Young group beginning to mature coming off first winning season
Excel Christian did something odd last year. The 1A private school on Baring Boulevard that plays eight-man football scored exactly as many points as it allowed (271).
That doesn’t mean the Warriors won as many games as they lost. The snuck one game above .500, finishing with a 5-4 overall record. It was the first time in the program’s brief five-year history that it finished with a winning record. Excel Christian is 18-24 overall since it started playing football in the 2012 season. Coach Jeff Denson believes last year’s record is a sign of the program’s growth, rather than a fire cracker exploding only to sit defeated and fractured immediately after.
“We’re doing good. We’re doing good,” he said. “When you look at my squad, there’s a bunch of juniors on it. Those were the young guys I kept talking about the last couple years, and now they’ve matured. So, we’re doing good.”
Perhaps the most telling sign of a program’s development is the number of athletes who participate. The junior class will make up nearly half of the 18 players Denson hopes to have cleared and eligible to play this fall. It would be the largest number of players Excel has ever had.
That class will need to help replace the productivity lost to the graduation of Noah Denson and Dylon Buchanon, as well as the departure of Jeshua Fixel, who moved. Denson (QB/DL) accounted for 856 yards of offense and 10 touchdowns. He was also third on the team with 58 tackles and led the way with 17 for loss. Buchanon was second in tackles (68), 16 for loss. He was also third on the team in both rushing yards (345) and touchdowns (6).
Fixel ran for a team-high 792 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“We have some big shoes to fill,” Denson said. “(They) are going to be tough to replace.”
Kobe Spurlock is a name that could continue to emerge on Saturday afternoons (the Warriors will play eight games on a Saturday this year). Spurlock, a senior playing football for the first time, is not only the fastest player on the team, he’s one of the fastest in the state. Spurlock took second in 200 meters at the state meet held in May. He will take handoffs from whomever wins the quarterback battle.
Two sophomores, Ben Brown and Jacob Barrera, entered camp playing tug-o-war for the job. Brown was 7-of-12 passing for 114 yards last year, while Barrera completed one of his five attempts.
“We’re trying to decide right now,” Denson said on one of the first days of fall camp. “They both have their strong points. The both have their weak points. They kind of complement each other … We got those two working at it.”
Junior Kaleb Denson has the best statistics of any returner on the 2017 team. He led the Warriors in receptions (17), receiving yards (241) and receiving touchdowns (4) a season ago, and is moving to the backfield at the fullback position.
Jesus Chavez was second on the team in those three categories and will be the main aerial target.
Freshman Trever Denson joins the ranks of Spurlock, Chavez and his junior brother as one of the fastest on the team, and will get carries as well.
Outlook: Excel Christian continues to a be program on the rise in the 1A Northern – West. Finishing with a winning record last year was a noteworthy accomplishment and it’s possible the Warriors do it for a second-straight year. They have talent and speed at the skill positions and will no longer rely so heavily on freshmen and sophomores. But that doesn’t mean a playoff berth is imminent. Only two of the league’s eight teams earn a spot in the eight-team state tournament, and Whittell and Virginia City may as well own those two spots. The two eight-man powers have finished first and second in the league the past three seasons. Excel lost to those two programs by a combined score of 110-0 in 2016. The Warriors are scaling the mountain. They’re just not at the summit yet.
Prediction: 4-5, 3-4