The most consistently successful high school football program in Colorado over the past three years? It's Sedgwick County. And there's no debate.
The 8-man team, which co-ops players from Julesburg and Revere high schools in Northeast Colorado, has gone 38-1 since the start of the 2015 season. The Cougars have captured three state championships. Their winning streak currently stands at 23 games — the longest in the state, regardless of classification.
Segwick County hasn't lost a game to an in-state opponent since the 2014 season, going 32-0 in the past three seasons.
So, yeah, they are the team to beat. And they are the preseason No. 1 team in 8-man football.
That's not to say it's going to be easy. The Cougars lost quite a bit from last season, including three members of the All-State teams, and six seniors.
"We lost a lot of good kids from last year's team," said Sedgwick County coach Chris Michel. "We're just kind of trying to find the identity of this team, trying to establish a culture in practice of being competitive every day, and kind of finding where these guys will fit into our system this year."
One major piece is back, though, in senior Layne Green, the reigning 8-man player of the year who accounted for 28 total touchdowns last season, and also had 67 tackles on defense.
Also back is Beau Parker, a junior, who had 12 touchdowns and 71 tackles, and Dalton Carlson, another junior, who had 74 tackles.
Ethan Walter (two touchdowns, 53 tackles) will be stepping into the starting quarterback spot.
Eric Alcala, a senior, will also be big on both the offensive and defensive line.
So Sedgwick County's quest to for a fourth-straight state title is very much alive. The Cougars would become the first team to win four-straight championships since Valor Christian won five from 2009-13.
"You try to fly under the radar, which is hard when you are three-time state champs," Michel said. "A couple of the kids talk about having a target on our back. We talk about embracing that target. You know, loving having that target. "
The 23-game winning streak is also a particular source of pride.
"I think that is something we want to defend," Parker said. "I feel like every year, it gets a little bit bigger of a target on our back, and that's something to play for every weekend when we're going out on Friday nights. It just kind of gets the blood pumping a little bit more."
The top-ranked Cougars open their season at home on Aug. 31 against Hoehne, a playoff team last season. They'll also travel to Gilpin County's new field, and have games against playoff teams Haxtun, Caliche and Merino. Dayspring Christian, typically among 8-man's best programs, is also on the schedule.
"Every game — every week — is always a test," Carlson said. "You never overlook a team. Every week, you play like you're playing the best team. That's been our main deal. We focus on one team at a time, and move week-by-week."
And while this program has a lot of history, the 2018 team is a new group.
"It's a new year, so we're just keeping our focus on keeping our energy up, and improving every day," Michel said. "Every team wants to improve every day, and that's one of our focuses that we've made part of our team culture the last couple of years. We're anxious to get started."