Catch Cherokee Trail at Mullen tonight on ESPNU at 7:30 EST/5:30 MST.
In advance of tonight's game between Mullen and Cherokee Trail on ESPNU (7:30 EST/5:30 MST), we spoke to Cherokee Trail head coach Monte Thelen about how his team is faring and what to expect from both teams in this game.
ESPNHS: So what's the state of your team right now? Give us an update on how Cherokee Trail looks.
Thelen: Well we just came off a 21-20 loss to Heritage. Thomas Singleton, our quarterback and one of the top recruits in our program's history, didn't play in that game. We have a young team this year; we're starting four or five sophomores, which is unusual for our team this year. Singleton had a shoulder injury last week. He's been cleared to practice and he's been with us the last couple of days so as long as there aren't any setbacks, he'll be in the starting lineup for us.
ESPNHS: You're playing a Mullen team that just lost for the first time in 35 games. You know they're out for a little bit of revenge. How do you counter that?
Thelen: We think we're going to get Mullen's best every time we play them, and we've played them every year that we've been up at this classification (5A). Mullen, they're the U.S. Steel of Colorado football. They're obviously a very successful team. We're a lot more concerned about how we're going to do. But we understand the competition is going to be stiff."
ESPNHS: And to add to that, now the game is nationally televised. How is your team preparing? Are they excited? Are they nervous?
Thelen: I don't know if we're nervous. We're excited. It's a great opportunity for our program. We've been on TV locally a number of times because of our success, we were 11-2 last season, but what's neat about the opportunity is that a lot of us Coloradans are not from here, we're from other parts of the country, and so now a lot of our friends and family from around the United States can see us up close from their living rooms.
ESPNHS: We know about Singleton. Who else do we need to know about?
Thelen: Dillon Zacharais is an All-State caliber football player. He's a defensive tackle and he's been very strong for us this season. Alex Thatch, who's a returning player from a year ago, played well in the state semifinals last season. Thatch and Nate Schneider play on both sides of the ball for us. And we also have good players like Enrique Estrada, Austin Ruff and Joey Scott.
ESPNHS: Austin Ruff had two touchdowns last week. Tell us what we should know about him.
Thelen: He's a real strong leader, first of all. He's a really neat kid. He's kind of a renaissance man. He spent much of August at a music camp in New York, an that's why he didn't play in our first game. But he's a really solid kid. He's a physical runner and he has a little bit of speed to get it to the end zone. He can also catch the football and he blocks well. He's very well rounded.
ESPNHS: Last week your team saw one of the top QB recruits in the state, Ryan Novak. This week you see arguably the state's top overall recruit, Cyler Miles. What are some of the differences between the two?
Thelen: Novak has great touch on the football and he throws the fade route really well. He's a big, physical kid. He got knocked down a few times but still performed very well. Cyler is extremely athletic. He's got sprinter's speed. He's received a lot of accolades here in the state and nationally with the Elite 11 and whatnot, and that national recognition is very well deserved. He's a physically talented quarterback, and he's the quarterback of the three-time defending state champs. That speaks for itself.
ESPNHS: What's one thing we should be looking for when we're watching your team on ESPNU?
Thelen: One thing you'll see anytime you watch us play is that we do have some team speed. We can run a little bit, and we're going to put guys on the field who have some speed and play with great effort.