LITTLETON — Chatfield appears primed to join the group of Class 5A football state title contenders this season.
The Chargers come into the fall with one of the most explosive offenses in the state headed by three-year starting quarterback Kyle Winkler and returning running back Michael Callahan-Harris. Chatfield's quick-paced offense averaged nearly 40 points per game last season.
"We found something that both coaches and players enjoyed," Chatfield coach Bret McGatlin said. "When you play fast you are able to utilize all the athletes you have. Our goal is the find the little things we didn't do well and improve on those. The sky is the limit I think."
Winkler threw for 2,176 yards and 25 touchdowns during last year's 8-3 campaign that ended with a second-round playoff loss to Pomona. While statistics are nice, Winkler is focused on the big prize his senior season.
"Obviously I just want to win a state championship," said Winkler, who is looking at possibly continuing his football career at an Ivy League school after graduation. "The individual stuff really doesn't matter to me as long as we win."
Callahan-Harris became the Chargers' workhorse at running back by midseason when starting back Brendan Murphy was limited because of injury.
"I knew once Murphy got hurt I was going to have to step it up and play at the level that he did for the past two seasons," Callahan-Harris said. "I knew I could do it."
Callahan-Harris did do it, carrying the ball 157 for 1,110 yards and 14 touchdowns in Chatfield final six games in 2013.
"To be honest, I wasn't surprise at all," McGatlin said. "We knew when Michael came in as a freshman he was extremely talented. He has the greatest vision I've ever seen. He has a burst of speed you don't see from many backs."
Chatfield returns seniors Sean O'Dell and Brayden Gilbert to lead the receiver core. McGatlin believes O'Dell is one of the top all-around athletes in the state and Gilbert has been playing football with Winkler since the fifth grade.
While the offense has the potential to be even better than last season, McGatlin knows it takes more than just a high-powered offense to make a run at a state title. The Chargers are ranked No. 6 in the preseason poll.
"More than anything else we want to step up our defense and special teams. I think our expectations are to make sure we aren't just a one-dimensional team," McGatlin said. "We realize to compete in our league having a great offense is wonderful, but looking at last year it didn't win us a state championship or even a league championship."
Three-year starter Matt Gaiter and junior Maurice Barley will anchor the defensive line for the Chargers.
"Both kids (Gaiter and Barley) had a great off-season in the weight room," McGatlin said. "You realize that if you don't have a defensive line you are going to struggle on defense."
McGatlin expects Jake Carstensen to be the leader of the defense that will focus getting the ball back to the offense more often this season.
"We are going to play a lot more aggressive on defense," McGatlin said. "We are going to run more three-men fronts and bring more pressure to force more turnovers."
Chatfield will play in the newly formed 5A Jeffco League that features seven Jeffco squads and Mullen.
"We know that we have a long ways to go. This is a good core group of guys, but you have to beat those guys. Those teams have all made deep runs into the playoffs," McGatlin said of Chatfield's conference foes. "We've had some big wins and had some wins in the playoffs, but we haven't made that deep run into the playoffs yet. That's the next step."
The Chargers' first step this regular season will be a trip to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida during Zero Week to face Everglades High School on Thursday.
Class 5A Football
Defending champion: Valor Christian
Returning All-State players: Carlo Kemp, Jr., DL, Fairview (1st); Eric Lee, Sr., DB, Valor Christian; Alec Ruth, Sr., OL, Valor Christian (1st); Marcus Wilson, Sr., DB, Valor Christian (1st); Alex Kinney, Sr., K, Rocky Mountain (2nd); Cameron Knight, Sr., DB, Grandview (2nd); Chukwuma Obinnah, Sr., RB, Grandview (2nd); RJ Ramirez, Sr., RB, Prairie View (2nd); Matt Rindal, Sr., LB, Cherry Creek (2nd).
Regular season begins: August 21
Playoffs begin: November 1
Championship: Saturday, November 29, Sports Authority Field at Mile High