Valor Christian (Highlands Ranch)
played its first varsity football game in 2008, and the Colorado high school football landscape hasn't been the same since.
The winning ways of the Eagles have been well-documented, but some of the accomplishments deserve a second mention.
In 2009, its second varsity season, Valor Christian captured the Class 3A state title before moving up to 4A and winning two more.
Now, in only their fifth season, the Eagles are perched to claim their fourth consecutive championship in a third different classification when they play third-seeded Cherokee Trail (Aurora)
for the 5A crown Saturday at Sports Authority Stadium.MaxPreps Colorado Class 5A state bracket
The No. 4 Eagles have won 15 playoff games in a row and have gone 50-5 the past four years. They finished 4-6 in their first season in 2008.
"I think it's just a cool, historic thing. I don't think anyone has ever done anything like this," Valor Christian coach Brent Vieselmeyer said after the Eagles pounded top-seeded ThunderRidge (Highlands Ranch) 49-3 in the state semifinals. "Whatever happens in that (championship) game, it happens. I'm just so proud of our seniors. They are the ones who have made it happen."
Of course, the success hasn't come without criticism, but the Eagles have been able to diffuse the noise to establish a program that is the envy — and scorn — of state followers.
No matter which side of the private vs. public school debate you are on, it's clear that success and quality coaching attract premier talent, as it has happened at countless top programs around the state, regardless of the sport.
In short, expect to hear about Valor Christian for years to come.
"We know all the outside distractions aren't worth thinking about," standout junior running back Christian McCaffrey
said. "We definitely do a good job preparing each week. We are just sticking to our game plan."
That strategy is certainly made easier with McCaffrey in uniform. He is without peer in the state as a play-maker, whether as a running back, receiver or kick returner. McCaffrey is the type of player who everyone in the stands stops to watch once he touches the ball.
In the semifinals he torched ThunderRidge for two rushing (one that covered 94 yards) and receiving touchdowns each, in addition to a 67-yard punt return. That came a week after he posted six touchdowns against Arapahoe (Centennial).
In the postseason he has 837 total yards from scrimmage and 16 TDs. For the season those totals are: 1,907 yards (1,264 rushing, 643 receiving) and 36 TDs.
"I wish I could say it's all coaching. It's not," Vieselmeyer said of McCaffrey, mentioning his versatility. "From a defensive perspective I just would hate to figure, ‘What are they going to do with him now?'"
The Eagles offense understandably draws most of the attention, especially considering quarterback Luke Del Rio
is the best there is here under center. His poise in the pocket, accuracy and ability to throw on the run make Valor Christian difficult, if not impossible, to defend.
Del Rio, the son of Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, has completed 77 percent of his passes (59-for-77) in the playoffs for 788 yards and 12 TDs, with zero interceptions. For the season the Oklahoma State recruit's touchdown-to-interception ratio is 28-3.
Valor Christian has outscored its opponents 546-51 during its 11-game win streak. With all the gaudy offensive numbers, the superb defense sometimes gets overlooked. The unit has allowed only 30 points in the postseason and dominated a ThunderRidge team that had been averaging nearly 40 points an outing.
After the Grizzlies drove down the field on the game's opening possession in the semifinals, Valor Christian did not allow another first down until midway through the fourth quarter. In the middle of it all was 6-foot, 305-pound nose tackle Stanley Gilbert
According to Vieselmeyer, Gilbert will be the only one of 13 seniors who will have had a key role in each of the title games, as he received significant reps in the first championship win against Steamboat Springs.
With such a small senior class (and less than 700 students overall), Valor Christian didn't seem a certainty to reach the championship game. Especially not after the Eagles started the season 0-2
, with losses to Mullen (Denver) and Bingham (Utah).
"We just felt like we had a great challenge, preseason-wise, with Mullen and Bingham," Vieselmeyer said. "I know Mullen got really hurt at the end, but that was a very, very good football team Week Zero. Bingham was spectacular. We played our hearts out in that game and didn't quite get it.
"Once we saw that … we knew if we kept getting better every week we'd have a chance."
The move to 5A also hasn't proven as challenging as expected, and McCaffrey said it won't be a factor come Saturday.
"It's another football game. Our coaches do a great job of reinforcing that each week. We've played a lot of big football games, regardless of what level," said McCaffrey, the son of former NFL player Ed McCaffrey. "It's a dream come true, especially with the opportunity to win four."
|Valor Christian||By the Numbers|
| Year|| Record|
| 2008|| 4-6|
| 2009|| 14-0|
| 2010|| 11-3|
| 2011|| 14-0|
| 2012|| 11-2|