Program to emulate
CSU-Pueblo the team Mavericks aspire to be like
The football program at CSU-Pueblo was reinstated in 2007, and the ThunderWolves took the field in 2008 after a 23-year absence.
Five years later, the ThunderWolves are the No. 1 team in Division II football.
A group of boosters and alumni, dubbed the “Friends of Football,” raised $13 million to bring football, wrestling and track back to Pueblo and build the football stadium.
Saturday night at Stocker Stadium, the ThunderWolves handled Colorado Mesa 48-10 and gave the Mavericks a first-hand look at a program they aspire to build under the new coaching staff, headed by Russ Martin.
“Pueblo’s done a great job building their program,” Martin said. “They have done it in a fashion that you see them continue to get better year-in and year-out. I think a lot of theirs has been through their recruiting, their offseason development, and that’s what we have to focus on.”
Martin was hired in January and immediately went to work recruiting, but the Mavs need to continue to bring in more depth, which showed against the ThunderWolves, who consistently shuttled in fresh players.
“We don’t have the depth they’ve got, and it showed,” he said. “I think our kids played hard, but it also comes down to making mistakes, and some of those are because you are worn down.
“If you look at it, they were rolling guys in and out even in the first half. We don’t have that ability. Our guys are basically playing every down, offensively or defensively.”
Saturday’s game featured the top two running backs in the RMAC, and both are sophomores, CMU’s Jake Cimolino (16 rushes, 106 yards) and Pueblo’s J.B. Mathews (24 carries, 99 yards, 3 TDs).
With the “Friends of Football” continuing to help fund Pueblo’s program, the ThunderWolves have an added boost most RMAC schools don’t.
“That’s part of it, the whole process of the fundraising, the whole thing as far as the development, the recruiting,” Martin said. “We’ve got some great things here to recruit young men to, and that’s what we have to do. We’ve got to get out and sell that to them. We’ve got to bring some of those young men in here to Grand Junction and CMU, and we can do that.”
Martin said it’s not so much trying to compare Mesa (3-6, 3-4 RMAC) with CSU-Pueblo (9-0, 7-0), but to the school he came from, Nebraska-Kearney. The Lopers left the RMAC this year to join the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association. After winning or sharing the RMAC title four times since 2002, the Lopers have had a rash of injuries and are 2-7 this season.
“If we backtrack and compare to the program we built at UNK, we’ve got the things to offer that UNK does,” Martin said. “We’ve got a great community, a great university to recruit to. We’ve got great facilities, it’s just going to be a matter of we’ve got to go out and get those kinds of kids, and we’ve got to develop them once they’re in the program.
“We’ve got some great things here to sell, and that’s what we’ve got to sell.”
Martin emphasized that the Mavs are well-conditioned, but the lack of depth is the biggest issue. Once the season ends, the real work in the weight room will begin to get the players bigger and stronger.
The ThunderWolves lost in the first round of the Division II playoffs last season, but right now they are the team to beat — in their fifth year as a program.
“This is their fifth year now, and in four years they were in the playoffs,” Martin said. “You take a look at them, they are legitimately a national contender.
“They’ve got the size, they’ve got the skill spots, and they do a great job. They’re very solid in everything they do. That’s what we’re going to strive to do, to build it to that point.”