Story by Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com
Photo Credit by Adam Hothersall
Nick Trombetta wants to build something at Thornton. He calls it a “Trojan Spirit,” and talks about how he wants to return his Class 4A football program to relevancy. Well, that plan got a major spark in the form of a 27-20 win over rival Northglenn on Friday night. It was the first time Thornton had beaten their rival in 14 years. It means the I-25 Bowl trophy will be housed at Thornton High School for the first time since it was created. And alumni have taken notice. “It’s a big deal for our community,” Trombetta said this week. Now, Trombetta has been named the Denver Broncos High School Football Coach of the Week. The Broncos High School Coach of the Week, presented by Gatorade and IHOP, is selected in partnership with the Broncos and CHSCA.
Years as head coach: 3 ( overall)
Years at Thornton: 3 (41-18, 1-0 this season)
Previous stops: Thornton assistant (2012-15); Denver North assistant (2016); Denver North head coach (2017); Thornton head coach (2018-present).
Casey: Can you talk about why you decided to become a coach and what you enjoy about it?
Trombetta: I really wanted to become a coach because I kinda had some negative experiences playing high school ball. So really wanted to make a difference in that aspect because I understand, for a lot of kids, this is it for them. You don’t want to have the last time you coached or the last time you played to have been soured by a negative interaction with a coach or anything like that. Then initially, way back when I was in middle school, I had a coach that I had decided I was done with football and he actually had stopped me walking home from school my eighth grade year and convinced me to play youth football and like suited me up out of old equipment in his garage. He put me out there. They put the ball on my hands for the first time as a running back and I kinda refound my love of the game. So it was like both positive and negative experiences that really drove me to wanting to coach and make a difference that way.
Casey: What do you think your players feel like it’s like to be coached by you?
Trombetta: Well I can say probably depends on who you ask. I think my passion is probably the most prevailing factor. I’m a little more toned down this year than I was last year, but I think that they can just really see my passion for them and their lives post high school. I am really just trying to make sure that they’re going to be good citizens, dads, husbands — whatever they’re going to be after high school — to try to make sure that they’re ready to do that type of stuff. I always try to make myself the worst coach on my staff from a football standpoint.
Trombetta: Yes. I mean, they’re not gonna confuse me for — you know, name of famous coach. They’re not going to mistake me for any of that stuff. But they just know that I’m the father figure for a lot of guys and I’m going to hold them accountable for things that other people in life aren’t ready to hold them accountable for.
Casey: So do you have an overarching goal or maybe mission or vision that you’re trying to accomplish at Thornton?
Trombetta: Well, being a grad there, we always have fond memories of our high schools and I really wanna try to return this back to relevance. It’s been a really, really long time since Thornton has had a relevant football program. And part of it is just trying to make it important at the school to play again. Our participation numbers have risen slightly from last year to this year. And it’s kind of where we’re at right now is just trying to make it an atmosphere that kids want to be a part of. At the end of the day, I want to return back to 5A as a program. I think that’s important. We’re the only Adams 12 program that’s not 5A. So I would definitely like to be able to return back to 5A, be able to field three levels, and part of that is winning games so that kids are excited to come out and play.
Casey: Can you take me into your pregame locker room on Friday? What did you guys talk about?
Trombetta: I kind of flipped flop back and forth between not trying to make it bigger than it needed to be because it’s Week 1, but also honoring the tradition of the rivalry. We talked a lot about how Thornton had won nine times in the past 52 years, 53 years.
Trombetta: And we hadn’t won obviously in 14 years. So a lot of it was, “We can either concentrate on what history dictates or, we can embrace who we are in the moment.”
Casey: That’s interesting because some coaches try to avoid stuff like, “Oh, we know we haven’t beat them in 14 years,” but you guys met that head on and they were fully aware of that?
Trombetta: Oh, 100%. Yeah. I wasn’t gonna run from it because I think that it’s important. We have some initials on the back of our helmets from some former Thornton players throughout the years that have passed away just this past year. And there was a big talk about how we don’t take what happened last year or the year before or the previous 14 years into a game. You take the spirit of all those people that played before into it. I kind of framed it as like you have one school just trying to avoid losing and I view us as somebody that’s trying to establish a spirit, a Trojan Spirit that we’re trying to bring to the forefront.
Casey: What’s interesting about that game though is you kicked the ball off and then had an hour weather delay and then didn’t you come out and fumble on your first possession?
Trombetta: First two possessions!
Casey: So how did you recover from that? That’s a really disjointed start, I imagine.
Trombetta: Our boys just don’t — we just worry about what we can control. I mean, past years, Thornton football teams would have definitely folded up camp at that point. But this is a special group of young men and they just don’t — sometimes things for good and for bad just don’t register with them. And I don’t think that they ever felt in any true danger. I think we worry about us. We don’t do a lot of, “Oh, we’re playing so-and-so this week.” Although we talked about the streak against Northglenn, and this week, we’ll talk about how Delta’s got a really good squad. They got a really good quarterback. But we don’t — we’ll game plan for what they do, but we kinda worry about us. And we knew against Northglenn, watching film and with some of the weapons we have on offense, we knew that we were going to have shots. Our defense was playing well. And I think once the defense got that stop on that second fumble, we were able to settle in, and then Ethan was able to find JR on that first touchdown. We kind of knew we were rolling at that point.
Casey: Well, and then you had that spurt at the end of the first quarter where all of a sudden you’re up two touchdowns. What was it like then, and what was the halftime locker room like?
Trombetta: We went up 20-7 and we were kind of in uncharted territory. We’re all kind of looking around and we hadn’t played well, but we were still up a couple of touchdowns. We went into halftime and we gave the whole, “It’s 0-0,” like all coaches say. I mean, you could see it in their eyes, and our boys, as much as we condition them, I was shocked: We were gassed. Boys were starting to cramp up. I think a combination of a lot of things. I think that the juices were flowing and they were going hard. We talked about, “You guys got 24 minutes to rewrite your legacies,” and (laughs) they made it interesting.
Casey: Yes, they did at the very end there. So, what’s the reaction been like since the win?
Trombetta: The reaction has been crazy. I’ve heard from a lot of my coaching mentors, like coach Marquez, coach Brothers at Holy Family. Some guys that I lean on. I heard from some of the guys that I coached with at Denver North. I heard from guys at Prospect Ridge. The outpourings of, “Way to go,” it’s been really, really awesome. The school is on cloud nine right now. I mean, that trophy only exists because it has all that red on it because Northglenn made it. We didn’t make the trophy.
Trombetta: The trophy has never actually been at Thorton High School before. It has never been there. I just dropped that off this morning. It was like the Stanley Cup and it’s spent the weekend at my house. I mean it’s a cool feeling. I mean just the alumni, the kids rushing the field. I think my favorite moment of the whole thing is I was probably the first one onto the field and then I turned around, it was just like a wave of humanity. And people started hugging me and I didn’t even know who anybody was. And then my daughter who is a senior at Thornton came running and hugged me and she was sobbing and it was just like this whole — I don’t want to downplay, I know it’s one game and it’s Week 1 — but when you’re talking about 10 wins in 53 years and two wins in the past 30… it’s a big deal for our community. The alumni has been very excited. I mean, the people that I don’t even know are reaching out to me. Yeah, the whole thing, it’s just been surreal, and then this Coach of the Week honor it’s like, I’m just a guy, you know, standing on the sidelines at a 4A school in Thornton. It’s all a little bit surreal and it’s all because the boys refused to be No. 15.