Four years ago, Denver South’s freshman football team delivered an omen.
That squad went undefeated at 8-0 while featuring a class that would earn the majority of the Ravens’ starting varsity jobs as sophomores the next year. And it featured a dynamic tandem in quarterback Joseph Capra and receiver Rashad Caldwell, who have combined for nearly 2,500 yards and 37 touchdowns in the three varsity seasons since.
“When we came in, we had a great team as freshmen on the freshman team, and you could feel a little bit of a buzz going around the school about how well we did and how well (Caldwell and I) worked together,” Capra recalled. “People were talking.”
They’re talking even more now as the Ravens (9-1, 5A/4A League 5 champions) head into their playoff opener against Erie on Friday night at All-City Stadium.
No. 6 Denver South enters the second-round matchup with the best team that Ryan Marini has coached in his six-year tenure. The Heritage graduate’s stacked senior class is 32-5 over the past four seasons, including that perfect freshman campaign, and has the talent and depth to propel the Ravens on a run through the Class 4A bracket.
“We’ve got about 20 seniors now and 13 of them played quality time (as a sophomore),” Marini said. “They’ve been there, done that, won three league titles now. Nothing rattles them.”
Denver South’s lone blemish this year came in a 43-42 barnburner to Golden on Sept. 16, which featured a duel between Capra and Demons quarterback Jazel Riley IV. Marini said the defeat helped propel his team on a six-game winning streak to close the regular season and secure a first-round playoff bye. That stretch included an impressive 32-17 road win over Ponderosa, a rematch that could be in order in the quarterfinals if both the Ravens and Mustangs win this weekend.
Capra and Caldwell’s connection paved the way. Capra, a Mines commit, has thrown for 1,640 yards, with 24 touchdowns to just one interception. The 2022 CHSAA Hockey Player of the Year (for Class 5A state champion Denver East) has thrown 737 yards and 14 TDs to Caldwell. The star receiver isn’t committed yet but holds nine offers, including six from Ivy League schools.
“(Capra) is one of the smartest kids I’ve ever coached,” Marini said. “(We joke that) our quarterbacks coach hasn’t had to do much the last few years, because he’s a guy who can coach himself. He’s a confident, humble kid. (Capra) is actually not very vocal, but he speaks with his actions and when he does things, the team pays attention.
“Rashad is kind of the opposite. He’s definitely our vocal leader, and there’s a lot more flash to him and a lot more excitement. Our team definitely feeds off of that.”
Other key contributors include junior running back Chevelle Early, whom Marini called the Ravens’ “secret weapon.” Senior right tackle Andy Baack, senior receiver CJ Morm and senior receiver Jake Perruccio also headline the offense, while the defense features senior safety Levi Headland, junior outside linebacker Andrew Shepherd and junior middle linebacker Brooks Vitale.
Marini will need his unit to play above its weight to defeat Erie (7-4, 4A League 2 champions) and contain their dual-threat quarterback, Blake Barnett.
“We have to be physical on Friday,” Marini said. “We’re going to be a little undersized at some positions against Erie, so we have to not let that size difference get to us. We have to bring it every play and contain their great QB as much as possible.”
Denver South’s won one state title in its 96-year history, a Class 3A championship in 1958 via a 7-6 win over Pueblo Central. The Ravens did make the 4A championship game in 2012, losing 17-14 to Monarch, and this year’s team is the city’s best bet since that team to bring another title to East Louisiana Avenue.
“We’re on a roll this year,” Caldwell said. “We’ve got everything behind us — the talent and the coaching to keep us going. We know everything starts with this week and beating Erie. We’ve got every reason to keep on showing ’em why this city bleeds purple. I just can’t wait for Friday at 6.”