WILDCATS READY TO ROLL
Size? The Fruita Monument High School football team has that in spades. One of Class 4A’s leading rushers? The Wildcats have Braeden Graham back for his senior year.
An experienced quarterback? Fruita has that, too. Several talented athletes on the defensive side? Go ahead and check that off.
The Wildcats, ranked No. 7 in the Class 4A CHSAANow.com preseason poll, have plenty of talent heading into the 2017 season, looking to improve on a second-place finish in the 4A Mountain Conference and a second-round playoff loss to Chatfield.
And, as is it usually does with third-year Fruita coach Todd Casebier, it all starts up front.
“I think year three together, we have high expectations and know that our guys know what they’re doing,” Casebier said of the linemen. “They know what we expect and they’ve been practicing well, so that’s a huge deal.”
It’s hard to miss the size when the Wildcats feature 6-foot-5, 300-pound Trey Dickerson. Add in guys like Zakil Nkana (5-11, 240) and Kaeden Abbott (6-1, 240), and there’s plenty of bulk to Fruita’s lines.
On the offensive side, running behind the big linemen will be Graham and Treyton Queen.
Graham rushed for 1,633 yards last season, his second straight season with more than 1,000 yards. He also scored 19 touchdowns, third in Class 4A, putting Graham behind two backs now at Division I colleges — Colorado’s Marcus Lindsay and Northern Colorado’s Darren DeLaCroix.
Queen saw limited playing time at fullback last year behind Logan Triplett, but rushed for 91 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries in the one full game he played. The flashes of potential were there, and Graham said he’s helped his junior teammate step into the starting role.
“Every day in practice I’m always trying to help if he doesn’t know what he’s doing, or I know something that might help,” Graham said. “It’s a different position, but I try to help him out.”
Graham added that he’s thrilled he’s running behind Fruita’s offensive line.
“I’m really excited and they look really good,” Graham said. “I’ve been in the weight room with them all season, all summer, and I’m really excited to be running behind them.”
Although Fruita lost its top three receivers from last season, Cameron Kenney and Cason Gisner are expected to fill larger roles in 2017. There’s also junior quarterback Zach Rush, a highly touted athlete who missed most of last season with a broken leg. Casebier said Rush has progressed as expected this offseason, with strong showings in practice and in 7-on-7 workouts.
“He’s certainly ahead of where he was a year ago by leaps and bounds,” Casebier said. “The biggest thing for us is that he didn’t get to play a lot of football last year because of the injury. So, we feel good about what he’s doing physically, some of the things he’s doing with his arm and his legs.”
Rush said he has a much narrower focus, honing in on Fruita’s first opponent, Montrose. Although the Wildcats have made deeper playoff runs than the Indians the past two seasons, Montrose has defeated the Wildcats each of the past two years. The geographic rivalry between the two squads has nothing to do with it, Rush said, it’s just the first opponent the Wildcats have in front of them.
“Our first goal is definitely to win this first game,” the quarterback said. “That would be a big accomplishment, not because it’s Montrose, but because it’s our first game of the season and we’d like to start off on a good note. After that, it’s just about making it as far as we can this season and in the playoffs.”
As for the defense, there are several new faces on the field. The Wildcats lost their top nine tacklers to graduation, a group that accounted for almost 65 percent of tackles made last season. Still, several younger players rotated in and Nkana, now a senior, said it’s a group that plays well together.
“We used the idea of two-twelve, 212 degrees, being at that boiling-point level,” Nkana said. “We have to do whatever we need to do to get to that level. So we want the excitement and the energy and bring that to the team.”