The Class 1A Hotchkiss Bulldogs will be led by a new but familiar face this year on the gridiron when league play begins.
Longtime assistant Curtis Hintz assumed the head coaching duties for the Hotchkiss High School football team after Mike Sirko left the Bulldogs after two years to coach at Grand Junction.
Hintz takes over a team that was 7-11 with one playoff loss in the last two seasons.
Hintz was a defensive coordinator for 12 years with the Bulldogs under Doug Horton (now the Hotchkiss athletic director) and Zac Lemon (who coaches at Eaton) before working with Sirko one year and then taking last season off.
Hintz taught at Hotchkiss K8 all that time and moved up to the high school this year to teach, and he hopes his knowledge and familiarity with the Bulldogs will make it an easy transition for the players who are under their third head coach at Hotchkiss in four years.
"I've known these boys since they were young," Hintz said after practice last Thursday. "I've coached them in middle school, and then also a lot of them are wrestlers and track athletes and I've been around them in those two sports.
"The boys have meshed well," Hintz added. "They know my expectations and they know my personality. So actually it's been as smooth a transition as possible, I think."
Hintz praised the Bulldogs for starting the season off on the right foot by working out in the weight room and attending summer camp and 7-on-7 practices.
"We have introduced some new concepts but they've been putting in the work and are learning the systems, both on offense and defense," Hintz said.
Himself a former lineman, Hintz described his philosophy on offense.
"It all starts with the guys up front, and I'm blessed with a solid crew up on the line," Hintz said.
Joe Nault, Nolan Egging, Darren Young, Conner Collins and Parker Katzdorn will battle at the line of scrimmage for Hotchkiss.
"We'll also have Kevin Chavez at tight end and a couple of other upperclassmen that are filling those roles up front," Hintz said.
The experienced O-line will block for returning senior quarterback Colton DeLuzio and senior running back Wade Katzdorn, who rushed for 1,146 yards last season.
"Colton ran a little bit of option his freshman year so it wasn't a huge transition," Hintz said. "And of course we've got Wade Katzdorn coming back, which is huge for us on the offensive side of the ball.
"Devin Curtis will be running the ball a little bit and Colton Peebles and Chase Hiatt as well," Hintz said. "And with Braxton Trujillo out on the edges for us that gives us some playmaking capabilities."
Hintz hopes senior Kale Litzelman will be cleared in time to play after undergoing Tommy John surgery after the state wrestling tournament.
"He's just continued to impress in the weight room and is just doing all those little things trying to get back," Hintz said. "We're hoping to get him back before we start league play."
The Bulldogs kick off the season on Friday at Dolores. Their other nonconference games are Coal Ridge, at Center and Vail Christian.
Compared to last year, when three of their nonconference opponents were in the top ten in the state, the Bulldogs have a much more favorable schedule this year.
"You hope that we can get off to a fast start and win some ball games and get the boys on a roll heading into the playoffs or heading into conference play," Hintz said. "Our first two conference games are Meeker and Paonia. It's back-to-back weeks that are going to be tough challenges for these boys and hopefully we'll have a little bit of momentum going into that."
With a new coach and a new system, Hintz knows the Bulldogs can't get caught looking ahead.
"The biggest thing is, it's so cliché, but focus on week in and week out. One game at a time," Hintz said. "If you start looking ahead down the road you might let one slip away. We have to hit the ground running and get off to a good start when the season begins against Dolores."