For Valor Christian’s Luke Del Rio and Christian McCaffrey, this was no different than playing the game of football, under the bright lights and ready to perform at a moment’s notice. They even had to put their game face on.
“I’ve never heard a photographer tell me, ‘Give me attitude’,” McCaffrey said while posing for photos prior to the much anticipated 2012 season.
This is just the beginning for two leaders of the second-ranked team in Colorado. The fall brings expectations — and obstacles — for Valor, which is quickly becoming the standard of excellence in Colorado football despite not playing in the highest classification.
In 2009, the Eagle went 14-0 and took home the 3A state championship. Since jumping to Class 4A in 2010, they have won two more titles.
Three years, three trophies, and now, finally, Valor is making the move to 5A.
“We’re not here to win 4A, win 5A, we just love to play football and we just happen to be moving up to 5A,” said McCaffrey, an All-State running back and the son of former Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey.
Moving up a classification is a test for any school, but the Eagles plan to take it in stride. They’ve been preparing for this opportunity since they established a varsity program in 2008. With roughly 800 students, Valor will face opponents this season that boast double, and even triple, its student body size. The Eagles’ schedule includes schools with deeper talents pools, as well as bigger and faster athletes. But these changes represent an opportunity, according to Valor coach Brent Vieselmeyer.
“I think we love that challenge,” said Vieselmeyer. “The players can definitely look ahead and see they have a huge test coming up.”
The Eagles plan to stay focused on the week ahead, but with one destination in the back of their minds at all times. The schedule on the Valor football website includes a game on December 1 at 2:30 p.m. — the 5A state title game. The team’s goals are no secret.
“I think we’re ready,” said McCaffrey.” It’s definitely going to be a tougher road, but I think we are ready for the challenge. Win or lose, we’re going to stay together, we’re going to keep pushing forward.”
If Valor is to win its first 5A title, it will likely need a big season from Del Rio, the Eagles’ new quarterback. The Elite 11 selection and son of Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is a transfer from Florida, where his day coached the Jacksonville Jaguars from nine seasons.
The Eagles face Mullen on August 26 in front of a national audience, as the game will be broadcast on ESPN3 and other mobile networks. The following week, Valor travels to Utah to take on perennial power Bingham.There will be no soft opening to Valor’s inaugural season in Class 5A.
“You want to get your hard games, you want to have them because that’s what you look forward to,” said Del Rio, an Oklahoma State commit. “We come out with our two toughest games back-to-back, it’s in week zero, so there are going to be a ton of people there, and I can’t wait.”
The following seven weeks of the regular season won’t get much easier, with games against Heritage, Fountain-Fort Carson and Rock Canyon. The climb to the top of the 5A mountain will not be an easy one, and the season opener against the Mustangs may be the biggest prizefight of them all.Valor has consistently played a tough non-conference schedule, helping the players learn from their mistakes early to be more successful later in the fall.
While Mullen no longer has coach Dave Logan(six state titles) on its sideline, they will field one of the most talented and deep teams in the state.
“We’ll have our work cut out for us,” Vieselmeyer said. “We’ll have to be pretty crisp.”
The matchup between one of the most successful programs in Colorado history and the up-and-coming team in the state will set the tone for the rest of the football season.
“I know the history, between Valor-Mullen, Valor moving up pretty much every year and Mullen winning state championship after state championship,” said Del Rio. “You know, I think it’s Valor’s turn.”
How’s that for attitude?