DENVER -- Not much has changed in Valor Christian's football program from a year ago. And that's exactly what Rod Sherman had hoped for.
Sherman is in his first year as head coach of the Eagles, who have made a return trip to the Class 5A championship game where they'll face Fairview. He's been the school's athletic director since it opened in 2007, and was also the offensive coordinator under former coach Brent Vieselmeyer.
When Vieselmeyer left for a college assistant position at Houston Baptist in January, Sherman became the interim coach. Eventually, he became, simply, the coach.
"Coach Sherman has been with us since the beginning, but he's really emphasized that just because one coach leaves, it's not the end of the world," said Valor Christian senior Christian McCaffrey. "We still have our main principles that coach Vieselmeyer implemented into our program.
"(Sherman has) done an excellent job at it and us players have the upmost respect for him. He helps us with recruiting, trying to get into college and all that. He's like a mentor to all of us, and we really look up to him and admire what he does."
Vieselmeyer was 55-11 in five seasons. He led Valor to titles in 3A, 4A (twice) and 5A. So, yeah, that's a lot to follow. Yet it wasn't like Sherman was an outsider. He had a major hand in building the program from the ground up. Perhaps that's why the transition has been so smooth.
"Because I really partnered with Brent over the years, I asked our players, and they don't feel like anything really's changed in the program," Sherman said. "We wanted a seamless transition."
This year, Valor Christian is 12-1 and seeded second in the 5A playoffs. The Eagles are in a title game for the fifth year in a row; they're at Mile High for the fourth-straight time. That's a major performance for a first-year head coach at the 5A level. But Sherman, always the humble type, deflects most of the credit.
"We decided as a staff, we were going to come together and we were going to have shared leadership, shared responsibility," Sherman said. "It's not about me being head coach, it's really about all of us sharing in those roles. What really made the transition wonderful for me was our 18 seniors that embodied faith-based leadership, how much they cared about their teammates. It's really just been a joy.
"I don't think I stand up to lead them. I think I'm able to stand with our coaches and our players together."
Said McCaffrey: "That's something we also look up. He gives us all the credit, he gives the other coaches the credit, and the community the credit. When really, a lot of it is him. He puts so much into it, and I think that's what makes him the coach and the person that he is."
Sherman often talks about relationships and journeys. He says his most rewarding time as head coach so far has been the team's three-day retreat to Buena Vista before the season. He's not one to focus on winning, though it's something he's done a lot of this season.
"I think society will look and say, 'Winning is successful.' Really, for us, winning is a total byproduct," Sherman said. "We wanted to buy another week of having the players and coaches together and that community. So we don't, in our program, talk about winning.
"Certainly, on game day, we're going to play hard, but it's more about the process and the journey. That, for me, has been the most rewarding part: the relationship with the coaches and the relationship with the players."
Mind you, Sherman's doing this while managing a dual role -- that of athletic director and head football coach, one that's not at all common at the 5A level.
"There are busy days, but this week's nice," Sherman said. "We're out of school this week, so we have a little more time to prepare (for the championship game). But, really, our staff has taken on that responsibility."
Sherman has continued to direct a potent offense -- and, actually, made it even more potent. From 2009-12, Valor Christian averaged 40.4 points per game. This season, the Eagles are averaging 46.5 points per game, the most in school history.
A lot of that is McCaffrey, the best player in the state, and among the best to ever play in Colorado. Now a senior, he's scored a state-best 42 total touchdowns this season.
But Sherman has also developed quarterback A.J. Cecil, who has thrown for 1,974 yards and 29 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. Cecil is also the team's second-leading rusher with 406 yards and eight touchdowns.
So it makes sense that Valor Christian has made its return to a state title game. New coach, same result.
"Our practices are run the same, our film sessions are the same," McCaffrey said. "With a couple of new players here and there, and some freshmen moving up, I would say our principles are the same and our main things we need to focus on are all the same. I think that's why, despite the fact that players come and go, we've held up strong."