Paonia hopes Escher can lead them back to top of 1A football
Paonia found a formula that worked when it won its two most recent state championships in 2013 and 2014. The Eagles combined talented football players with a young head coach — Brent McRae — and experienced assistants.
Now, with McRae gone to Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch, the Eagles are hoping for a similar cohesion and level of success with 24-year-old Blaine Escher taking the top spot of the program.
Escher, a 2011 Paonia graduate and former wide receiver at the University of Northern Colorado, brings high-level experience and a passion for power-lifting. When former Paonia quarterback Taylor Walters put on nearly 15 pounds of muscle between his junior and senior seasons, both Walters and McRae were quick to credit Escher for his guidance in the weight room.
Already familiar with many of the younger players on the roster, Escher has a chance to impact many more athletes as the head coach.
“It’s definitely a huge transition, but I feel like I’m going to be able to give them more of that next-level type of atmosphere,” Escher said. “Simple as laying jerseys out before games, little things that can really get these guys jacked up to the next level.
“The weight room is huge, though. That’s our number-one thing. You lift big, you get big. You get big, you play big. That’s how it is. Always.”
The Eagles spent their summer getting bigger. For senior linebacker/offensive lineman Cyrus Malek-Madani, the existing familiarity with Escher allowed the group to bond.
“A lot of us older guys, the juniors and seniors this year, when we were sophomores and freshmen, he was our special teams coach,” Malek-Madani said. “We bonded with him. He was awesome and we loved having him as a coach back then. Now, having him as the head coach is really nice. He’s a great guy and a great coach, and the staff that he has around him has me really excited for this year.”
After being a part of the Eagles’ coaching staff in 2015, Escher taught physical education and coached track at De Beque High School.
The Eagles were 46-5 under McRae with three conference titles to go with three straight Class 1A state championship appearances, and part of a steady stream of success for all of Paonia’s athletic programs. At a smaller football program, working with multi-sport athletes is a given, and Escher said he looks forward to working with players who succeed in baseball, wrestling and the other highly successful programs.
“That’s what’s so nice about having these kids,” Escher said. “They’re athletes. You can put them anywhere on the field and you know they’re going to strive for success. It’s just kinda that mentality that you just can’t teach a one-sport type of athlete. That’s what’s always nice about having those kids. I always try to get these guys to come out (for football) because it not only looks good for coaches of your preferred sport, it just makes you an overall better athlete.”