ARVADA — The time of looking back at photos and videos of Pomona players and coaches lifting the Class 5A football state championship trophy last December at Broncos Stadium at Mile High is over.
“We looked back on last year a lot, but now it’s time to just focus on this year,” Pomona senior running back Theorius Robison said during practice Tuesday afternoon. “We know we are missing some big guys we had last year, but we think we have talent to fill it.”
Three-year starting quarterback Ryan Marquez loaded up on numerous awards before heading to the University of Wyoming. Star running back Max Borghi finished his stellar career with nearly 4,000 yards rushing and 74 touchdowns. Borghi graduated high school a semester early to head up to Washington State University where is could be a huge role in the Cougars’ offensive plans this fall.
Just like Marquez, Borghi and the rest of graduated seniors that lifted Pomona to its first state football championship since 1988 after a 56-49 victory over Eaglecrest, the Panthers are moving on.
Pomona coach Jay Madden admitted it has taken sometime to reset for the current season.
“The first week of practice you could definitely tell we had the championship hangover. We were going through the motions and waiting for the fun stuff to start,” Madden said. “You don’t get to the fun stuff if you don’t put the work in.”
Madden has guided the Panthers to three straight 5A title games. Despite the loss of key contributors, Pomona has plenty left to stay relevant in the state championship picture.
Offensively, the skill positions has a ton of experience back starting with Robison. The three-time state wrestling champion averaged nearly 9 yards per carry while posting more than 800 yards on the ground and 14 touchdowns last season.
“Theorius is as good a running back as there is in Colorado. That is going to show early,” Madden said. “You won’t find a kid with more confidence than Theorius.”
Robison also had the luxury acquiring knowledge from Borghi over the past three years.
“I learned from Max how to read the field better and how to trust your speed when you hit the hole,” Robison said.
Senior quarterback Colten Muller actually got four starts behind center last year after Marquez suffered a broken arm in Pomona’s conference opener in early October. Muller helped guide the Panthers to a 5-0 league record before Marquez returned for Pomona’s playoff run.
“It does feel different, but I’m excited to show what I have this year,” Muller said of taking over the starting quarterback spot. “I know my teammates have my back and we’ll still be really good. It’s good when you have really good players.”
The senior receiver tandem of Billy Pospisil and David Ross — combined for nearly 2,300 yards receiving and 25 touchdowns — gives Muller plenty of big play potential. The offensive line also returns starting junior tackles Adam Karas and Garrett Bishop, along with senior center Micheal Marquez.
“Adam Karas and Garrett Bishop are Division I players,” Madden said. “Micheal Marquez moved into center around Week 8 last year. All three could be all-state players, they are that good.”
At times last year Pomona’s defense showed its youth and inexperience.
“Last year was an anomaly,” Madden said of Pomona’s defensive struggles that included giving up 49 points in the state title game. “I had just moved from running the defense for 10 years to running the offensive side of the ball. It was a big transition for all of us. Some games we played unbelievable. Some we didn’t.”
Junior linebackers Kyle Moretti and Sanjay Strickland will be the core of the Panthers’ defense, along with senior defensive back Jack Thiele.
“Kyle (6-foot-1, 230 pound) and Sanjay (6-foot-2, 245 pounds) will be two of the best middle linebackers in Colorado,” Madden said. “They get tougher and smarter every day.”
Thiele added that he feels the experience from last year and the fact Pomona has returning starters at a lot defensive positions will allow the Panthers to be a strong defensive unit.
“It’s huge because you know they (Moretti and Strickland) are going to be able to control their stuff,” Thiele said of Pomona’s middle linebackers. “It’s going to be really hard to run on us.”
Another thing that going to be hard is Pomona’s schedule.
The Panthers open the season Aug. 23 facing Oak Ridge (Florida) in Orlando. Pomona faces old Jeffco rival Bear Creek in Week 2 before beginning an extremely tough stretch. The Panthers, ranked No. 4 in the CHSAANow.com 5A football preseason poll, faces No. 3 Valor Christian, No. 1 Cherry Creek and No. 10 Highlands Ranch in three consecutive weeks.
“Our philosophy ever since I’ve been here is very Friday night is fun,” Madden said. “If you are out there winning by 50 points that isn’t fun to me. I want to go out there and compete that is fun for me. Win or lose, I want to go out and see how good we are.”
Bringing back Jeffco programs into the same league also has Madden excited and his hope is the crowds at the North Area Athletic Complex and Jeffco Stadium will see attendance spikes this season. The 5A Metro West League consists of five Jeffco teams (Arvada West, Columbine, Lakewood, Pomona and Ralston Valley), along with Mullen.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Madden said of the new conference. “It is going to fun and fun for the neighborhoods again.”
While a fourth straight trip to the 5A title game is sitting out there, Madden is focused on improvement from week to week.
“We want to become our own team,” Madden said when asked about the goals this season. “Instead of living in the past or thinking about November we’ve got to start living right now.”