In Greek Mythology the Phoenix is said to rise from the ashes of its predecessors. At Highlands Ranch High School another type of bird is looking to do the same. The Highlands Ranch Falcons football program has been through some rough times over the last seven years, including five coaching changes, and this year is no different. This will be their third head coach in as many years.
Lost in all of the changes and uncertainty are a group of student athletes that have stuck with this program. They have remained loyal to the name on the front of their jersey, to their teammates and to a community that longs for this program to succeed. Highlands Ranch High School is one of five 5A schools in the Highlands Ranch area. The result of new schools opening and district lines being redrawn has affected enrollment numbers and athletic participation numbers. When change is common and sudden, it makes it harder and harder to build a program, maintain a fan base and above all create a culture of winning and consistency.
The one constant in the program has been the leadership of the upperclassmen. Senior Konnor Lathrop, when asked why he has stuck with this program said, “Iʼm here because of the relationships Iʼve built in the classroom and on the football field. These relationships keep me here no matter who is coaching. Iʼm here for my teammates.”
Lathrop also talked about showing college coaches that he is a “team first guy” and wonʼt be the guy that enters the transfer portal at the first sign of problems.
Junior quarterback and 4-star recruit Jake Rubley talked about helping to create the culture change within the program said, “The guys are having fun again but most importantly they are working hard they want to see this get better.”
When asked about involving all ages including the incoming freshmen in all team activities from the summer program to team dinners, Rubley said, “Itʼs important as we change the culture that all classes from freshman to senior know that we are all in this together and that we are like a family.”
High School programs that experience this amount of change are bound to struggle. Those struggles can include lack of consistent direction and leadership in the program these issues are acknowledged by longtime Principal, Dr. Christopher Page. He talked about the last few years and his role holding the program together through an open-door policy and a willingness to discuss and answer every question that he could. He said he talked to both parents and players, answered their questions and addressed their concerns with honesty and transparency making sure that all parents knew the kids were the top priority through all of the changes.
When asked if he feels they have the right coaching staff in place now, he said, “ From where we have been and where we want to go, we believe we do and as with any thing at HRHS we will continue to evaluate year by year.”
New athletic director Darren Withey, who came to Highlands Ranch this year from Legend High School, when asked about his move to Highlands Ranch amid some tough times, said he sees a great school, an amazing faculty and a group of students with an “all in” attitude. When asked why he left Legend High School he said the biggest draw for him was the leadership that was already in place at the school. Said Withey “All of the coaches and faculty take great pride in putting all of the students, not just the student athletes, at the forefront of everything they do. That is important to changing culture and something I want to be a part of.”
Maybe the biggest and most important change for the football program at Highlands Ranch is the one is down on the field, with interim Head Coach T.J Rubley who took over the program late last school year. He has worked hard with school leadership and with the upperclassmen to build a culture of inclusion, maturity, hard work and integrity for all players in the program, regardless of age or grade level.
Coach Rubley said, “Itʼs important that all kids know they are a gift to our program. As soon as they get here, I have tasked the juniors and seniors with showing the younger guys they are part of something bigger than themselves from day one.”
When asked about the coaching changes and his vision for the future of the program he said, “Long term plans are to create a community friendly program that the players are proud to be part of, one that the Highlands Ranch community is proud to support, while still having kids that are willing to outwork their opponents not only on the football filed but in the classroom as well.”
When asked about the support of the community, he said “HRHS is one of the few schools in this district with a true alumni because of its age and we are craving their involvement we want Highlands Ranch High School to be a centerpiece in this area, a place where current students, parents and alumni can come and be part of something special.”
Tim Johnson head coach at Battle Ground High School in Tennessee once said: “Anybody can be a leader, can be excited, can be first in line when things are going great. The test is when you battle through tough times, when things arenʼt perfect. Where do you stand?”
The Highlands Ranch Falcons Football Program, their new coach, their players, their community and the school that supports them have decided that in tough times they are going to stand at the front of the line. Like the Phoenix, these Falcons will look to rise from the ashes, create a culture of hard work, inclusion, pride, teamwork, community and family.