The first test is looming. This week, the Columbine High School varsity football team will fly to Orlando, Florida, to play unfamiliar talent in its zero week game. It will be the first of many challenges the Rebels expect to see this season.
“We have got to amp up our practice times, get plays in and get them perfected by next Thursday," senior quarterback Mikey Griebel said.
Columbine's opponents will be half the battle. The team will also look to rebuild on both offense and defense, after more than 20 seniors graduated this past May.
“We know that [the underclassmen] can play football. It’s just a matter of them realizing it, realizing their potential and realizing what they can do on the field,” senior Jackson Block said.
In the sports world, it's a well known fact that talent alone does not win games. It's about finding the right people to fill the right pieces to make the season a success. Columbine figured out the puzzle in 2015, going undefeated during the regular season, only to get knocked out in the state semifinals. Still, most on the team would agree seasons like last year's don't come around often.
“It was a different group of guys. It was really more of a brotherhood and a family than a high school football team,” Griebel said.
The brotherhood mentality has been the center of the Rebel football program since Andy Lowry took over as head coach in 1994. The tight bonds contributed to the team's success early on.
“We felt we had a pretty good chance in 1997 [to make the state title game]. In 1998, we missed going to the final four by six inches,” assistant coach Ivory Moore said.
But nothing could prepare anyone for the events that were to come in 1999, nor could it get them ready for what would happen later that fall.
“April 20 , was one horrific day and tragedy, and I think part of the recovery through our community and through our school was that’s it’s brought us together as a family," Lowry said. “That tradition has been carried down, all the way through those guys who came in the building after the tragedy. You know, [players and students] had chances to go other places and to leave this place. How would you come back? But they all came back because those are their buddies, those are the people that they love.”
“Columbine’s my home, it’s my home, and why would you leave home?” Moore said of his unwavering decision to stay following the tragedy.
That fall, Columbine brought home its first football state championship. The bond between the players became unbreakable.
“That’s the only way you overcome adversity, is by your family and faith we have in each other," Lowry said.
Today's team knows the significance of wearing a Columbine jersey. For many, the dream of playing for the Rebels began when they were young kids going to the Friday night games.
“I’d sit in the stands and watch them play and I’d be like, ‘I can’t wait for that moment.' And when I step on that field with my brothers, it’s unreal. It’s the best feeling ever,” senior Hunter Harris said.
“It’s really surreal, because you dream about it when you were a little kid. You go to the games on Fridays to watch the Columbine football team play, then you’re here," Block added.
Lowry asks his teams to do their best, be selfless and play for each other. He also doesn't allow them to ahead in the season -- let alone each practice or game.
“It’s one week at a time, one game at a time, one opponent at a time, one situation at a time and it helps keep us from getting bogged down," Moore said.
After a season like last, the Rebels know nothing is guaranteed. That's why they'll be hitting this fall one small step at a time.
“I’m not going to get cocky about it, I’m not going to say we’re going to make it. We’re just going to take it game by game, week by week and see where it takes us,” Griebel said.
Columbine will play its first home game of the season Friday, September 2, against Rocky Mountain High School.