Grand Valley aims to improve under alum Manzanares
As the light dimmed over Toby LeBorgne Stadium, different players chirped the same two words: “Get better.”
That’s the motto for the Grand Valley High School football team, which lost many seniors from a 2013 squad hit with sanctions from the Colorado High School Activities Association for playing an ineligible player.
The Cardinals originally finished 2-7, but the violation knocked their record to 0-9. Now they’re dropping to Class 1A because of enrollment numbers.
Getting better means winning some games, teaching a young Grand Valley team fundamentals and avoiding any player-eligibility issues during a one-year probation.
First-year coach Danny Manzanares is keenly aware of potential penalties for further violations, including “program suspension,” according to CHSAA.
“I wouldn’t say there’s anything different with how I prepare the team, but I’m more aware of making sure the paperwork is in line and not taking any risks,” Manzanares said. “If I don’t know something or something doesn’t seem right, I’m going to ask, rather than guess on it. I do keep the kids informed about things we can and can’t do, though.”
Despite CHSAA probation and plenty of fresh faces on the varsity squad, Manzanares is happy to be back in Parachute.
He’s a 2007 graduate of Grand Valley and spent a year with the Colorado Mesa University football team before returning as an assistant coach for the Cardinals. In 2012, he began coaching the Grand Valley Middle School football team.
He rushed for 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns during his senior year with the Cardinals, and his predecessor, Mike Johnson, coached him for four years.
It’s safe to say Manzanares has a solid connection to Grand Valley football.
“I’m familiar with a lot of these younger guys because I coached them in middle school,” Manzanares said. “It’s a group, a new spirit, and they’re ready to go.”
The Cardinals also are in a new league, one that is arguably better than the 2A Western Slope Conference they came from. Manzanares said he knows the past two Class 1A state champions came from the 1A WSC, and the top tier of the league is laden with senior talent.
But he’s happy with what he has, including a new quarterback.
Replacing Tyler Scott, the top quarterback in Class 2A last season, is no small task. Scott averaged 240 yards passing per game during his senior year, fourth in the state regardless of classification.
One of Scott’s top receivers, senior Leon Hernandez, will start under center in a redesigned Grand Valley offense.
Gone are the days of slinging the ball all over the field. Manzanares will play to Hernandez’s strengths, namely his elusiveness, with a double-wing offense.
“I was the JV quarterback my freshman and sophomore year,” Hernandez said, “so it’s not something I haven’t done before. But I’m a little shiftier than (Scott), run a little better. But I also feel like I learned a lot about playing quarterback from him (by) catching passes, too.”