Mike Rocha is redefining the role of a fullback.
At 6 feet, 212 pounds, the senior-to-be at Montrose presents a plethora of problems for opposing defenses. Rocha does enough damage helping pave the way for the team's other backs, but he's most dangerous when he has the ball in his hands.
"He's got enough speed where he really can hurt you," Montrose coach Todd Casebier said. "It's pretty unique to have a fullback have 1,600 yards rushing."
That's putting it lightly. Rocha was one of the driving forces behind Montrose's punishing rushing attack last fall, piling up 1,572 yards on the ground to go along with 27 touchdowns. As a team the Indians accrued more than 4,600 rushing yards on their way to the Class 4A state championship game before falling to Pine Creek 49-14 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver last November.
"It was a whirlwind tour," said Casebier, whose squad traveled over the mountains on five occasions last fall and made two more hour-long trips to Grand Junction. "Having the opportunity to play where the Broncos do and for a state championship, those are special things that don't happen very often.
"At the same time we're disappointed with how we played against Pine Creek, but they had a lot to do with that."
Headed into the 2014 season, which Montrose kicks off Aug. 22 at home against Grand Junction, the mission is to find a way back to Sports Authority once again. The Indians are ranked No. 2 to begin the year.
They have Rocha and quarterback Kameron Devincentis back, along with experience up front in all-state lineman Matt Maestas, tackle Andrew Doney, guard Kaden James and tight end Kolby Martinez.
"I call them the dogs up front," Rocha said. "Without them I wouldn't be at 1,600 yards. They're the base of our offense and without them we'd be nothing."
Montrose did graduate a key offensive weapon in Angelo Youngren, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 13 TDs, but the team has Nick Foster and Dalton Wright ready to fill his shoes.
Devincentis threw for 1,054 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 374 more yards.
"He's kind of the catalyst that makes things go," Casebier said of his quarterback. "He had a really good season as a junior and we'll ask him to do more as a senior. He's a savvy kid who makes plays."
Maestas and Donny Adams return on the defensive line, where they will be joined by Kadin McPherson and Cayden James. Foster and Mitch Freismuth anchor the secondary.
Lucas Ruiz-Diaz returns at kicker, where he was 6-for-6 on field goals as a sophomore.
The Indians make the move from the Southwestern League to a Foothills League that includes five schools from the Colorado Springs area. The travel won't change, but the competition will be just as fierce.
"We're happy the Foothills League allowed us to be in with them," Casebier said. "We know it's going to be a good challenge."
That league slate and a tough non-league schedule should help prepare Montrose as it attempts to make a return to the title game.
"I think it was a big move for Montrose and just the whole program. Last year was just a Cinderella story," Rocha said. "I think everybody thought it can't happen, but now it shows it can — a small team from the Western Slope can go all the way and make it.
"Last year was crazy but now it's just an inspiration to get back and actually pull through."
Class 4A football
Defending champion: Pine Creek
Returning All-State players: Avery Anderson, Sr., Pine Creek (1st); Connor Durant, Sr., Standley Lake (1st); Tommy Lazzaro, Sr., Pine Creek (1st); Matt Maestas, Sr., Montrose (1st); Mike Rocha, Sr., Montrose (1st); Kidd Soole, Sr., Monarch (1st); Nathan Spinuzzi, Sr., Pueblo South (1st); Braxton Thais, Sr., Dakota Ridge (1st).
Regular Season begins: Aug. 21
Playoffs begin: Nov. 8
Championship: Nov. 29 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver