Frederick — Highland picked up its 17th straight victory Friday night, which just so happened to be a 64-30 blowout over Lyons.
With the win, Highland will now play Weld rival Dayspring in the 2A District 7 championship game at 2:30 today.
As for the win over Lyons, Logan Stewart played arguably his best game of the season with 13-points behind three makes from distance. Stewart helped jump start a solid first half for Highland as they outscored Lyons 35-12 and never looked back.
"Our defense was very good in the first half and that is what we stressed," Highland head coach Pete Freeman said on the win.
Jase Bessire, Koby Anderson, and Tate Bessire also played a big role in the Huskies victory as those three scored 14, 13, and 11 points, respectively.
3-point field goals — HHS 7 (Stewart 3, J. Bessire 2, Vasa, Anderson)
Total fouls — HHS 14
Strasburg 59, Eaton 57: In Greeley, Eaton suffered an overtime loss to Strasburg too close out Patriot League tournament play.
In a battle between the fourth-seeded Reds and sixth-seeded Indians, Eaton fought to the end, but was ultimately outscored by Strasburg 4-2 in the extra period.
Scott Grable (14), Ryan Ure (12), and Gage Butler (11) all scored in double-figures for Eaton in the loss. The Reds would end up making nine shots from three-point range, but it was not enough to overcome Strasburg in the end.
Greeley — Eaton captured a Patriot League title Friday night with a 45-33 victory over Platte Valley.
The Reds held a 25-22 lead going into the final quarter of play in which they outscored Platte Valley 20-11 to help secure the victory. The Reds will now go into regional play riding high on a 14-game winning streak, while Platte Valley will look to bounce back as they still have won 12 of their last 13 games.
Resurrection Christian 49, University 42: In Greeley, University failed to capitalize on opportunities late in the game and lost the third-place game in the 3A Patriot League district tournament.
University (13-9) coach Sarah Wildt said she was happy with the way her team played in general but said her players committed too many fouls, leading to a disparity in the number of free throws taken. Resurrection shot 24 free throws for the game. University took 11.
Wildt said Madelyn Malm and Taylor Gollhofer played very well in the post, and Daphne Halverson played excellent defense.
University now waits to find out its playoff fate when pairings are released early next week.
The Nuggets had an eventful All-Star weekend with their entire coaching staff taking on the responsibilities of coaching in the Celebrity All-Star game, the Rising Stars game, and also the All-Star game itself — the same game that Nikola Jokic and Team Giannis lost to the Michael Malone-led Team LeBron just a day after Jokic participated in the Skills Challenge.
With the All-Star festivities behind them, the Nuggets turned their attention to the final 25 games of the regular season with their sights set on home-court advantage in the playoffs. They took their first step toward accomplishing that goal with their 114-104 road win over the Dallas Mavericks.
No Nuggets player scored more than 19 points, but seven different players scored in double digits including all five starters as Denver used a full team effort to come away with a hard-fought win in Dallas. There were many narratives to dive into from Denver’s 40th victory of the season, so with that being said, here are five takeaways from Denver’s 10-point win over the Mavericks.
Denver played with terrific energy all night on both ends of the floor
The biggest storyline of the Nuggets win over the Mavericks was the relentless energy that Denver played with on both ends of the floor.
Every player that logged minutes in Dallas gave maximum effort on each possession. Jamal Murray was the definition of a pest on defense (more on that later) as he managed to get into passing lanes, was physical in the post and in pick and rolls, and also had a massive block on a corner 3-point shot after he saved a pass from going out of bounds on the opposite end of the floor in the opposite corner. Just look at Murray come flying into the video below.
In addition to Murray’s endless energy, Gary Harris’ return brought a heightened defensive intensity, Paul Millsap was the same stingy defender he has always been, Jokic was getting under Salah Mejri’s skin every chance he could get, Will Barton was getting into passing lanes, Isaiah Thomas was constantly applying pressure to Dallas’ defense, and so on. Every member of the Nuggets roster gave everything they had when they were on the floor.
Denver won every hustle category and out-worked the Mavericks in Dallas. When Denver plays with that much urgency, it is nearly impossible to beat them.
Jamal Murray’s offensive struggles continue after the All-Star break
While most players on the Nuggets’ roster looked rejuvenated and refreshed after the All-Star break, Murray did not. He looked tired and less explosive than he usually is. He did come alive in the third quarter, but for the rest of his 33 minutes of playing time, things did not go particularly well.
If you take out his eight-point flurry in the third quarter that happened in just over two minutes of game time, Murray was only 2-of-11 shooting from the field and 0-of-4 from 3-point range for four points in addition to some shaky decision making in the other 31 minutes of action.
It is fair to wonder if one of his many ailments could be bothering him. Murray has had contusions to his right forearm and left shin, tightness in his left hamstring, and issues with both ankles — particularly his left ankle — all season. Even worse, Murray ended up getting his legs taken out by former Nuggets guard Devin Harris and he came up holding his left ankle in the second quarter; the same ankle that kept him out for six games earlier this year.
To Murray’s credit, his effort was fantastic all game on both ends of the floor. Just look at this sequence that he had in the second quarter.
He may have struggled converting his shots, but he defended at a very high level because of how hard he was playing. Murray was flying around and giving his all from buzzer to buzzer as usual.
Gary Harris’ defense was badly missed
Since January 1st, 2019, the Nuggets are 22nd in defensive rating with an awful 111.9 mark after being a top-five defense for the first two months of the season.
Many have searched for the reasoning for Denver’s drastic defensive downfall, but it seems that the cure to their defensive ailments was sitting on the bench the entire time.
With Harris on the floor, the Nuggets are a significantly better defensive team. Harris came off the bench and was on a minutes restriction in his first game back after an adductor injury kept him out seven games leading up to the All-Star break, but for each and every one of his 20 minutes, Harris was reminding everyone how direly important he is to the Nuggets’ success.
When Harris has been on the floor for the Nuggets this season, they are posing a defensive rating of 104.4, which would being the third-best defensive rating in the league. When Harris is off the floor, that number jumps to 108.9 which would be 15th in the league. Simply stated, Denver is mediocre defensively without Harris and they are elite with him.
Seeing Harris be so productive defensively in his first game back is a great sign for Denver’s defensive upside as they march toward the playoffs.
Paul Millsap thrives in ugly games
The Nuggets were ice cold in the first half offensively. Even when they generated good looks, their shots were not falling. The frustration was mounting, but Millsap kept Denver even-keeled and calm as he found ways to manufacture points when Denver needed it most.
Millsap was not hyper-efficient as a scorer in Dallas, but no one was. The battle between the Mavericks and the Nuggets was a sloppy and ugly game. Denver needed to find a way to produce regardless of how clunky the game was if they were going to find a way to come out with a victory.
Millsap answered that call on both ends of the floor.
Some people get frustrated with Millsap’s post-ups or his fallaway jumpers in the paint, but in ugly games, that style of play can be effective even when the rest of the offense is not. Yes, Millsap was able to hit a 3-pointer and score within the offense, but where he truly shined was when Denver’s offense stagnated and lost its flow. That is when Millsap began to feast as an offensive rebounder, began getting to the foul line, and creating points in any way he could. Without Millsap’s ability to score in a one-on-one setting, Denver’s first half could have been significantly more detrimental.
It is games like this where Millsap’s skill-set becomes so incredibly valuable.
Nuggets win a defensive game on the road to begin the final push towards the playoffs
As the Nuggets look to battle their way to home-court advantage in the playoffs, they will need to accomplish two things: win games on the road and get back to being a strong defensive team.
In Dallas against the Mavericks, Denver accomplished both.
Denver held Dallas to just 104 points on 40.5 percent shooting from the field and 24.4 percent from 3-point distance while also forcing 15 turnovers. The Nuggets also had 21 more rebounds than Dallas including seven more defensive rebounds. At every turn, the Nuggets were contesting every possible shot, were running 3-point shooters off the line, and most importantly, they were communicating the entire game on the defensive end of the floor.
Denver also logged its 15th road win of the season — the same number that Denver had all of last season. The Nuggets are now 15-14 on the road with another 12 road games remaining.
If Denver can keep winning games on the road like they have all year and defending with intensity like they did in Dallas on Friday night, it will go a long ways towards securing a top-four seed in the Western Conference.
The absence of shock on Windsor coach Monte Trusty’s face says everything you need to know about his wrestling program’s dominance.
Three Windsor wrestlers — Will VomBaur (120 pounds), Dominick Serrano (132) and Isaiah Salazar (182) — advanced Friday night to the state tournament finals at the Pepsi Center with an opportunity for each to win a third consecutive individual title Saturday. Their coach responded with a confident nod.
“We’re what we are supposed to be on paper,” Trusty said. “But there’s a lot of wrestling left.”
Windsor, the defending Class 4A team champion, finished Friday in third place with 133 points entering the finals behind the heroics of its juggernaut trio.
“I think there are a lot more similarities than differences (between them),” Trusty said. “They wrestle year-round. That’s what they’re pursuing post-high school, and they’ve done it their whole lives. They’re just really good all-around people.”
VomBaur (40-2), a senior committed to the Air Force Academy, jump-started the push with a fall in 4:55 over Cheyenne Mountain’s Chase Johnson. VomBauer dominated from start to finish and didn’t allow a single point before the pin.
“Will has been a steady staple of our program since his freshman year,” Trusty said. “He doesn’t say a word. He leads by example and action.”
Said VomBaur: “As far as a buffer of points goes, I try not to think about that. We’re in the race for a team title, and I’m not going to hang on just to save my energy. Points matter.”
Serrano (41-0), a junior committed to Nebraska, furthered Windsor’s run toward a repeat title with a 7-0 victory over Pueblo East’s Jace Trujillo. Serrano dealt with the reopening a cut above his brow in the quarterfinals that required six stitches, then endured multiple stoppages in the semifinals because of nose bleeds.
“I just try not to notice it,” Serrano said beneath a white bandage, with blood smears on his chin and neck. “I have laser vision on my opponent. I don’t have any distractions. It’s just me and him on the mat.”
Salazar (42-0), a junior undecided about his college future, kept it rolling with a technical fall at 4:40 over Air Academy’s Brady Badwound. Salazar relishes the pressure of defending his title once again.
“It just gives me the energy to keep going,” Salazar said. “It makes me want to get out there and put on a show.”
The bond between Windsor’s dynamic threesome is truly one of a kind.
“We’re all so close,” Serrano said. “We’ve known each other since we were little growing up together. It’s just amazing. They’re my brothers and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”
DENVER — Dominick Serrano dashed into the restroom in the bowels of the Pepsi Center to tend to a bloody nose.
It goes with the territory in a match that had more hand fighting than points.
Serrano, Windsor’s junior 138-pounder who hasn’t lost a high school match, beat Pueblo East’s Jace Trujillo 7-0 Friday night in the Class 4A semifinals.
He also had a little blood dripping from a cut above his right eyebrow, the result of six stitches from a head butt in a victory on Thursday night.
Coincidentally, it’s Pueblo East the Wizards are chasing for the 4A title.
Heading into this morning’s consolation matches at 10, Pueblo East leads the Class 4A race with 169 points. Pueblo County is second with 137 and defending champion Windsor third with 133.
“We don’t talk about (the team race),” Serrano conceded. “We really don’t think about team points. It’s really an individual sport and our coaches know that. If we’re in for the team title, then it’s a team sport.”
Individually, Serrano utilized two huge double-leg takedowns against Trujillo en route to his shutout victory.
“I’m patient and had to wait for it,” said Serrano, whose first takedown broke a scoreless first-period with just five seconds on the clock. “I’m always looking to score. I’ll shoot with one second left just to show that I’m better.
“I like it when we hand fight … actually I like it better when the guy hand fights me back,” Serrano added. “That’s when I set up my shots.”
It was like Good Friday for the Wizards, who advanced five wrestlers to tonight’s 6:30 finals.
Joining Serrano (41-0) on center state tonight will be junior 106-pounder Brady Parker, senior 120-pounder Will VomBaur, junior 170-pounder Cody Eaton (38-5), and junior 182-pounder Isaiah Salazar.
VomBaur, who will look to repeat at 120 pounds, used an unorthodox cradle from the bottom position to pin Cheyenne Mountain’s Chase Johnson via a pin in 4:55 to run his record to 40-2.
“He stepped his leg over so I grabbed it, back-stepped him and landed on top,” said VomBaur, who had built up a comfortable lead before his pin.
“Scoring is a buffer but I try not to think about that when we’re in the race for a team title,” VomBaur added. “I’m not going to hold on or hang on. Points matter … major, tech fall, pins … they all matter. It’s about bonus points. A win getting yourself into the finals is a big deal. To do it with a pin gets the team fired up.”
Salazar (42-0), who will wrestle for his third state title in as many years — he’s won one at Eaton and one at Windsor — destroyed Air Academy’s Brady Badwound 16-0 via technical fall for more bonus points.
Parker scored points in the quarterfinals via a pin over Loveland’s Kobi Johnson in 4:51.
Added Serrano: “I don’t like to be cocky, but I need confidence. I have confidence in my wrestling now. I’m on my way back to the finals.”
OTHER WELD SEMIS: In other semifinal matches involving Weld County wrestlers, Roosevelt 126-pounder Juan Garcia lost 3-2 to Pueblo East’s Ryan Roth; Greeley West 145-pounderTony Ulaszek lost 2-1 to Pueblo County’s Jaxon Garouttte 2-1 and Pueblo County’s Jayson Davis pinned Greeley Central 182-pounder Michael Serna in 1:03.
For the first time in Colorado history, a state wrestling tournament podium could see some serious girl power.
A pair of female wrestlers, Angel Rios of Valley and Jaslynn Gallegos of Skyview, have advanced to Saturday’s third round of consolations at the 2019 CHSAA state wrestling tourney — making it the first time, in the 84th year of the event, that more than one girl competitor was still in contention for a podium at the start of the tournament’s final day.
“When you’re looking at Jaslynn Gallegos and Angel Rios, you can’t say that they’re ‘good wrestlers for girls,’ ” CHSAA assistant commissioner Ernie Dererra told The Post. “Those two girls are good wrestlers. They didn’t get here by accident. And it’s not surprising to anybody who’s been following the sport that those two girls have put themselves in the positions to place.”
Rios defeated Casteus Combs of Sterling, 9-0, in the second round of consolations early Friday evening at the Pepsi Center — while a few mats and several yards away, Skyview’s Gallegos topped Alex Castaneda of Eaton, 9-5.
“It’s truly grown as a sport,” said Rios, who earlier this month became the first female wrestler in state history to win a regional. “But there’s not many girls that would compete with the boys, so I feel like it takes us to a different level.”
Rios is scheduled to face Brendan Johnston from The Classical Academy out of Colorado Springs on Saturday morning for the right to take on Trevor Torrez of Pagosa Springs. This winner of Rios-Johnston would be guaranteed no worse than a sixth-place finish.
No girl has ever placed in the Colorado state tournament, and Johnston has declined to wrestle Rios three times already — taking a forfeit on each occasion — this season, citing personal and religious reasons.
Rios, who defeated Sheridan’s James Cordova, 8-5, Friday morning in her first consolation test, said Johnston isn’t the “only (boy) that has forfeited on me before. I mean, it kind of sucks, but at the same time, it’s what they choose to do and I have no control over it.”
Johnston topped Elijah Kitchens of Estes Park, 19-7, in his opening consolation matchup early Friday evening. The senior had forfeited his first match Thursday against Gallegos, whom he also declined to wrestle. Johnston’s trip to the state tournament as a junior last winter also ended on a self-induced forfeit when he declined to wrestle Conifer’s Cayden Condit in the first round of the consolation bracket.
Like Rios, Gallegos had the option of competing in the postseason against either sex, and opted for the traditional tourney path.
“I’m pretty used to it,” Gallegos said. “I’ve always been recognized as this good girl wrestler. And I just want to be recognized as a good wrestler in general, you know? This is my time to prove that I’m just a wrestler.”
Valley junior 106-pounder Angel Rios is one win away from making state history. And, that one win may essentially be in the bag.
After losing in the first round Thursday in the 3A Wrestling Championships at Denver’s Pepsi Center, Rios (25-4) picked up a pair of wins in the consolations Friday to keep her season alive. Her next match, at 10 this morning in the third round of consolations, is against The Classical Academy senior Brendan Johnston.
TCA prefers their male wrestles don’t wrestle females. Johnston already forfeit a match, in the first round, to another girl, Skyview’s Jaslynn Gallegos. If he does the same this morning, Rios will advance to the consolation semifinals and assure herself no worse than a sixth-place finish and a spot on the podium.
With such a finish, she would become the first female placewinner ever in state history in the predominantly boys tournament.
Heading into the final day of the 3A state tournament, Eaton is very much in the hunt for a top 2 finish in the team standings.
The Reds sit in second with 89 points, sandwiched in between first-place Alamosa (103.5) and third-place Eagle Valley (79.5).
Eaton has three wrestlers in the finals at 6:30 tonight: seniors 113-pounder Toby Gavette (38-5), 138-pounder Dylan Yancey (42-5) and 170-pound Ty Garnhart (41-5).
Eaton also has senior heavyweight Jeremy Murano (34-5) alive in the consolations.
Alamosa has three wrestlers in the finals and seven alive in consolations.
Comeback of the year
After missing all of his sophomore wrestling because of a knee injury season a year ago, University junior Emanuel Munoz-Alcala (37-3) has come back emphatically.
On Saturday, he punched his ticket to tonight’s state finals with a 2-0 win in the 3A heavyweight semifinals against Lamar’s Sy Spitz (35-7).
Over the hump
The apparent brick wall that stood between Valley junior 160-pounder Jaziah Whaley and the state finals stands no more.
After losing in the 3A semifinals and placing third the past two years, Whaley (41-1) pinned Fort Lupton’s Koby Galicia (37-12) in 1:26 in the semifinals Friday.
He is one of two Vikings wrestlers in tonight’s finals. He’s joined by sophomore 138-pounder Isaiah Rios (30-1), who beat Moffat County’s Daniel Caddy 6-4 in the semifinals.
Valley also has four other wrestlers alive in the consolations after bringing only eight to the state tournament.
Nick of time
Dylan Yancey’s younger brother, Josh Yancey, will also be competing in tonight’s championship finals.
Josh Yancey (27-9), a junior 160-pounder from Platte Valley, had impeccable timing in his 3A semifinals match, edging Bennett’s Mac Copeland 3-1 via sudden victory.
Senior 182-pounder Colton Moore (28-8) is wrestling in the consolations today for the Broncos.
One pesky devil
The Fort Lupton Bluedevils have one wrestler alive in the final day of today’s 3A tournament: 160-pounder Koby Galicia (37-12), who was pinned by Valley’s Whaley in the semifinals.
Highland hangin’ tough
Though it didn’t qualify anyone for the 2A finals, Highland has three wrestlers alive in consolations: 120-pound Logan Lewis (22-4), 126-pounder Zach Tittle (26-3) and 145-pounder Hector Flores (20-5).
Tittle, a freshman, was the closest to qualifying for the finals. He lost to Lyons’ Oran Huff (33-8) in the championship semifinals, 6-4.
And then there were three
Weld Central has three wrestlers left in the 3A consolations, including 106-pounder Robert Estrada (43-5), who lost 8-3 to Woodland Parks’ Brady Hankin (29-1) in the semifinals.
Tanner Baumgartner (38-9) stayed alive in the 145 consolations, and Braden Baumgartner (40-6) did the same at 152.
That’s where the Greeley Central girls basketball team finds itself after a 62-43 win over Roosevelt on Friday night in a state Class 4A second-round game.
“Heck ya,” said Wildcats senior Naomi Hidalgo, the school’s all-time leading scorer who had 33 points with 21 in the first half. “I’m glad. I’m blessed to be here.”
The 23-1 Wildcats will host 10th-seeded Green Mountain (18-6) at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the round of 16. Tickets are $9 for adults and $7 for senior citizens and students with identification. Green Mountain, from Lakewood, advanced after a 48-46 win over Pueblo County in another second-round game on Friday.
The second quarter was the name of the game for Greeley Central, back in the Sweet 16 for the second-straight. Pueblo West ousted the Wildcats in the Class 4A Sweet 16 a year ago, 55-31, and the Cyclones also eliminated Greeley Central in the second round in 2017.
Greeley Central outscored the Roughriders 22-13 in the second quarter, helped by 7-1 run that broke open the game to 37-24 and the Wildcats cracked down on defense to hold Roosevelt without a field for nearly four minutes.
“They have No. 24 (Naomi Hidalgo), and she handles the ball as well as any guard,” Roosevelt coach Jeff Neal said. “They got the ball back to the inbounder, a lot of times that was her (Hidalgo) and she has that height that she can see over the defense.”
On Friday night, Greeley Central led the young Roosevelt team 15-11 at the end of the first quarter. The Roughriders (13-12), with only two seniors on the roster, hung around for the first eight minutes with 3-pointers and a pressing defense that early on confused the older Greeley Central team.
“They’re a physical team and we had to cope with that,” said Greeley Central senior post player Aubree Raimer, who added 14 points. “We tried to set screens and get around them.”
Micaela Hidalgo added 10 points for Greeley Central and senior guard Hattie Sheets scored all of her five points in the second half. Only Micaela Hidalgo, Naomi Hidalgo and Raimer scored for the Wildcats in the first half.
The half ended with Hidalgo banking in a 3-pointer with one second left in the half.
“So cool,” said Hidalgo, who raised her arms once the ball went through the net. “I do it occasionally. It gave us some confidence and momentum.”
Roosevelt got within 10 points in the third quarter, but the Roughriders couldn’t get much closer and late in the quarter, the lead was back up to 13 at 48-35 when Micaela Hidalgo went for a steal, stayed with the ball that was eventually picked up by Naomi Hidalgo, who found Raimer for the finish with 2 minutes, two seconds left to play.
“It wasn’t enough,” said Neal of the Roosevelt runs in the third quarter. “We couldn’t get a sustained run. They’re a well-coached team.”
— Anne Delaney covers high school and recreational sports for The Greeley Tribune. Contact Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org, (970) 392-5647 or on Twitter @AnneGDelaney.
Windsor’s Hollie Hoffman knows that if the Wizards are going to succeed in the Colorado High School Activities Association’s highest level of competition, they are going to have to scrap and fight for ever turnover and score.
That’s exactly what the Wizards did Friday night against Legacy in the second round of the CHSAA 5A playoffs in a 56-38 win that moved Windsor into the third round, set for Tuesday night.
“We just kept our composure and we knew our run would come,” said Hoffman, a frenetic senior guard, who scored a game-high 24 points.
The victory moved the Wizards to 20-4 on the year and now they will face No. 9-seeded Broomfield (21-3) in the third round.
The Wizards ran out to a quick early lead, but Legacy, the 25th seed, roared back to cut the lead to 16-12 to close out the quarter. Legacy’s size bothered the Wizards during about a four-minute stretch in the first and second quarters.
“Something we tell the girls is good teams are going to make a run, and Legacy made a run,” said Windsor coach Jim Porth. “Physically we had a hard time stopping them for a little while.”
With the game tied at 17-17, Windsor exploded for a 16-3 run to close of the second quarter. The Wizards got a key three-pointer by senior guard Kelly Mathern, who scored five of her 17 points in the second quarter.
While the Wizards offense got back on track, it was the defense that propelled Windsor to the 33-20 halftime lead.
Porth said the step-up from 4A to 5A this season meant that Windsor would have to use pressure to overcome height advantages. The Wizards just have one player on the roster listed at 5-10 or taller.
“We’re pretty much all the same size,” Porth said.
Hoffman said fitness has been a key for the team this year, which has led to the defensive pressure that Wizards have needed to move it through the season.
“I’ve actually gotten into pretty good shape so I just go and go,” said Hoffman, who played about 31 minutes of the 32-minute game.
Hollie Hoffman scores on a layup for Windsor on Feb. 22, 2019. (Louis Amestoy/The Greeley Tribune)
Windsor's Ally Kennis attempts a shot against Legacy defenders on Feb. 22, 2019. (Louis Amestoy/The Greeley Tribune)
Windor's Kylie Sanger goes up for a shot against Legacy on Feb. 22, 2019. (Louis Amestoy/The Greeley Tribune)
Windsor's Hollie Hoffman attempts a three-point basket as Windsor coach Steve Porth looks on. (Louis Amestoy/The Greeley Tribune)
Windsor's Hollie Hoffman drives for a layup against a Legacy defender of Feb. 22, 2019. (Louis Amestoy/The Greeley Tribune)
Windsor's Karly Mathern attempts a shot against Legacy. (Louis Amestoy/The Greeley Tribune)
Windsor's Hollie Hoffman drives to the basket against a Legacy defender. (Louis Amestoy/The Greeley Tribune)
Windsor's Karly Mathern tries to split the Legacy defense on Feb. 22, 2019. (Louis Amestoy/The Greeley Tribune)
Andrew Alirez was within a long throw from the outfield from Troy Nickerson a year ago.
Nickerson, the University of Northern Colorado wrestling coach knew it wouldn’t take a rope to tie him up, but a solid presentation about academics and of course — wrestling — was what Nickerson could offer to one of the best high school wrestlers in the country with aspirations way past the college level.
So, with no more than a Saturday stroll, Nickerson put on his Sunday best and made his way to the Alirez household in the St. Michael’s neighborhood, literally down the street from Nickerson’s house.
Offer made. Offer accepted.
All that was left was a signature on the national letter of intent from the Greeley Central 152-pound phenom.
On Friday night, Nickerson was within a relay throw from the mats at Denver’s Pepsi Center, focused on a handful of what’s expected to be the future of UNC wrestling, including Alirez.
Alirez (31-0, 147-0 overall) has waltzed in and struted out of the venue, disposing of the competition in rapid fashion en route to tonight’s 152-pound Class 4A final against Pueblo County senior Trevor Singleton (32-8).
After a Friday afternoon of “napping, chilling and watching teammates,” Alirez pinned Coronado’s Zeke Terrazas in 1 minute, 1 second in the quarterfinals. In Friday night’s semifinals, he pinned Hayden Crosson of Pueblo West in 4:35.
“That felt good, a little slow,” Alirez said. “I don’t think I warmed up that good. It took until the second period to get going.”
Alirez put on a takedown exhibition before his pin, working into the third period for the first time this season.
“I still have one match (to go), and anything can happen,” Alirez said. “I’m going to go out there like a soldier, win or lose. I’ve already earned my stripes so he (Singleton) has to come take it to me. I’m going to out there to bang, and whoever is in the finals with me I’m sure they know that. I won’t take anybody lightly. They know what I bring to the table.”
One more victory and Alirez will become Weld County’s first-ever four-time state champion and the 22nd in state history.
In early November, Alirez stayed true to his word, signed his scholarship offer to UNC and set out to take care of some unfinished business — among it a gold-medal winning performance at the Junior Pan American Games, an impressive performance at the Dave Schultz Invitational against Senior Level competition and owning the No. 1-ranking in the nation.
For Nickerson, Alirez was fulfilling the potential the coach saw in him at an early age.
“When I first got (to Greeley), I knew about Andrew, and I went over to a practice at Greeley Central — it was more of an introduction to Eric (Greeley Central coach Penfold) and to the local wrestling community here,” Nickerson recalled. “Andrew was an eighth grader working over in the corner. I saw he was very talented.”
Alirez’s talent and accolades qualified him to participate in the Northern Colorado training center practices at UNC against college-age and senior-level wrestlers.
“We were fortunate to see what his talent level really was,” Nickerson said. “When he was a junior, we had the first opportunity to sit in the Alirez home and visit with him.”
The Alirez family cherished Nickerson’s selling point and his interest, ranking it above other schools who had their eye on Andrew, including Arizona State University, which labored hard to sign him.
There’s an unwritten rule that a Division I college coach shouldn’t let a top recruit leave the state, let alone the neighborhood.
“It was kind of low key with Andrew,” Nickerson said. “The familiarity of our program was already there. We expressed an interest, he expressed an interest and the ball was in his court.”
Alirez made no bones after winning his third state title that he’d stay true to his word and sign with the Bears.
It didn’t hurt that Nickerson was an assistant coach for the USA Wrestling team that completed in the Junior Pan Am Games in Fortaleza, Brazil. He personally watched Alirez claim the gold medal, and anxiously awaited his signature on the scholarship offer.
“We texted back and forth, he verbally committed and then signed,” Nickerson recalled. “I wasn’t surprised. I’m not the kind of coach who plays the ‘what if’ game. I won’t recruit a kid who doesn’t want to be here.”
Semyon Varlamov, who has historically owned the Blackhawks in Chicago, put on another show, stopping 41 of the 44 shots that came his way, including some big-time glove saves in the second period. He’s really hit his stride the last two weeks and after two months of the Avs goaltending failing them, it’s nice to see them get bailed out again.
Carl Soderberg is really having a special season. With two more goals tonight, he’s now put up five points in his last two games and sits at 21 goals on the year. He had a monster game at both ends of the ice this evening, and for good measure, won 10 of his 15 face-offs.
Matt Nieto blocked a slapshot in the first period and while he tried to play on it for a little bit, he missed the entire third period. Nieto has been a valuable bottom 6 player this year and any replacement will likely be a downgrade in the lineup, so that’s something to keep an eye on.
The new line setup that the Avs have is a bit of a mess at times, particularly since MacKinnon really hasn’t gotten going at even strength. But the unconventional lineup is working, as it’s spreading the talent over three lines and forcing the other team to defend differently. The big three are still getting their ice time, as all of them played over 20 minutes, but they’re helping bring out the best in everyone on the forward corps.
J.T. Compher, like most non-star forwards, is a bit of a streaky scorer. With two goals and an assist tonight, he’s now got seven points in his last eight games. Prior to this run, he had only four points in 15 games. After Soderberg, he’s probably their most important depth forward, so a little bit more consistency would be huge down the stretch.
The Avs don’t get much of a rest, as they now head to Nashville to take on the Predators on Saturday afternoon. The game starts at 3:30 p.m. MT.
DALLAS — The Nuggets went on a 20-8 run to open the third quarter in Dallas on Friday, turning a one-point halftime lead into a 114-104 win against the Mavericks in Denver’s first game after the All-Star break.
The Nuggets (40-18) poured it on in the third quarter, outscoring Dallas 39-23 to put the game out of reach in the fourth. But it was all set up by the defense’s response after a poor start to the game, coach Michael Malone said.
“Hell of a win. Guys were finding their teammates,” Malone said. “It’s a great way to start the post-All-Star break push with a road win here in Dallas.”
Dallas (26-32) was without rookie guard Luka Doncic, who sat out with a sore wrist. Doncic, just 19, came into the game averaging 20.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists.
Will Barton was one of the Nuggets’ role players who sparked the decisive run in the game, hitting a 3-pointer on the wing to force the Mavericks into an early timeout with the Nuggets up, 57-51. Out of the Dallas timeout, Malik Beasley hit an open 3 after the play broke down to put Denver up 60-51.
Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 19 points and 13 rebounds in the win. But in true Nuggets form, Paul Millsap (17 points, 13) boards, Isaiah Thomas (16 points), Beasley (13), Jamal Murray (12), Mason Plumlee (12) and Barton (10) also finished in double figures. Seven Nuggets came into Friday’s game scoring in double figures.
Jokic, Millsap and Plumlee each notched double-doubles in the win.
“We really wanted to pound the glass,” Plumlee said. “Extra possessions were big for us, and most of the time on the kick-outs, we hit the three, too, so that was great.”
And pound the glass the Nuggets did. Denver out-rebounded the Mavericks, 63-42, with both Millsap and Jokic pulling down five offensive boards apiece.
“They have three phenomenal rebounders with Jokic, Millsap and Plumlee, and they just beat us to death there,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.
“I thought defense, overall, was really good tonight,” Malone said. “That first quarter, they scored 30, hit four threes. After that, much better job, obviously.”
Malone credited guard Jamal Murray’s tenacity on the defensive perimeter as one of the things that helped turn the game the Nuggets’ way — rattling off hustle stats that included the Nuggets’ 18 perimeter ball deflections, 11 steals and grabbing 5 out of 7 of the game’s 50-50 balls.
Whenever the Avs and Blackhawks get together, dramatics ensue, but with valuable points towards a tight playoff race on the line, this game meant that much more.
After trading blows, the Avalanche outlasted the Blackhawks 5-3.
Colorado brought the momentum from their last game into the first period, pressuring the Blackhawks early and often. Seymon Varlamov saved every shot he faced in the frame, keeping Chicago off the board in the period.
No save was bigger for the Avalanche than Varlamov’s save on Patrick Kane at 3:59 of the period, which broke Sven Andrighetto out of the zone.
Andrighetto found Alexander Kerfoot breaking on the near side, who sprung Carl Soderberg on a breakaway. Soderberg beat Blackhawks goalie five-hole to break the tie and send the Avalanche into the first intermission up 1-0.
Chicago came out firing to start the second period, but Varlamov and the Colorado defense kept the puck out of the net for the first half of the period.
Tyson Barrie took a high sticking penalty on Brandon Saad, putting the Blackhawks on the powerplay, which has been hot as of late. Dylan Strome took advantage of shot wide of the net, that hit the end boards and popped into the slot right onto Strome’s stick.
After going 0-for-3 on the powerplay, JT Compher found the top left corner off a set faceoff play. Mikko Rantanen got the assist on Compher’s powerplay goal, once again giving Colorado the one-goal lead.
With just under 30 seconds left in the period, Johnathan Toews found Kane in front for a wide open net, sending the two teams tied into the second intermission.
There was clear urgency in both teams from the first puck drop, as the hitting and speed increased. After a hard-fought shift from Compher, forcing a turnover, the Avalanche found the back of the net to break the tie yet again. Gabe Landeskog rifled a shot to the far top right corner.
Rantanen was called for holding, allowing Alex DeBrincat to capitalize on a rebound shot from the point, tieing the game at 3-3 with half the period to go.
After some sustained pressure from Chicago and a few big saves from Varlamov, Patrik Nemeth intercepted a pass and found a streaking Compher on a breakaway. Compher hit the crossbar on the first try, but the puck bounced off of Collin Delia’s left skate and into the net, for his second of the game.
With the NBA All-Star break now come and gone and all of the festivities in the rear-view mirror for the Denver Nuggets, they have now turned their attention to the final 25 games of the regular season and their path to the playoffs began in Dallas against the Mavericks on Friday night.
As every team wants to do, the Nuggets were looking to begin the unofficial second half of the season on a positive note. They were well on their way to that outcome before the game even started because Luka Doncic, the Mavericks Slovenian phenom, was ruled out due to an ankle issue prior to the opening tip. Additionally, the Nuggets came into their matchup with Dallas as healthy as they have been all year. Only Michael Porter Jr. and Trey Lyles were ruled out for Denver.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Nuggets used an explosive third quarter to propel them to their 40th win of the season. Denver defeated the Mavericks 114-104 in their first game after the All-Star break thanks to the Nuggets playing with an incredible amount of energy on both ends of the floor from start to finish.
The first quarter was eerily reminiscent of the Nuggets from before the All-Star break. They were letting the Mavericks score at will to begin the game and they fell behind early. Their defensive energy was strong, but their execution was not. Thankfully, their energy did not waver and Denver began to string together stops. Still, it was not enough as the Nuggets trailed 30-25 at the end of the first quarter.
Denver’s offense was generating tons of open looks, but their shots were not falling. The Nuggets shot a measly 28.6 percent from the field in the first quarter. Their only saving grace was the fact that the Nuggets shot 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets freshly-minsted All-Star, was his typical productive self over the first 12 minutes of the game. He was inhaling rebounds, dishing out assist after assist while also scoring when the opportunity presented itself. Jokic’s aggression has not dwindled over the All-Star break which was a very welcomed sight.
The Nuggets, who trailed for nearly every minute of the game, battled their way back to a 37-37 tie with eight minutes left before halftime to begin the second quarter despite being ice cold from the field. From that point forward, Denver slowly started reclaiming some positive momentum.
Denver’s defense and 3-point shooting kept them alive in the first half as the rest of their shots continued to miss their mark. Denver did not fold even though they were missing shots and they were eventually able to finally string together a couple buckets which allowed them to take and hold onto a lead going into halftime.
Still, even after getting a few shots to fall, Denver shot a bitter cold 36.5 percent from the field in the first half, but found a way to take and carry a 52-51 lead over the Mavericks in Dallas. Paul Millsap was the Nuggets unsung hero in the first two quarters of play because he was able to manufacture points when Denver’s offense stalled. After two quarters, he finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
The Nuggets came into the second half with absurd amounts of intensity and urgency. They began the third quarter on a 14-4 run as their offense slowly began to show signs of life and their defensive effort continued to hold strong. In addition to Denver’s improved execution, Denver also was getting down and dirty as they began winning all of the hustle categories. They were abusing the Mavericks on the offensive glass, managed to accumulate 10 steals by the end of the third quarter, and were selling out in order to hold onto their lead.
Then their offense went from ice cold to a blazing inferno as they put up 39 points in the third quarter on 53.8 percent shooting from the field and 54.5 percent shooting from 3-point range. Murray caught fire and poured in a quick eight points and was a +16 in his 10 minutes of action in the third period.
All of Denver’s effort managed to transform their one-point halftime lead into a 91-74 advantage after three quarters. Denver held the Mavericks to just 23 points in the third quarter on 38.1 percent shooting from the field. Denver also forced six turnovers in the third frame.
The fourth quarter served as a glorified five-on-five session. Isaiah Thomas was able to log significant minutes and get in a rhythm while Denver continued to nurse their lead until time ran out for the Mavericks. Denver eventually came away with a 114-104 win in Dallas for their 15th road win of the season — the same number they had all of last year.
As it has been all season, Jokic led the Nuggets with 19 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists while shooting 7-of-16 from the field. Paul Millsap thrived in the more sluggish style of play of Denver’s matchup with the Mavericks and finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds in 32 minutes. When Denver’s offense became stagnant, Millsap found a way to produce. Beasley also continued his hot-shooting and finished with 13 points while hitting 3-of-7 3-pointers. Additionally, Isaiah Thomas had a strong performance in his second game back with 16 points off the bench on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.
Next, the Nuggets will head back to the Mile High City to begin a four-game homestand starting with the new-look Los Angeles Clippers. That game will take place on Sunday afternoon at 3pm MST within the friendly confines of the Pepsi Center.
CHICAGO — J.T. Compher scored his second goal of the game on a breakaway to snap a tie with 5:22 left in the third period, and the Colorado Avalanche beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-3 Friday night for their third straight win.
Compher broke in alone from center ice after taking a pass from Patrik Nemeth and beat Collin Delia with a shot over the glove.
Carl Soderberg also had two goals, including a short-handed empty-netter, and Gabriel Landeskog scored his 32nd goal early in the third. Colorado got 41 saves from Semyon Varlamov.
Patrick Kane scored his 39th goal to extend his points streak to 20 games and goal-scoring run to five straight. Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat also scored for Chicago, while Jonathan Toews and Erik Gustafssson each had two assists.
Delia finished 26 saves as Chicago lost for just the third time in its last 13. Kane has 17 goals and 26 assists during his points streak.
Both the Avalanche and Blackhawks entered with 61 points, one behind Minnesota for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Colorado led 1-0 after a brisk first period that had only one whistle in the opening 9:45.
Soderberg opened the scoring with 3:51 left to cap a rush. After plowing past Gustafsson, Soderberg drove to then net, took a pass from Alexander Kerfoot and beat Delia between the pads for this career-high 20th goal.
Strome tied it with a power-play goal at 10:48 of the second. Gustafsson’s shot from the blue line whizzed past the left post. The puck bounced off the back board and to Strome, who tucked it in from the edge of the crease.
Compher’s power-play goal with 1:55 left in the second put Colorado back ahead, 2-1. He connected from the right side of the slot, and was set up by Mikko Rantanen on a play from a faceoff.
The Blackhawks replied from a faceoff in the Colorado zone when Kane scored with 29 seconds left in the frame. Kane was wide open in the right circle when he one-timed in a cross-ice feed from Toews.
Landeskog put Colorado in front 3-2 at 3:36 of the third after he rode Toews off the puck deep in the Chicago zone. The Avalanche captain kept skating with the puck, circled across the slot, fired and beat Delia low on the glove side.
DeBrincat backhanded in a second rebound midway through the third on a power play to tie it at 3.
With Colorado ahead 4-3, the Blackhawks pressured during a power play and with Delia pulled for an extra attacker in the final 1:43. Varlamov was sharp before Soderberg sealed it with his empty-netter with 34 seconds left.
NOTES: Kane is the seventh player in NHL history to have multiple point streaks of 20 more games. … Rantanen’s assist on Compher’s goal was his 200th NHL point. … Chicago D Brent Seabrook missed his third game with an abdominal strain and D Carl Dahlstrom sat out with flu-like symptoms. … The Blackhawks recalled D Henri Jokiharju from Rockford of the AHL and put him in the lineup. The 19-year-old, a first-round draft pick in 2017, played 37 games for Chicago earlier this season. … Avalanche F Colin Wilson (upper-body injury) missed a sixth straight game and D Ian Cole (upper body) sat out an eighth straight.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Kendell Williams won the women’s pentathlon on Friday at the USA Track & Field Indoor Championships, and Anna Hall set a national high school record.
Williams, an Olympian and multiple NCAA champion for Georgia, totaled 4,496 points and Emilyn Dearman finished second, 140 points back. Hall, a senior at Valor Christian High School in Colorado and a Georgia Bulldog signee, broke Williams’ high school record of 4,068 points, set in 2013, with 4,302.
Williams finished first in the 60-meter hurdles and long jump while Hall took the high jump and the 800 in 2 minutes, 16.11 seconds. Dearman rounded out the five-event contest by winning the shot put.
Daniel Haugh won the men’s weight throw at 79-1¾ and former NCAA champion Janeah Stewart won the first national title of her professional career at 81-4½. Stewart, who missed her career best by an inch, is the 10th Mississippi Rebel to win a gold medal at the event.
In light of Saturday's game between CU and the University of Washington, the CU Independent collaborated with The Daily of the University of Washington to get some insider information on the Huskies basketball squad. By Justin Guerriero
The answer is South Korean relief pitcher Seunghwan Oh. He has a personal posse of more than a dozen reporters and cameramen who have been following his every move over the last few days.
“Baseball is incredibly popular in Korea, and Seunghwan is one of the most popular players,” explained Jeff Hoo-Lim, a native South Korean who now lives in Denver. He’s been hired by the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) to work as an interpreter in Arizona during spring training.
During manager Bud Black’s daily media session on Friday, the Korean media had several questions about Oh, who, during the offseason made news when he said the he had grown homesick during his time in the majors and was eager to return home.
Black, however, reassured the media, and Oh’s fans back in Korea, that Oh is doing just fine with the Rockies. Oh is the final year of his contract.
“He’s a pro. He’s a competitor,” Black said. “He has a great deal of pride, and he’s ready to pitch for us.
“He really enjoyed the second half of the year after we traded for him. That re-energized him a bit. He was excited to be a Rockie. On the back end of his contract, he wants to fulfill it with a great deal of solid performance.”
Chung Hee Jun, a TV reporter in Arizona for the first time for MBC, estimated that it cost his company $20,000 to send him to spring training.
Oh, of course, is not the only Korean player the media is fixated on. Dodgers starting pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu is the current the most popular player, according to Hoo-Lim. Texas outfielder Shin-Soo Choo comes in second, followed by Oh.
“Los Angeles has a big Korean community, so Ryu has a lot of fans,” Hoo-Lim said.
Cold, soggy spring. A chilling and persistent rain drenched the Phoenix metro area for two consecutive days, turning Colorado’s spring training complex at Salt River Field into a land of small lakes and impromptu creeks.
The diamond at the main stadium, the site for Saturday afternoon’s Cactus League opener between the Rockies and Diamondback, has been covered by a tarp and should be in good shape. The outfield, according to Black, drains well.
Still, all of the wet weather has curtailed all of the Cactus League teams from doing usual early spring work.
“It affects everybody,” Black said. “You want to get in your fundamentals and you want to get in your practice time on the field to get players in baseball shape. The only way you can do that is get on the field and practice.
“But as far as the work we have needed to do with our pitchers, we have been able to do that. The mounds have been covered and guys have been able to throw. Starting tomorrow, it looks like the weather is going to break, and you can catch up on the fundamental stuff.”
Over the last two days, Scottsdale received nearly 2 inches of rain and there was heavy snow in the nearby desert mountains. In northern Arizona, Flagstaff had received 40.1 inches of snow by late Friday afternoon.
Drew Lock, QB, Missouri: This mock draft will focus on what we think the Broncos will do and not what they should do. Never will that be more evident than here. Drew Lock fits John Elway‘s preferred quarterback mold; an athletic quarterback with a live arm and stocky build. Lock is raw and will need time to fix his footwork, accuracy and develop behind Flacco.
Mike Leach on how accuracy is most-critical QB trait & biggest mistake HS through NFL coaches always make is pretending they can fix it. "You can go get the shortstop & teach him to play QB easier than you can make someone accurate." Starts :30 in: https://t.co/iAqiNwzkgL
He doesn’t have the high-end upside, ceiling or athletic abilities to match raw prospects of the past like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Paxton Lynch or Carson Wentz. The comparison for Lock would be Jay Cutler, as they both have a well above-average arm, an awful tendency to throw off their back foot, and their measurables are almost identical.
DevinWhite, LB, LSU: If the Broncos decide to kick the quarterback problem down the road until the loaded 2020 quarterback draft class, then Devin White would make tons of sense here. White is a quick, rangy and explosive linebacker who isn’t afraid to hit. He’s also been described as someone with off-the-charts leadership abilities.
Most analysts consider him to be a top-five player in the draft, but because of the devaluation of off-the-ball linebackers, it’s likely that he’ll be on the board when the tenth pick comes around. White is incredibly comparable to Myles Jack in terms of athleticism, size, playing style and the fact that they both played running back, though White has a much cleaner injury report on his side.
White would not only start at linebacker from Week 1, but would he would be a considerable upgrade on what the Broncos have had in recent years. Matt Miller put it best, “Devin White is the ideal linebacker prospect for today’s NFL. He’s running-back fast, linebacker tough and has the range of a safety.”
Greedy Williams, CB, LSU: Much like Drew Lock, Williams would be more a pick of need than a pick of value. Williams has fantastic length, man coverage abilities and great ball skills. His stats don’t blow you away, but that’s because college quarterbacks refuse to throw his direction. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s out of LSU, often dubbed “DBU” for their tendency to produce great defensive backs. He’d also be a perfect fit for Vic Fangio‘s scheme and would start from Day 1.
The Broncos could likely trade back if they wanted to take Williams, as most draft analysts don’t regard him as a top-ten prospect and three quarterbacks are almost guaranteed to go ahead of him as well. Scouts worry about Williams’ speed and his physicality, as NFL refs are often more strict on pass interference than college refs, making some wonder if he can hang with NFL receivers. Our comparison for Williams would be Richard Sherman, though Sherman plays with much more grit and toughness on the field.
Round 2: 41st pick overall
Dalton Risner, RT, Kansas State: Since his stellar showing at the Senior Bowl, the Colorado kid has been flying up the boards and would make perfect sense for the Broncos if they take a quarterback with the tenth pick. Even if the Broncos don’t take a quarterback in the first round, Risner would be a great selection here.
The Broncos could have a hole to fill at center, guard and tackle this offseason and Risner has the versatility to play all three at a high level. Plus, given Flacco’s immobility in the latter stages of his career (especially in comparison to Keenum) the Broncos will need a stable offensive line.
Risner’s toughness is superb, and it almost got him into a fight with Boston College’s defensive lineman Zach Allen, making him a perfect fit for the Broncos’ new identity. Risner also had the lowest percentage of pressure allowed among Big 12 centers in guards in 2018.
Round 3: 71st pick overall
Joejuan Williams, CB, Vanderbilt: Joejuan Williams is a cornerback similar in style to LSU’s Greedy Williams, and Kentucky’s Lonnie Johnson. Both are long corners with great ball skills, but Joejuan will require some more development, especially in man coverage.
What really excites about Joejuan Williams, though, is his toughness and was how productive he was against the best receivers in college football. Going up against the nastiest one-two punch in Ole Miss’ A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf, he was at his absolute beast, breaking up four passes and intercepting another.
Round 4: 125th pick overall
David Long, LB, WVU: West Virginia’s David Long is one of the biggest sleepers in this draft class. He’d be a great fit next to Josey Jewell at linebacker and would fill a need if the Broncos don’t take a linebacker early.
Long has high-end athleticism, length and coverage abilities similar to White but Long doesn’t have the same level of consistency on tape. Long also lacks the off-the-charts intangibles that White has.
Long would be a developmental prospect with high upside who could sit behind Todd Davis for a season before eventually taking the job.
Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia: Isaac Nauta is the best tight end prospect that no one is talking about in this year’s draft class. Nauta was a highly recruited tight end out of the IMG Academy in Florida, who was often a victim of Georgia having too many mouths feed across their skill positions. He could certainly give more effort as a blocker, but if he was on a different team that gave him more opportunities and targets, I’m confident he would be a Day 2 pick instead.
Round 6: 182nd pick overall
Preston Williams, WR, Colorado State: Williams is a high-risk, high-reward prospect, who the Broncos can’t let get out of the Centennial State. The need at wide receiver currently isn’t dire, but Emmanuel Sanders could be on a different team sooner rather than later.
Preston Williams’ body is very reminiscent of Julio Jones‘ when he was coming out of Alabama. Williams is raw and has off-the-field issues that the Broncos’ front office will have to take into account, but he could very well be the player in this year’s draft that leaves fans going, “How on earth did that guy go in the sixth round?”
Round 7: 237th pick overall
Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson: The second offensive lineman we have the Broncos taking is Mitch Hyatt. Much like Risner, Hyatt has the flexibility to play either guard or tackle at the next level. A little more than a year ago Hyatt was considered a first or second round tackle, but his stock has fallen after his play regressed over the past and a half. If the Broncos have faith in Mike Munchak to fix the problems recently plaguing Hyatt, he could be an excellent value.
Editor’s note: This story will be updated throughout the day and night live from the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The state wrestling championship quarterfinals are all wrapped up, we’re knee deep in the first round of consolations, and here’s where Weld County teams sit heading into tonight’s semifinals at 6:45 tonight:
Windsor is rolling toward a top 3 finish in the team standings with six semifinalists.
Junior 106-pounder Brady Parker (21-2), senior 120-pounder Will VomBaur (39-2), junior 132-pounder Dominick Serrano (40-0), junior 160-pounder Tristan Perez (30-10), junior 170-pounder Cody Eaton (37-5) and junior 182-pounder Isaiah Salazar (41-0) all advanced to the semifinals.
The Wizards’ other five wrestlers are in consolations.
VomBaur and Perez both won one-point nail-biters in the quarterfinals.
Parker takes on Pueblo East junior Anthony Franklin (30-12) in the semifinals. VonBaur matches up with Cheyenne Mountain sophomore Chase Johnson (25-12) in the semifinals. Serrano faces Pueblo East senior Jace Trujillo (17-5) in the semifinals. Perez meets Pueblo County’s unbeaten senior Christopher Fasano (40-0). Eaton matches up with Pueblo West junior Dillon Derting (22-6). Salazar takes on Air Academy senior Brady Badwound (31-5).
Windsor (69.5 points) is third in 4A behind Pueblo East (92) and Pueblo County (72).
The Wildcats have five of their original seven state qualifiers still in contention.
Central has two semifinalists, one of which is clearly no surprise.
Senior 152-pounder Andrew Alirez (31-0) pinned Coronado’s Zeke Terrazas (19-8) in 1 minute, 1 second in the quaterfinals earlier today. He’s face Pueblo West sophomore Hayden Crosson (42-9) in tonight’s semifinals. Alirez is trying to become Weld County’s first four-time state champion.
Greeley Central junior 182-pounder Michael Serna (36-8) also qualified for the semifinals, with a tight 5-3 quarterfinals win over Grand Junction Central’s Shaun Stepisnik (26-12). He has a tough challenge ahead, facing Pueblo County senior Jayson Davis (35-7) in the semifinals.
The Wildcats are tied for 11th in the team standings with 24 points.
Spartans senior 145-pounder Tony Ulaszek (14-5) advanced to the 4A semifinals by the most narrow of margins, a 6-5 quarterfinals win over Discovery Canyon’s Dylan Ruane (31-12). He’ll face Pueblo County junior Jaxon Garoutte (39-2) in the semis.
Two of three Spartans wrestlers are still in contention.
West is tied for 24th in the team standings with 10 points.
Roosevelt freshman 126-pounder Juan Garcia (40-8) advanced to the semifinals with a 6-1 quarterfinals win against Longmont’s Gio Wilson (22-4). He’ll take on Pueblo East senior Ryan Roth (35-4) in the semifinals.
Four of the Rough Riders’ other five wrestlers are alive in consolations. Roosevelt (20) is 14th in the team standings.
After a somewhat rough opening day, the Reds had a couple strong afternoon sessions to vault into the top 3 of the team standings.
Eaton (50 points) is third in the 3A team race, behind Alamosa (60) and Lamar (51.5).
The Reds have three semifinalists: senior 113-pounder Toby Gavette (37-5), senior 138-pounder Dylan Yancey (41-5) and senior 170-pounder Ty Garnhart (40-5).
Gavette faces Elizabeth senior Kris Kramer (33-6) in the semifinals. Yancey matches up with Fort Morgan sophomore Cael Langford (34-9). Garnhart meets Holy Family junior Hunter Branson (34-3).
Six of Eaton’s seven other wrestlers are still alive in the consolations.
Senior 160-pounder Koby Galicia (37-11) advanced to the semifinals with a 14-4 quarterfinals win against Alamosa’s Andres Mondragon (25-13). He’ll face Valley junior Jaziah Whaley (40-1) in the semifinals.
Senior 170-pounder AJ Garcia is alive in the consolations for the Bluedevils.
Fort Lupton (12) is tied for 25th in the team standings.
The Broncos have a pair semifinalists: junior 160-pounder Josh Yancey (26-9) and senior 182-pounder Colton Moore (28-7).
Yancey takes on Bennett sophomore Mac Copeland (40-6) in the semifinals.
Moore matches up with The Classical Academy’s senior defending champion Nathan Johns (33-1).
Platte Valley (21) is tied with Weld Central in the team race.
Sophomore 138-pounder Isaiah Rios (29-1) qualified for the semifinals for the Vikings, as did junior 160-pounder Jaziah Whaley (40-1).
Brown won his quarterfinals match 11-10 over Olathe’s Brent Gray (40-9).
Rios takes on Moffat County junior Daniel Caddy (45-4) in the semifinals. Whaley meets Fort Lupton senior Koby Galicia (37-11).
Valley (32) is eighth in the team race.
The Vikings have all six of their other wrestlers alive in consolations, including junior 106-pounder Angel Rios (24-4).
With an 8-5 win against Sheridan’s James Cordova (32-7) in the first round of consolations, Rios became just the eighth girl ever to win a match in the state tournament.
University junior heavyweight Emanuel Munoz-Alcala (36-3) advanced to the semifinals with a 2-0 win in the quarterfinals against Eaton senior Jeremy Murano (33-5).
He’ll face Lamar junior Sy Spitz (35-6) in the semifinals.
The Bulldogs are 29th in the team standings with nine points.
Freshman 106-pounder Robert Estrada (43-4) advanced to the semifinals for Weld Central, pinning Sterling’s Casteus Combs (19-15) in 1:24 in the quarterfinals.
He’ll face Woodland Park freshman Brady Hankin (28-1) in the semifinals.
Five other Weld Central wrestlers are alive in consolations.
The Rebels are tied for 13th in the team standings.
In just his first year of high school wrestling, Huskies freshman 126-pounder Zach Tittle (26-2) advanced to the semifinals with a 7-1 quarterfinals win against Cedaredge’s Adrian Nieto (15-13).
Three other Highland wrestlers are alive in consolations.
The Huskies are tied for 22nd in the team standings with 17 points. Wray leads the 2A race with 72 points.
The Denver Broncos for the past couple of years have had a strong presence in the middle of their defensive line in Domata Peko, but a potential change could be incoming.
With his contract up it appears that the Broncos are ready to move on from Peko — or at least push pause on the situation — during the early stages of free agency with the veteran lineman.
This doesn’t mean that Peko absolutely won’t be a Bronco in 2019, however, as the Broncos could bring back Peko in the future later in the free agency period if he’s still available and willing — keyword ‘early stages of free agency’ — it just means that he won’t be plan A.
So who is ‘plan A’ for head coach Vic Fangio, defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and the Broncos defensive staff? Broncos Blitz podcast host Ronnie Kohrt dives into the possibilities between free agency and the draft.
With college hockey’s regular season winding down, the youthful No. 7 Denver Pioneers have been able to find a reliable goaltending play from sophomore Devin Cooley and freshman Filip Larsson.
Fresh off of being announced as the NCHC Goalie of the Week, Cooley continues to enjoy a strong season for himself. He earned that award for his performance last Saturday in the Pioneers 1-0 shutout victory over No. 4 Minnesota Duluth, and Cooley currently sit in third place in the NCAA with a .934 save percentage and is eighth in the NCAA with a 1.93 goals against average.
“Honestly for me, it’s not that big of a deal,” Cooley said. “We only had four teams playing so that is four out of five teams maybe, and I only played one weekend. The award doesn’t mean that much. But it is a better feeling to be able to help my team come away with a win knowing that I did everything I could to make sure that we are winning because these points at this time of the year are very important.”
After playing only three games in his freshman season with the Pios, Cooley has truly utilized an opportunity to prove himself this season following the departure of former DU goaltender Tanner Jaillet.
“I would stay just being a student of the game,” Cooley said about his largest improvement from last season to this season. “Just knowing exactly what I am going to do in specific situations, studying the team, studying the film. Studying my old film and finding my own mistakes, whether it led to a goal or not and doing everything that I can to fix that.”
“Overall, I am just feeling a lot more comfortable and confident because I know for certain plays that I am going to make the save every time,” Cooley explained. “I know exactly what I need to do so I am not wasting any time thinking, but just playing the game.”
Despite missing the first 11 games due to injury, Larsson has not missed a beat this season as the Detroit Red Wings prospect holds an impressive 7-3-3 record, with a .923 save percentage and 2.29 goals against average.
“I pretty much just let it run its course,” Cooley said of his advice to Larsson. “I saw him come back and in the first couple of practices since he came back it seemed as if he wasn’t even gone. He is that talented, and he is good. So for him I kind of just let him do his thing. I would tell him, ‘Good luck,’ and to stay calm and do your thing and he has done a pretty good job at that so far.”
Naturally, with both goaltenders playing strong hockey, they are bound to get high praise from Pioneers head coach David Carle, who is in his first year as Denver University’s head coach this season.
“Both have been phenomenal for us, and both have been able to grab the ball when the other has been hurt and been able to step right in and be really good for us to give us a chance to win every night,” Carle said of his dynamic duo of goalies. “We are really proud of both of them and we feel comfortable with both of them in net.”
With seven games remaining in the regular season, the Pioneers will get back to work when they host the Miami Redhawks (10-16-4) this Friday and Saturday at Magness Arena with opening faceoff scheduled for 7:07 p.m. MT.
The first thing Jackson Hayslip wanted to know on Wednesday night after his Greeley Central boys basketball team won a first-round state playoff game was: how did Greeley West do?
Greeley West hosted a game at the same time as Central, and Hayslip soon found out the Spartans won. On top of that, West senior guard and leading scorer Andre Sepeda, Hayslip’s friend since elementary school, had a career night with 40 points in the overtime win.
“I laughed,” Hayslip said. “The first I asked is how he shot 28 free throws. How is that possible?”
Hayslip, Central’s senior guard and leading scorer, didn’t have such a bad night himself in the first round with 26 points in the Wildcats’ win over Pueblo South. Sepeda was interested in finding out the result of his friend’s team before leaving Greeley West.
“I root for them every game when they’re not playing us,” he said.
Hayslip and Sepeda have at least one more day as scholastic players to inquire about the other guy’s game. Both Hayslip, Sepeda and their teammates will be back in action on Saturday in second-round state playoff games.
Central (15-9) plays at The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs in the Class 4A tournament at 3 p.m. Saturday. Greeley West (18-6) starts its Class 5A game at the same time at Fruita Monument.
Hayslip is confident Greeley West can come out with a victory after the long bus ride to Fruita. Greeley Central played Fruita Monument in December and defeated Fruita 58-57.
“I think West has a good shot,” Hayslip said. “They should come out on top.”
Hayslip and Sepeda have been looking out for each other, and competing against each other for at least six years. They met the summer before sixth grade when they were teammates with the Colorado War, a club team that also included Greeley Central senior Naomi Hidalgo.
After being War teammates for a couple of years, Hayslip and Sepeda thought they might end up at the same Greeley high school. Plans to go to Northridge fell through, and they went their separate ways.
“I do think about that if if we played together how things would happen,” Sepeda said. “I feel like we could’ve dominated the 4A conference together. We have chemistry. We hop on the court and we have chemistry right off the bat.”
Being at different schools didn’t diminish the friendship. Hayslip and Sepeda got together as often as possible to for pick-up games or shooting sessions at the Greeley Recreation Center that often led to intense games of one-on-one.
“It’d be real heated, real competitive,” Hayslip said. “We’d get mad at each other. We’d get into almost fights about it. Then, we’d be fine the next day and go and do it again.”
The young men remain close off the court too. They hang out together as often as they can, text or talk before games. Hayslip said they consider the other guy’s family to be part of their own.
Sepeda said at this point in their basketball careers, he’d say he’s the better shooter of the two. Hayslip agreed. Sepeda, though, said when the game’s on the line there might not be more sure handed ball handler than Hayslip, whose game features more of a drive-and-dish style.
No. 1 Friends
Greeley Central senior guard Jackson Hayslip and Greeley West senior guard Andre Sepeda have been friends since middle school from their days playing club basketball with the Colorado War. They’ve pushed each other on the court to be better players, while maintaining their close friends. Both guys are their teams’ leading scorers as Central and West head into second-round state playoff games on Saturday. Hayslip is averaging 20.9 points per game. Sepeda is averaging 18 points per game.
Though, Sepeda is not shy about going inside despite the fact that he’s listed at only 5-foot-8 inches. Hayslip is a little taller and he can slip inside, and use his length to get tip ins around the basket. That wasn’t always the case.
“When I was younger, he was a lot smaller and he was the smallest kid on the court,” Sepeda said. “He was the point guard and I was the wing. He was driving and he’d kick it out and get everything going. Once we got to high school, our games changed the way our coaches needed us to play.”
This year, Hayslip and Sepeda both wear No. 1 on their jerseys. That wasn’t always the case. Sepeda’s worn the number all through high school. Hayslip used to wear No. 25, and he took on No. 1 because Central got new uniforms. The lower numbers were the the smaller-sized jerseys and Hayslip wanted a better it
Hayslip, who used to be No. 25, took on No. 1 this season – not to be like his friend. But, rather, because Central got new uniforms. The lower numbers were the smaller-size jerseys and Hayslip wanted a better fit.
“I used to get big jerseys because I wore big numbers and it looked dumb,” Hayslip. “I guess it’s a coincidence.”
It’s no coincidence, Hayslip said that the guys’ friendship has helped them – both as people and basketball players. Hayslip said Sepeda “has done a lot for me,” and it’s been invaluable to have his friend to push him and help him get better.
The feeling is obviously mutual.
“We have a lot of love for each other,” Sepeda said. “He’s like my brother. It’s always the same no matter how little we see each other.”
— Anne Delaney covers high school and recreational sports for The Greeley Tribune. Contact Anne at email@example.com, (970) 392-5647 or on Twitter @AnneGDelaney.
After concluding her fourth world championships in a tie atop the medal standings for most golds with alpine powers Norway and Switzerland at two, EagleVail’s Mikaela Shiffrin is taking a two-week break from the World Cup to decompress, reflect and recover from a severe chest cold that made her record fourth consecutive world slalom title all the more remarkable.
The day before the slalom that ended the women’s program at worlds last weekend in Are, Sweden, Shiffrin was stricken by chest congestion that hit with a vengeance while training for the next day’s race.
“Through a two-hour time span from the start of my training session to the end, I went from thinking that I had just a tickle in my throat from some kind of allergy to like coughing up my lungs and not being able to breathe,” Shiffrin said in a conference call. “We went back to our apartment where we were staying, and that evening it just kept getting worse and worse. We were thinking that maybe I had some sort of onset of a little bit of pneumonia in my right lung.”
After crossing the finish line the next day to claim her second gold medal of those world championships, Shiffrin doubled over and sat on the ground, coughing and struggling to breathe. Later, in a finish line interview shown on NBCSN, Shiffrin was unusually emotional, tearfully recounting the ordeal she had endured.
“The slalom at world championships was the most emotional I’ve ever been at a ski race,” Shiffrin said. “I kept crying. Some of that might have just been the illness and being exhausted.”
Shiffrin, who tied the record for most World Cup wins in a season (14) last Tuesday, is skipping this weekend’s races at Crans-Montana, Switzerland (a downhill and alpine combined) and next weekend’s races on the slope in Russia that hosted the 2014 Olympics (downhill and super-G). Shiffrin leads the World Cup super-G standings but may fall out of the lead after the races in Russia.
She would have a chance to regain the lead at the World Cup finals, March 11-17 in the tiny principality of Andorra tucked away in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. She says the super-G title is not her priority even though she has won every super-G she has raced this season — three on the World Cup, and the one at the world championships.
Having already clinched her sixth season slalom title, her primary goal is capturing the crystal globe that comes with winning the giant slalom title.
“The GS globe has been one of my big goals for the last few years and I haven’t been able achieve that,” Shiffrin said. “This year I’m in the lead with a good margin as far as the points go, but it’s certainly not in the bag. If the GS globe is still up for grabs, then I’m going to be putting all of my energies towards the GS at World Cup finals. The super-G I don’t think is going to be really big consideration.”
That doesn’t mean she has closed the door on racing the super-G at finals, however. It’s possible she could clinch the GS title the week before the finals when she races GS and slalom in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic. Then she might be tempted to race super-G at finals.
“If I do it, it would just more for fun, because it’s been really fun for me to race super-G this year,” Shiffrin said. “But I doubt that’s going to happen.”
Shiffrin also has a commanding lead in the World Cup overall standings. If she wins the overall, it will be her third straight, becoming the third American to win the overall three times. Only Lindsey Vonn (four) has won more.
When students from Aurora’s Hinkley High School entered T.J. Cunningham’s office, he would give them a mirror.
“Who’s the most important person in your world,” he would ask the teens.
They would respond with a list: mother, father, siblings.
“Nope, wrong,” he would say, as the kid stared into the mirror. “You are. You are the most important person in your world. You need to treat yourself like a king or queen.”
Anna Bicknase, one of Cunningham’s colleagues, paused after telling this story.
“He could make a kid believe they could do anything.”
Cunningham, 46, was a father of five, a devoted educator, a former CU Buffaloes star and a former NFL defensive back. He was shot Sunday at a high school parking lot in a dispute with a neighbor over parking and died a day later at a hospital.
The neighbor, 31-year-old Marcus Johnson, has been charged with first-degree murder in the slaying.
Former teammates and coaches and current students and faculty are left to mourn the sudden death of an irreplaceable community member, a man who lit up every room he entered with a smile as wide as his impact. They will gather at 1 p.m. Monday at the Heritage Christian Center in Aurora for a memorial service.
A “love for life”
Before entering a career in education, Cunningham played an integral role on some of CU’s most accomplished football teams in the early 1990s, a group that made its home in the national top-25 poll under the guidance of future NFL quarterback Kordell Stewart and Heisman Trophy-winning running back Rashaan Salaam.
Former teammates recall Cunningham — a wide receiver and defensive back at CU — as a ferocious player between the lines, a man with limitless energy.
“When he brought it, he brought it,” former teammate Marcus Washington said. “He was the Energizer bunny out there. He always seemed to being going 100 mph.”
The coach who recruited him, Gary Barnett, called Cunningham “one of my all-time favorite kids.”
But it was his attitude off the field that endeared Cunningham to his teammates from Day One.
“It’s like he never had a bad day,” Washington said. “There are certain people like that; no matter the circumstance — a bad play or bad day in school — he always saw the positive in any situation.”
“His outgoing personality was contagious,” former teammate Derek West said. “He always had a smile on his face.”
The smile: It’s the first thing anyone brings up when Cunningham is mentioned.
“My lasting memory of T.J. was his smile,” West said. “He just had this love for life.”
“He would walk into a room and everyone would smile,” Barnett said. “His smile could just take over a room.”
TJ Cunningham is pictured at the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo courtesy of University of Colorado Boulder Department of Intercollegiate Athletics)
TJ Cunningham carries the ball for the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo courtesy of University of Colorado Boulder Department of Intercollegiate Athletics)
TJ Cunningham plays for the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo courtesy of University of Colorado Boulder Department of Intercollegiate Athletics)
TJ Cunningham cheers while playing for the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo courtesy of University of Colorado Boulder Department of Intercollegiate Athletics)
The Seattle Seahawks selected Cunningham in the sixth round of the 1996 NFL draft, but injuries derailed the former Buff’s pro career after just nine games.
Cunningham quickly turned to his other passion: education. In 1999, he completed his bachelor’s degree in communications at CU, before receiving a master’s in special education from Metropolitan State University of Denver, according to his LinkedIn page.
Dr. Stephanie Rosch was Cunningham’s instructional coach when he started his first teaching job, at Scott Carpenter Middle School in Westminster.
“He hated to be called ‘professional football player T.J. Cunningham,’ ” she recalled. “He always said, ‘That was such a small part of my life. It wasn’t like I was Jerry Rice.’ ”
Cunningham excelled at building up his students, Rosch said. One time, a student of his finally finished a math level, and Cunningham wanted to celebrate.
“He burst into the hallway and started shouting, ‘Let’s give it up for him!’ ” Rosch recalls. “He made all the classes around cheer for this kid.”
Cunningham sought out students who looked like they needed a boost.
“He made everyone feel like a million bucks,” she said. “Every kid he met with was always a motivational speech away from success.”
Tuesday, two days after Cunningham was shot, Rosch decided to do an activity with her students called “Top of the World Tuesday.” Every student wrote down his or her biggest accomplishment on a Post-it note to put on the wall: a time they conquered a fear or passed a test.
“T.J. would have wanted to do something like that,” she said. “Be that inspiration to them, make them stand a little taller in class.”
In 2016, Cunningham moved to Hinkley High School for a job as freshman dean of students. He worked closely with Bicknase on the school’s restorative justice program, which empowers students to resolve their own conflicts in small groups.
“T.J.’s biggest goal was to have equitable education for all,” she said. “He wanted to stop the school-to-prison pipeline.”
He supported the African American Male Empowerment student group, “adding a sense of pride” for the school’s black students.
“He was a big advocate for changing the narrative for young black males,” she said. “That message of, ‘You get to write your own story, or someone else will write it for you.’ ”
Bicknase said Cunningham simply did not give up on kids. Ever.
“He’s going to show up to your house and put you in the car,” she said. “Some of these kids may or may not be alive otherwise.”
A Buff for life
Throughout his time as an educator, Cunningham stayed connected to the Buffs community.
In particular, Cunningham became an active member of Buffs4Life, an organization started by former CU football players that provides mental health support for former athletes.
Sean Tufts, the organization’s board president, said Cunningham was what they called a team captain — someone who organized training and also served as a “trusted voice who people could talk to” if they were having issues or needed support.
“T.J. was hyper in-tune with people’s emotions,” Tufts said. “He has really strong emotional intelligence.”
Friends said that Cunningham, even with his hectic schedule of teaching and parenting five children, always made time for others.
He was there when Rosch received her son’s diagnosis for learning disabilities.
“T.J. said, ‘You’re going to buckle down and you’re gonna get him there,’ ” she said.
After Cunnngham’s death, the community responded.
A GoFundMe started by the family has raised more than $63,000 in just three days, with people donating $10 to $500. Buffs4Life also is accepting donations for the family on its website.
Old friends, teammates, fellow teachers and students all tried this week to make sense of his killing.
“T.J. wasn’t a person who sought out conflict,” Washington said. “More than anything, he wanted to teach us to be better people.”
Alex Wesley’s first three years at Northern Colorado were equal parts successful and non-descript.
Wesley was a champion on the track, winning the Big Sky Conference 400-meter title in 2014-15. But in football, following a redshirt year, the wide receiver had a combined 666 receiving yards. But then the Bears traveled to Colorado for the 2017 season opener.
In a 41-21 loss, Wesley had five catches for 102 yards and touchdowns of 33 and 52 yards. (Current Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay rushed 26 times for 151 yards for CU that day.)
It was just the spark Wesley needed to twice become a second-team all-league choice after seasons of 55 catches/1,010 yards/6 touchdowns and 57/1,050/4.
“That CU game put me on the radar and ever since, I’ve been building my stock,” Wesley said at last month’s Senior Bowl.
The next chance for Wesley to build his stock is at next week’s Scouting Combine. Measured at 6-foot, 184 pounds, Wesley knows the best way to improve his standing is by running fast.
“I ran 4.39 (last) spring and I want to run 4.3 (at the Combine).” Wesley said.
Running fast is one thing. But catching the football and running crisp routes are just as important. It was a point of emphasis entering his senior season.
Wesley said his goal was “showing more versatility, moving inside and outside and running more routes along with that.” Teams paid extra attention to him in coverage and the UNC coaches reacted by putting him in motion and playing him at all three receiver spots.
“We wanted to get defenses on their heels so they couldn’t get a read on where I was being used,” said Wesley, who is training this winter in Phoenix.
Keenum’s next stop. There should be a market for recently-demoted Broncos quarterback Case Keenum. Yes, he carries a current salary cap charge of $21 million, but that can be re-worked by a team interested in him. Four teams should kick the figurative tires.
Arizona: New Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury was on the Houston staff when Keenum was setting NCAA records and they have remained close. Keenum could replace Mike Glennon as the Cardinals’ backup.
Washington: Alex Smith (leg) is uncertain to play in 2019 and the Redskins could acquire Keenum and team him with a first-round draft pick.
Jacksonville: If the Jaguars start over at quarterback (they hold the seventh pick), Keenum could be the bridge to letting a rookie quarterback develop.
Miami: Like the Jaguars, the Dolphins could go with a Keenum-rookie combination once they give up on Ryan Tannehill.
Rule change required. Mum will be the word by the Broncos at the Scouting Combine regarding the impending trade for quarterback Joe Flacco. Since the deal can’t be completed until March 13, the opening day of the league year, rules prohibit any comments. Ridiculous. As a member of the NFL’s Competition Committee, general manager John Elway should bring this issue up at next month’s league meeting. Allow the teams to execute the trade and comment on the trade since there is no harm. Flacco has already visited the Broncos’ facility so it’s not like the deal will fall through.
Getting younger. The Broncos are preparing to move on from linebacker Brandon Marshall, who will be 30 when the season starts, and 34-year old nose tackle Domata Peko. Yes, it is a sign the Broncos want to add some youth, but it also illustrates the importance of having less-expensive players for one- and two-down roles. Marshall was a dime linebacker when he returned from his injury and Peko was a base-package player.
Hall of Fame wait. The Broncos are awaiting an announcement on the Hall of Fame Game. The organization has expressed an interest to play because owner Pat Bowlen and cornerback Champ Bailey will be inducted. Why the delay? The Hall and NFL are likely trying to find an opponent for the Broncos.
Around the NFL
Kubiak in ‘foxhole’. Gary Kubiak, last with the Broncos as a personnel advisor, met with the Vikings media on Thursday. “To have the chance to get back in that (meeting) room and get back in that foxhole a little bit, I’m really looking forward to it,” said Kubiak, whose is a senior offensive assistant for the Vikings. “Working in personnel was fun and I enjoyed that portion of it, but I missed being in there with (the) coaches. I love being around players. I love to teach. (Joining the Vikings) gave me an opportunity to get back in the game.”
Brown-Steelers fiasco. At age 30, receiver Randy Moss had seven 1,000-yard seasons when he was traded by Oakland to New England for a fourth-round pick. Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown turns 31 in July and has seven 1,000-yard seasons. The Steelers should eliminate every AFC team from a possible trade partner even if a first-round pick is offered. And the NFC fits are limited. San Francisco makes the most sense, possibly for a second-round selection.
Cardinals already active. Veteran players cut before the start of the league year (March 13) are eligible to sign right away. Arizona has already signed three players — cornerback Robert Alford, linebacker Brooks Reed and tight end Charles Clay. For the Cardinals, they’re being proactive now to shore up some spots on the depth chart before the market opens. For the players, they can find a new home instead of competing with the unrestricted free agent class. Alford is notable, as he could start opposite Patrick Peterson.
Monitoring the Texans. Cornerback-needy teams like the Broncos should be keeping an eye on Houston. The Texans used four cornerbacks last year (Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Kevin Johnson, and Aaron Colvin). Jackson, 31, is a free agent and would be a great fit for the Broncos. But the Texans would save $9.07 million and $4.3 million, respectively, if they cut Johnson or Joseph. Colvin was a free agent bust in 2018 (healthy scratch late in the year) but has a $10.5 million “dead’ cap hit so he’s not going anywhere. Johnson has missed 29 games the past three years.
Former Avalanche star center Matt Duchene is on the move again, less than a year and a half after being traded to Ottawa.
Duchene has been traded to Columbus along with defenseman Julius Bergman for a 2019 first-round pick, prospects Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson, and a conditional first-rounder if Duchene resigns with Columbus, according to multiple Canadian media reports.
Columbus plays at Ottawa on Friday night, so Duchene — a pending unrestricted free agent — will simply switch locker rooms at the Canadian Tire Centre. Duchene could be just an expensive rental for the Blue Jackets during their playoff run, as he is free to negotiate with any team as a free agent July 1.
The Senators acquired Duchene from Colorado in a three-team deal Nov. 5, 2017 that will likely benefit the Avs for a decade or more. Duchene has produced 50 goals and 107 points in 118 games with Ottawa.
The Avs received seven return pieces for Duchene, including Ottawa’s first- and third-round draft picks that will be used in the 2019 draft, plus former Senators’ first-round draft pick Shane Bowers, a Boston University forward. Colorado also got defenseman Sam Girard and forward Vladislav Kamenev from Nashville along with a draft pick.
The Denver Broncos have plenty of holes to plug on defense this offseason, including cornerback, linebacker and safety.
Despite the hemming and hawing that initially followed his replacement of T.J. Ward in the lineup, Justin Simmons has been a solid starter for the Broncos at safety. During his second season as the No. 1, Simmons led the defense in snaps played and tied Chris Harris for the team lead in interceptions. With Vic Fangio now in town, the Broncos are only expecting that production in the secondary to increase.
This makes sense, especially considering Fangio’s recent work with Eddie Jackson. Under Fangio, Jackson had a strong rookie season but made the leap to being an elite player in Year 2. Pro Football Focus assigned Jackson an overall grade of 93.2 and a coverage grade of 94.7, the best among safeties in either category by a healthy margin.
While Fangio is working on improving Simmons, John Elway may need to find a new strong safety to go alongside him. Darian Stewart, who started last year, is on the decline. Su’a Cravens was incredibly disappointing last season as well, as he earned the lowest defensive grade of anyone on the roster.
2016 sixth-round pick Will Parks is currently the Broncos’ best option. In fact, Pro Football Focus awarded Parks the highest grade of any Broncos safety to play at least 50 snaps in 2018.
Do the Broncos choose to roll with Parks and Simmons, or could they make a splash this offseason to shake things up?
Unfortunately for the Broncos, the 2019 crop of free agents, while being stacked at free safety, is unfortunately very shallow at strong safety, Denver’s position of need. The best safeties the Broncos could likely target and play at strong safety are Tyrann Mathieu, Landon Collins and Adrian Amos.
Mathieu AKA the “Honey Badger,” as well as Landon Collins, are naturally free safeties, but they should still work in Fangio’s defense and the fits are too fun to not talk about. Since entering the league, Mathieu’s versatility has separated him from the pack. Mathieu plays everywhere, from a down-in-the-box, run-stuffing safety, similar to how Ward liked to play, to a nickel corner. This versatility could help the Broncos alleviate both their need at corner and at strong safety.
Now, Landon Collins doesn’t have the same versatility, but the best part of his game comes in tackling and defending the run. Plus, Collins has more than enough talent to play at strong safety. If Collins isn’t tagged by the Giants, the Broncos should consider jumping on him in a hurry as safeties aren’t that expensive in today’s NFL and he has the talent to be a foundational building block of a defense.
The far more likely alternative though is Adrian Amos. Amos played next to the aforementioned Eddie Jackson under Fangio’s scheme in Chicago and was excellent in his own right. He is a young, athletic safety who excels in coverage but is nasty in the run game as well, and was among Pro Football Focus’ top-10 safeties of 2018. Amos also seems fairly interested in reuniting with his former coordinator, as Rich Kurtzman wrote about.
The draft doesn’t present many options that could potentially be an upgrade on Parks. The only two players potentially better at strong safety are Taylor Rapp and Johnathan Abram. Rapp is an excellent leader with a high football IQ that can lay a runner out when he has to, but there are worries about his high-end athleticism and the Broncos have too many needs to target Rapp at the top of the second, which is where he will likely go.
Abram is right out of the Steve Atwater, Kam Chancellor mold. If there is a harder hitter or a player that enjoys delivering them as much as Abram at the college level, he’s yet to be seen. However, Abram wouldn’t be worth the necessary assets to get him, and his style of play may not fit in today’s NFL.
What Should the Broncos do?
The Broncos should stick with Simmons and Parks, while either cutting Cravens or moving him to linebacker.
Yes, there are players out there that could be a good upgrade on Parks or Simmons, but that upgrade should be far down the Broncos’ list of priorities. Both Parks and Simmons are young and talented with plenty of potential to grow into well above-average starters in Fangio’s scheme.
The Broncos are fine on cap space, but they’ll have to be smart on how they maximize that space to address the most holes possible. Upgrading on Parks, who is already starting-caliber is not how you maximize that space, with Mathieu potentially being the exception.
Sticking with Parks and Simmons will also allow the Broncos to potentially pursue an elite linebacker, cornerback or offensive lineman in free agency, all of which are more pressing positions of need than safety. It will also allow them more flexibility with their assets in the draft in case they have to trade up for a quarterback
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@drewholcomb & @ellieholcomb sorry to miss your show tonight in #Boulder. In our non-kid days we would just see a blizzard as an adventurous obstacle to a fun concert. Thanks for coming out, & even starting your day at 4:30AM to boot.
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JOB: Broomfield CO USA - Restaurant Manager - Corrects any food or beverage problems before they reach th: Corrects any food or beverage problems before they reach the guest. Demonstrates thorough recipe ... Must be able to wo JOBS #BOULDER COLORADO https://t.co/ku5LnGuYkf