For all the success and meteoric-like rise Blake Barnett has experienced in his two seasons as Erie’s starting quarterback, it’s the losses that linger.
Between the Tigers’ gut-wrenching defeat vs. Chatfield in the 2021 Class 4A title game, and the goal line fumble that kept them from advancing past eventual state champion Broomfield in last year’s semifinals, Barnett admits he’s “lost a lot of sleep” pondering what could have been.
Yet going through all of that heartbreak has provided lessons the senior quarterback is eager to use this fall to lift the state title that’s eluded he and his teammates each of the past two years.
“I like to say I don’t hold onto grudges, but you always have to care about the losses more than the wins, because at the end of the day it’s where you learn the most from,” Barnett told The Post.
“All the greats have lost countless games, Tom Brady’s lost Super Bowls, AFC Championship games. I’m not really trying to dwell on them as much as learn from them.”
Fans across the state will keep a sharp eye on Barnett’s Friday night-performances.
The Kansas State-bound quarterback and No. 5 prospect in Colorado, per 247Sports’s rankings, has topped 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in back-to-back seasons and had a hand in 105 touchdowns dating back to his freshman year.
Head coach Jeff Giger, now is in his third year leading the program, has a special talent in Barnett. But he knows it will take more than just his superstar dual threat QB to push the Tigers over the top. Since taking over ahead of 2021, he’s tried to instill a “we over me” mindset in the program. It’s the bedrock ahead of the 2023 season.
“The biggest thing that we’ve been talking about is playing for each other,” Giger said. “Just society in general, there’s so much ‘me’ and we’re trying to get ‘em to use the word ‘we’ more and they’re doing a great job of it. … It’s been fun and challenging at the same time and when you’ve got this much talent running around, that adds to it. You’ve gotta keep the individual — they gotta be them, yet we need to be us.”
Erie, ranked No. 4 in the MaxPreps Class 4A pre-season poll, is big and experienced with 12 players listed 6 feet or taller.
The Tigers have seven players expected to play both ways, an ironman philosophy the coaching staff switched over to midway through last season after Erie stumbled to a 2-4 start.
The Cowgill brothers — 6-foot-2 Jackson, a defensive lineman committed to Washington State, and H-back Mason, who stands at 6-foot-4 — will be instrumental in making another deep playoff run. Erie’s coaching staff said the goal is to limit teams to two touchdowns or less, and leading safeties Preston Terrenova and Braylon Toliver will play a key role in that after they combined for six interceptions in 2022.
“What really changed with the mindset with the two-ways: We need to be a defensive team to help and support the offense,” second-year offensive coordinator Skip Harrison said. “We need all the kids buying into both sides of the ball and understanding how they can complement each other. That’s going to have a significant impact on our ability to get to the next level.”
But make no mistake, the offense is the real showstopper for the Tigers, and has been for several years now. It dates back to when Noah Roper, now a graduate transfer running back at Colorado School of Mines, lit up the state with over 6,000 rushing yards between 2016-18. Junior running back Gavin Lusk, who ran for 750 yards and 11 scores in 2022, is looking to further the tradition.
“The ability to make big plays happen at any moment is such a cool thing because it’s not just Blake who can turn an 80-yard touchdown out of anything,” Mason Cowgill said. “… It’s been a tradition that Erie’s had an explosive offense for quite some time and it’s just kinda how it’s been.”
The Tigers have a grueling non-conference schedule as they’ll travel Week 1 to play Vanguard High School in Ocala, Fla., on Thursday night. They’ll return to Colorado to face the likes of Mullen, Montrose and Loveland, with a Week 4 rematch against Broomfield the one to watch.
For all the pressure Barnett puts on himself, he’ll be taking things week-by-week. More than anything, he’s eager to put on his Tigers’ helmet for one last push for a title with his best friends. He’s played with some of the 18 seniors on the team since the fourth grade.
Now, he believes it’s Erie’s time, and he’s done losing sleep over the two biggest games of his prep football career. He wants a good night’s rest to go along with a state title ring.
“I’m excited to play with them,” Barnett said. “I mean this is the year, and I don’t have any personal goals, just winning a state championship with my boys.”
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