ENGLEWOOD — Football players from 20 teams took part in the inaugural high school football media day hosted by the NFL's Denver Broncos and CHSAA on Friday.
They went through a variety of different experiences: a crash course in dealing with the media and best practices in social media from the Broncos PR staff; a photo shoot; a tour of the Broncos' training facility, where the event was held; and a Q&A session with statewide media.
"Being out here, you can feel the atmosphere," said Eaglecrest linebacker Elijah Anderson-Taylor. "When you come here, you can feel the culture."
On hand were players and coaches from La Junta, Chatfield, Sedgwick County, Peeetz, Eaton, Broomfield, The Classical Academy, Palmer Ridge, Columbine, Mead, Erie, Stratton/Liberty, Pomona, Eaglecrest, Grandview, West Grand, Pine Creek, Pueblo South, Strasburg and Centauri. The Broncos hope to expand the event next season.
Each team brought between three and six players, along with a head coach or an assistant coach.
All seven classifications were represented. There were six returning champions in attendance, and seven runners-up.
One major topic of the day was starting anew, and not looking back.
"It's a brand new start for us this year," said Erie's Nathan Hackney. The Tigers were runner-up in 3A. "Last year was a great memory. But this year is a whole different story. We're going to try to make the same run, go for the same goals, but it's a whole new game for us this year."
Added Palmer Ridge's Aidan Cullen, whose team won 3A last season: "I feel like the class this year understands that what we did last year is now the new standard."
That's not to say last year isn't serving as motivation for some.
"We've been preparing since November," said Centauri's Bennie Chacon, whose team lost the 1A championship game in double overtime to Strasburg. "It's been on our mind a whole lot."
Added teammate Deontay Martinez: "It's like eating and not getting full."
There was talk of loaded schedules.
"You don't get better playing weak teams," said Grandview coach John Schultz.
"We wanted it that way," said Stratton/Liberty coach Toby Kechter. "We want a chance to get better every week."
Among the 5A teams, a common theme was the league realignment that returned to a more regional format.
"Those are the teams we want to play," said Columbine's Corbin Curry.
"It makes it more heartfelt, playing against those guys you grew up playing against," said Grandview's Mason Schultz.
For many players, it was their first time in such a setting — facing the media in a press conference.
Even Ty Evans, the Palmer Ridge quarterback and CU commit whose national profile has grown in recent months, admitted that he had "never been in this atmosphere."
"This is an awesome experience for us," Sedgwick County coach Chris Michel said. "We know it's a long ways out there, but stuff like this is awesome for us."
"We're really enjoying it and taking it all in," said Mead's Marcel MacPhail. "We're here to learn and we're here to grow and just spread the word about Mead."
Many of the players remarked on the impact of the social media training they went through. Elijah Anderson-Taylor remarked that it was the "most in-depth thing that we possibly could have done as kids."
Ultimately, the smiles were big on Friday. It was a day the players won't soon forget.
"I don't know about these guys," Bryson Long of Peetz said as he gestured to his teammates, "but I'm having a great time."