The nature of small town football is pretty simple when described by Paonia football coach Brent McRae.
As coach of the defending Class 1A state champion Eagles, McRae doesn't have to look far to detail why his team won the state championship, reeling off 10 dominant wins in a row and eventually topping Centauri in the state championship.
"Everything we do starts up front," McRae said.
The coach, whose team is ranked No. 1 in the preseason, can again sleep better knowing that one of the toughest front sevens returns nearly everyone.
The Eagles run a double tight set, with seven guys tasked at blocking up front. Most of those guys return this year, led by returning all-staters Josh Kimball (6-foot-2, 270 pounds) and Dylan Geisler (5-11, 205).
The team also returns Joel Simianer, Tyler Denison, Chase Park and Logan Schopp up front.
There is a competition at center, but McRae has a couple of 300-pounders battling for that spot.
"They're country boys," McRae said. "They work hard all summer. That's just the way they are. Put any back behind that line and you're going to gain some yards."
That was the case last year as Paonia averaged more than 310 yards a game. It's low was 149 yards in an early season loss to Centauri. When the running game is working like that, the game becomes a lot easier, McRae said.
The Eagles never threw more than 13 attempts in any game and finished with 4,071 yards rushing and 44 touchdowns.
"They enjoy the time they have up front," McRae said.
The Eagles, though, will be challenged again. Centauri, Buena Vista, Resurrection Christian, Meeker and Burlington should all be in the conversation as teams to watch.
But don't count out Paonia, especially with the group it has up front. McRae said they're in the conversation as a favorite because of what happens with that talented group that opens up holes.
"It's a good group of kids that want to play football, win football games and just want to enjoy football," he said.
Class 1A football
Defending champion: Paonia
Returning All-State players: Jareb Aziz, Centauri, Senior; Trevor Close, Buena Vista, Senior; Jacob Crist, Ellicott, Senior; Jonas Cure, Wray, Senior; Dylan Geisler, Paonia, Senior; Adison Jones, Ignacio, Senior; Josh Kimball, Paonia, Senior; Clay McCarroll, Centauri, Senior; Corey Reynolds, Cedaredge, Senior; Eloy Sandavol, Burlington, Senior; Michael Stevensen, Resurrection Christian, Sophomore.
Playoffs begin: Nov. 1
Championship: Nov. 22 at home site