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Broncos High School Flag Football Coach of the Year: Mario Lopez, Arvada West


After two seasons of girls high school flag football in Colorado, no program has had more success than the Arvada West Wildcats. In 2022, the pilot season of high school flag, the Wildcats ran through the regular season with an undefeated record and won the Jeffco Public Schools Regional Playoff Tournament. It wasn't until the state championship final when Arvada West had their first taste of flag football defeat. That defeat, however, would be the motivation that would stay with the Wildcat players and coaches as they prepared for the 2023 season.

Led by head coach Mario Lopez, the Arvada West Wildcats entered the 2023 season as a favorite to win the state championship. But with 51 schools representing 72 total teams, it was impossible to forecast the level of dominance that Arvada West was about to force upon the rest of the league. Week in and week out, the Wildcats played with a high-powered offense and a suffocating defense installed by Coach Lopez. At the conclusion of the regular season, Arvada West had earned an 18-0 record with 534 points scored and only 44 points allowed. As the regional playoffs began on Saturday, October 7, the Wildcats were the No. 1 seed in Region 1 played at Echo Park Stadium in Parker, CO. Arvada West defeated Northglenn, Mountain Vista and Legend to win the 2023 Region 1 High School Flag Football Championship.

On Saturday, October 14 at Centura Health Training Center, 16 schools representing seven different school districts, competed for the second annual high school flag football state championship. Arvada West, the No. 1 overall seed, would defeat Chatfield V2, Mountain Vista and then Pomona to earn the opportunity to avenge their loss in the state championship final from the year before. This year, the outcome would be different as the Wildcats would dominate the final from start to finish defeating Cherry Creek 34 – 14.

At no point in the season was there a team more prepared to play than Arvada West. Having played only three, one score games all season long, the Wildcats were the number one team from start to finish. The Denver Broncos are proud to recognize Coach Mario Lopez as the 2023 High School Flag Football Coach of the Year.

Photo Credit: Arvada West High School
Photo Credit: Arvada West High School

Mario Lopez

Seasons at Arvada West: 2

Overall Record: 39 – 1

State Championships: 1

What do you love most about coaching flag football?

ML: I love coaching flag football because I'm very passionate about the game. I love teaching the game, especially to kids who are new to the sport. Most young females have never had the opportunity to play football so giving back to those girls that want to lean football has been a great experience. Flag football is a growing sport and I feel fortunate that I can share what I know about the game with those just learning how to play.

Talk about your background playing and coaching flag football?

ML: I've been involved with flag football for more than 20 years now as both a player and a coach. I've been a part of a couple national championship teams and have had the opportunity to be involved with the game at several different levels. After my playing days, I coached with Lace Up which is a women's flag football program that competes at the national level. Over the past 10 years of coaching, I've really enjoyed coaching females and feel that my experiences allow me to get the most out of my players so they can reach their goals, both locally and nationally. 

In two seasons, Arvada West has been as close to perfect as you can get. What's been your philosophy of teaching the game of flag football?

ML: I try to keep it simple, and I try to focus on the basics. It's a very different game than tackle. Above and beyond the fundamentals of the game, I really focus on teaching players to utilize the field space and take advantage of the open space that the opposing teams allow. Like any sport, flag is about how you read a situation and how you react to that situation. But we try and keep the fundamentals at the core of what we do. I think it's also important to incorporate as much game-like action into practice as possible. We focus on a lot of in game situations and compete hard against one another. That way, our players are comfortable, prepared and can just play when it's game time.

Last year, your perfect season ended with a tough loss in the state final. How did that loss motivate you and your girls heading into 2023?

ML: It motivated all of us a lot. Especially the returning players from last year. Our sophomore and junior class from 2022 was very motivated to get back to the finals and win a state championship. We lost quite a few seniors from that team, so we had a lot to overcome. But overcoming adversity is something that all teams must face, manage and deal with. Our girls played so well this season that we didn't really face much adversity until the Pomona game. Pomona played great and I think that game helped us more than anything else get ready for state. After that game, our girls felt confident heading into the post season and then they played confident.

What was the biggest difference between the 2022 season and this past fall?

ML: For us, the biggest difference was adding additional coaches that helped full-time. They volunteered their time, and they were a great addition. In 2022, I was pretty much by myself which was very difficult managing two teams. So, the extra help was great. And then it was all about finding athletes who wanted to play and then showing those girls what Arvada West flag football was all about. It was also fun to get to play new teams and have more schools involved with the second season. It's great to see so many schools take on flag football. 

What do you love most about this group of players?

ML: That they are all coming back next year! We'll return with the same group, which is exciting. This group has been great. We're still very young, but next year, we'll get the chance to continue to build upon the team chemistry that we've already started. It'll be exciting to see how we can develop the team, and the individual players as we head into our third season. Everyone here at Arvada West is excited about flag football and I think we'll get more interest from dual sport athletes who want to compete at the highest level. This group has really set the tone for the future and they work hard and they care about each other. And that's the best part… they care about each other and they have fun together. Because it's all about having fun and putting in the work. I couldn't have asked for a better group. 

Arvada West also won the Denver Broncos NFL Flag Regional Tournament this past summer and will get to represent the Broncos at the NFL Flag National Championships at Pro Bowl. Is your team excited for that experience and what are your expectations?

ML: They are very excited! We're getting rolling with practice but basically the same group of players who played in our state final will be at Pro Bowl. And they'll be ready to compete against some of the better teams from around the country. This group has great talent and great chemistry so I'm excited to see how they do at the national level. I know that a lot of teams that we'll face are all-star teams who will do whatever it takes to win, so I think it's cool that we're just Arvada West. I think we'll be able to compete but regardless, it will be a memorable experience.

What do you look forward to most about the fall of 2024?

ML: I'm looking forward to flag football becoming a sanctioned CHSAA sport. The girls deserve it and it'll be great for the state of Colorado. The sport is already taking off and I think that Colorado needs to make that approval. I'm also excited to see how pathways to college continue to grow. Let's give these girls an opportunity to earn a college scholarship and play flag football after high school.

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