Grizzlies mauling competition

ThunderRidge enters playoffs as one of three unbeaten 5A teams

Posted 10/29/08

Louis Zoldy With only one team standing between it and a perfect regular season, the ThunderRidge High School football team powered through. Chris …

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Grizzlies mauling competition

ThunderRidge enters playoffs as one of three unbeaten 5A teams


Louis Zoldy

With only one team standing between it and a perfect regular season, the ThunderRidge High School football team powered through.

Chris Nwoke rushed for 108 yards and three touchdowns while Kwade Glassman added 107 yards and another score as the Grizzlies routed Doherty of Colorado Springs 40-6 at Shea Stadium in Highlands Ranch Oct. 23.

At 9-0 overall, ThunderRidge completed its third unbeaten regular season but its first as a Class 5A program. Further, the Grizzlies enter the post-season as one of only three unbeatens, with Grandview and Rocky Mountain being the others.

It is indeed rarified air in this corner of Highlands Ranch.

“It says a lot about our coaches,” senior quarterback Tim Jenkins said. “They preached to us that playing in 5A would be different but that we could compete because we have talent and we have tradition. I think winning breeds winning, and this program has had a lot of success. We knew we could play with the best, and we’ve had a pretty good season so far.

“I don’t know if you could say we expected to do this, but we prepared for this. Our coaches did a good job of keeping us focused,” he said.

Head coach Joe Johnson is certainly proud of the success this team has been able to have so quickly in 5A and credits the work and commitment of the athletes themselves but also the team chemistry. It’s almost cliché to talk about unity and camaraderie in high school sports, but at ThunderRidge, it is actually a way of life on the gridiron.

“This team has great chemistry; better than we’ve had in a while,” Johnson said. “The guys understand they don’t do it by themselves.”

“We’re a family, and we’ve stayed as a family and as a team this year,” Nwoke said. “No one is selfish, and that’s really helped us. Everyone wants to make plays for each other, not for themselves.”

It all started with a trip to Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs this preseason. For four days there, the Grizzlies trained and bonded with one another. The intent was to build a team in the truest sense of the word. So far, the message seems to have resonated.

“It’s important because what’s carried us is our unity,” Jenkins said. “We made all those promises to each other up there, and we stay together in tough situations. It’s our trust in each other.”

That trust is paramount because it trickles down through all aspects of the game. One prime example is on offense, where the dynamic duo of Nwoke and Glassman must trust their offensive line to read their blocks and open the holes in the spots each will be expecting, holes that have been so crucial to ThunderRidge’s success this fall.

Behind an offensive line of left tackle Dillon Bonnell, left guard Ryan Ewen, center Conor Thompson, right guard Sam LaVigne, and right tackle Dan Rosselot the Grizzlies have rushed for 2,303 yards and more than 30 touchdowns.

“That group has played really well and has matched up really well, and I think that’s an area where some people thought we’d be a little deficient,” Johnson said. “But we have dominated at times, running the ball with power.”

It has led to a season that is almost unparalleled in ThunderRidge history for Nwoke, the 6-foot, 200-pound senior runner. Through nine games, Nwoke has amassed 1,404 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. Only Nate Aman has posted more yards in a single season for the Grizzlies, going for 1,652 in 2003.

Aman did his work during a 10-game season. All things being equal, Nwoke can set the new mark with a mighty performance Oct. 30 versus Overland in the first round of the 5A state playoffs.

But don’t think he cares about that.

“I’m just trying to go as hard as I can and make something for my team,” he said.

Nwoke also is securing his academic and athletic future in the process, a future that seems to have college football in it. Nwoke said he has received offers from New Mexico and Wyoming, with interest also coming from Boise State, San Diego State and Colorado State.

“After the season, everything will work itself out. Right now, it’s how we stay as one and get ready for the playoffs,” Nwoke said. “Our O-line is doing great. Without them, I would be nowhere.”

While Nwoke and Glassman are the thunder and lightning, the balance of this offense has played a huge role in the team’s success thus far. Jenkins has thrown for 1,189 yards and 10 touchdowns while finding a good rhythm with Jared Faulkner, who has 30 catches for 586 yards, and Dave Arnold, who also has 30 catches for 439 yards.

Then there’s the defense, which has had an up and down season, allowing 21 points per game. Sometimes it seems to bend, but thus far this defensive unit has never broken. Players such as Patrick Pokryfke, Kevin Hand, Matt Walker and Jason Clukies have made sure of that, coming up with key plays at key moments.

Without question it’s already been a strong season for ThunderRidge, with victories over Douglas County, Mountain Vista, Highlands Ranch and Chaparral proving this team’s mettle and moxy. No one would question whether or not the Grizzlies have proven themselves in 5A ball, but this team is not satisfied.

From top the bottom, no one believes ThunderRidge has put forth its best effort — yet.

“We haven’t played a complete game on both sides of the ball. We’ve seen very good results for a half or one side put together a whole game, but not both,” Johnson said.

“It’s going to be fun to see what happens when we put all four quarters together on offense and defense,” Jenkins said.”

When that complete game comes, we’ll be a force to reckon with,” Nwoke said


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