Legend running back Bryce Vaz: Breakout star of Class 5A football playoffs

Legend running back Bryce Vaz sprinted into the end zone so many times in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs that it proved difficult to keep count.

“I’ll be honest with you,” his coach Monte Thelen said, recalling his thought process as No. 3 Legend rolled to a 56-35 victory over No. 6 Fairview last week. “I didn’t know for sure how many touchdowns he had scored.”

Vaz’s touchdown tally? A stunning six rushing scores — matching his total carries for the season prior to last week.

The junior making his first Legend start at running back, converted from wide receiver, propelled his team into Saturday’s semifinal matchup with No. 2 Valor Christian — establishing Vaz as the early breakout star of the Colorado prep football postseason.

“I wasn’t keeping track, but after every time I would score, my teammates would come up to me on the sidelines and tell me,” Vaz said. “I wasn’t really worried about it. I just knew this was a big playoff game for us. We had to go out there and win. … I was just waiting for my opportunity.”

Vaz began playing football at about age 5 in flag competition, he said, with supreme agility “making kids miss and scoring touchdowns.” Vaz later enrolled at Valor Christian for his freshman year to play football.

However, when his parents changed jobs, Vaz left Valor for Legend. CHSAA transfer rules prohibited him from playing varsity last season. Then Vaz suffered a high-ankle sprain that held him out from several JV games.

“I was very upset by it,” Vaz said. “I understood the transfer rules. But it was just a wacky situation playing JV when I knew I was varsity talent.”

Vaz finally got his opportunity this season but was unable to supplant senior Connor Eise as the starting running back. Vaz faced another setback with a hamstring injury. When healthy, Legend coaches featured him at wide receiver, but Vaz always felt more comfortable at running back.

Then Eise was injured in the week of practice leading up to the quarterfinals against Fairview. Legend turned to Vaz in the backfield and he exceeded all expectations. Late in the first quarter, Vaz broke loose for a 56-yard touchdown — validating his desire to carry the football.

Fairview couldn’t keep Vaz out of the end zone, as he put up 310 yards on 31 carries.

“He’s explosive,” Thelen said. “He’s got good speed and strength, and showed really good balance against Fairview. He ran away from a lot of people. … He’s a fine young man from a very good family. We’re really happy for his success.”

Legend (7-0) aims to keep its momentum rolling against Vaz’s former team at Valor Christian (6-0) on Saturday. Vaz knows Legend is the underdog. That only strengthens his desire for a chance to play in the 5A state title game next week in Pueblo.

“I have high standards for myself in this game,” Vaz said. “I have to ball out even more than I even did last week because Valor is a tougher team (than Fairview). But I know all their players and all their guys. I’m really excited to go out there and show them what they’re missing out on.”

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