HS Football: Culture change in Paonia helped spur best season in a decade

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PAONIA, Colo. If you would have asked which team would be the only 1A representative from the western slope to make it to the second round of the playoffs, you might have guessed either last year's state champion Cedaredge, or perennial powerhouse Hotchkiss.

Paonia would have been a distant third.

But the Eagles have flipped the script in 2013, finishing the regular season with an impressive 8-1 record, including shutout victories over the Bruins and Bulldogs.

For years, Paonia's been out of the picture come November.

"Last week we weren't sure because it was the first playoff game for most of these kids and they were really nervous," said first year head coach Brent McRae. "This week the kids are a lot different. I wouldn't say they're cocky but they're ready to play and show everyone what they can do."

McRae appears to have breathed new life into this squad, helping them achieve their best record in nearly a decade...

"Football was just kind of an activity and now the kids finally believe in each other and came together as a team and you saw the result. It's kind of like a sleeping giant."

This sudden culture change came from more than a coaching switch though.

"Just the fact that this year we're kind of more of a family than we have been in the past and playing for each other has helped a lot," said senior William Austin, whose been around for the tough years.

"Last year we didn't really mesh as well," sophomore Taylor Walters agreed. "We were there for ourselves a little bit more. This year we're more like a family and we're always together."

More than close, this team is young.

Taylor Walters is starting, and moreover succeeding at quarterback, a rarity for a sophomore...

Add that to the grit and determination of the senior class with the crop of ten juniors from a JV program that went 15-3 over the last two seasons, and you've got a winning formula.

"We've kind of grown up together so we have a good bond between us," said junior Josh Altman. "We have each other's backs and we carry that onto the football field."

They've taken a backseat to some other teams in recent memory, so as the Eagles continue to quietly rack up the wins, it's seems they may have become 1A's best kept secret.

"We like it that way," said McRae. "We like the underdog role. It was just nice for us to be on top once in a while."

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