot-1, 220-pound linebacker has all sorts of FBS offers coming his way, including from CU, Kansas State and Washington State.

Gunnar Phillips (Florence), K/DB, sr.: The most automatic three points in Colorado prep football? That just might be Phillips, who gives the 2A Huskies range (48-yard long), accuracy (9-of-10 on FGs in ’22) and power (25 touchbacks).

Xavier Ramirez (Roosevelt), RB/CB, sr.: The state’s leading rusher with 2,124 yards and 30 TDs on 224 carries for the 3A state champion Rough Riders last fall, Ramirez will be counted on to produce yet again behind a retooled Roosevelt offensive line.

Jordan Rechel (Fairview), WR, jr.: Sure-handed receiver? Wildcat QB? Game-breaking returner? In-motion wingback? The Knights find countless ways to get their 5-foot-11, 175-pound star the ball, and he often rewards them (1680 all-purpose yards, 14 TDs) for it.

Ryland Reetz (Estes Park), QB, sr.: Following in the footsteps of big bro Collin, Ryland took off his junior year with 2,713 yards and 31 TDs on 67.4% passing in just eight games. With his favorite target Jose Gonzalez (45 receptions, 903 yards) also back, the pyrotechnics figure to continue.

Bryce Riehl (Mesa Ridge), QB, jr.: A starting point guard on the 5A state championship basketball team, .400 hitter on the baseball team and free-wheeling quarterback (2,131 yards, 23 TDs on 56.5% passing) on the football team, Riehl is an athlete for all seasons.

Rowan Risner (Fairview), QB, sr.: The latest in a long line of prolific passers to roll through Tom McCartney’s Fairview program, Risner has a year under his belt (2,296 yards, 19 TDs on 60.4% passing) and plenty of weapons to make some noise this fall.

Jordan Rockwell (Limon), QB, sr.: The Badgers with an experienced starting quarterback? And a first-team, 1A all-state pick at that? That’s bad news for the rest of 1A, which has to deal with an efficient passer (1,250 yards, 16 TDs on 66.1% passing) on top of everything else Limon does.

Nate Sandy (Legend), MLB, sr.: The senior leader of a defense that brings back three of its top four tacklers, Sandy covers a lot of ground (107 tackles, 12 for loss, three interceptions) for a Titans team looking to maintain a run of four straight winning seasons.

Gabe Sawchuk (Valor Christian), RB, sr.: After sharing the Valor backfield the last two seasons (1,559 yards, 19 TDs), the returning 5A second-team all-state pick is expected to get the lion’s share of the carries this fall before suiting up for one of his many FBS suitors next year.

Zach Smith (ThunderRidge), TE/T, sr.: The departure of a talented senior class, as well as wunderkind QB DJ Bordeaux, leaves some holes for the Grizzlies to fill. One spot they won’t have to worry about: wherever Smith, a 6-foot-7, 260-pound CSU commit, lines up.

Sam Smolen (Lutheran), K/DB, sr.: The quarterback of the Lions defense, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound free safety makes the most of his athletic skills with a high football IQ that produced six interceptions, five pass break-ups, 60 tackles and a first-team 3A all-state selection last fall.

Peyton Sommers (Cherokee Trail), WR, jr.: The reigning 5A state champion in both the 200 and 400, Sommers can take the top off a defense (23 catches, 449 yards, five TDs) in a hurry, just like he did with a pair of long TD grabs in the Cougars’ playoff loss to Rock Canyon last fall.

Josh Snyder (Columbine), RB, sr.: The Rebels’ ground-and-pound attack starts with the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Snyder, who topped 100 yards rushing eight times in 11 games while compiling 1,574 total yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior.

Wyatt Sprague (Holyoke), QB, sr.: Production has rarely been a problem for Sprague, a 1A first-team all-state pick who’s topped 1,800 total yards in back-to-back seasons for the Dragons. With nearly every key piece back from last year’s 4-6 squad, now it’s time to win.

Caden Stansbury (Loveland), LB/FB, sr.: With a majority of the offensive leaders from last year’s 4A runner-up squad lost to graduation, it’s up to Stansbury (28 career tackles for loss, seven sacks) and the perpetually salty Loveland defense to hold down the fort.

Jake Stonebraker (Douglas County), RB/OLB, sr.: The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Kansas State commit took a big step forward as a difference-maker on both sides of the ball (1,100 total yards, seven tackles for loss) last fall. With a solid senior class around him, the Huskies have got some serious bite.

Liam Szarka (Grandview), QB, sr.: Starting under center for the third year in a row, Szarka’s dual threat bona fides (4,745 total yards, 54 TDs passing/rushing) make him a natural fit for Air Force, and a real challenge for 5A defenses.

Sebastian Torres (Jefferson), ILB, sr.: The leader of the Saints defense from the middle of the field, Torres lived in opponents’ backfields last fall with 123 tackles (24 for loss) and eight sacks.

Hayden Treter (Cherry Creek), RG, sr.: The highest rated of Creek’s three FBS-caliber senior offensive linemen in the 247Sports composite rankings, the 6-foot-6, 300-pound USC commit is a monster in the interior for the Bruins.

Jesus Valadez (Center), QB, sr.: The 5-foot-11, 190-pound signal caller put up video game numbers last season, accumulating 2,693 total yards (2097 passing, 565 rushing) over just nine starts. That included six games of at least 200 yards passing.

Brody VanCleave (Poudre), OLB, sr.: The Impalas’ first winning season in five years had many heroes, and the 6-foot-2, 195-pound VanCleave was certainly one of them with 124 tackles (18 for loss) and 12 sacks, the most by any junior in the state.

Donavon Vernon (Grandview), RB, jr.: After a breakout sophomore campaign (1,123 yards, 14 TDs on 177 carries), the 5-foot-8, 180-pound back returns alongside dual threat QB Liam Szarka to give the Wolves one of the scariest backfields in 5A.

Nkongolo Wa-Kalonji (Grandview), DE, sr.: Long and athletic at 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, the three-star recruit demands attention off the edge (104 career tackles, six sacks) for a Wolves defense that also returns leading tackler Preston Emken (102 tackles in ’22).

Kael Weatherby (Eaglecrest), OL, sr.: At 6-foot-4, 297 pounds, Weatherby gives the Raptors a menacing presence on the left side of the offensive line. An offer from South Dakota, where his brother Kaden plays, is out there.

Asher Weiner (Valor Christian), QB, sr.: After taking the bulk of the snaps in coach Dirk McGatlin’s multi-QB offense last fall, the Princeton commit is expected to take over full time. As last year’s numbers (1,836 total yards, 17 TDs passing/rushing) attest, he’s more than capable of handling the heavier load.

David Yahi (George Washington), CB/RB, jr.: The third option in a loaded backfield for the Patriots last fall (45 carries, 418 yards), it’s Yahi’s turn to carry the load for a program looking to reload after a run to the 3A state quarterfinals.

Note: All statistics taken from, and all star ratings and player rankings are from

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