Mavs picked to finish 5th in RMAC
COLORADO SPRINGS — The question had barely been asked when a smile broke out on the face of Isaac Koch.
The Colorado Mesa University red-shirt junior linebacker came into Monday’s Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Kickoff at the Colorado Springs Marriott Hotel fully aware that the topic of former teammate Jake Edmiston, an All-American and the RMAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, was going to come up.
Koch is transitioning from safety to linebacker, just like Edmiston did with much success — the Palisade High School product set NCAA Division II records for tackles (177) and solo tackles (102) last fall. Koch praised Edmiston, currently serving as a defensive assistant with the team after sustaining a season-ending injury during camp with the Seattle Seahawks, and said he’s been a great mentor.
“I’ve been looking forward to it. I’ve been trying to do it ever since I got there to be honest,” Koch said of changing positions. “I played linebacker in high school and I was a little small so they put me at safety.
“I decided that I really wanted to put the work in, gain some weight and move back down to that linebacker spot where I actually feel a lot more comfortable.”
Koch and teammates Ryan Sivetts, Zach Beach, Nick Leonard and Zeth Ramsay represented the Mavericks on Monday. Coming off a 5-6 season in which it lost its final four games, Colorado Mesa was picked by the conference’s coaches to finish fifth in the RMAC this fall.
Senior defensive back Jordan Hall was selected to the All-RMAC Preseason team; sophomore William Milo was also chosen but, according to the CMU Sports Information Department, he is academically ineligible for the upcoming season.
CSU-Pueblo received nine first-place votes and is the favorite to repeat as conference champion. Chadron State was second, followed by Colorado School of Mines and Adams State.
The Thunderwolves were undefeated in the 2013 regular season before being upset by Grand Valley State in the second round of the D-II playoffs. Senior quarterback Chris Bonner is the RMAC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and senior defensive end Darius Allen is the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Mines junior Avery Llewellyn is the Preseason Special Teams MVP.
“I think what happened last year in that playoff game left a really bad taste in our mouth,” CSU-Pueblo coach John Wristen said. “I know as a staff, I know as a community, but I really know with these players how close you really are and how you’ve got to embrace every opportunity.”
“For us to go where we’ve never gone, we’ve got to go do something we’ve never done.”
Colorado Mesa is trying to do something it hasn’t done since 2003: claim the conference title. Expectations are high, and though a handful of starters have moved on, the team’s focus is on those who are returning and the experience and depth they bring to the table.
“We have to focus on the things we do have,” Mavs coach Russ Martin said. “One of the things that I shared with our players is that you learn from the past, and it’s important we do learn from the things of last year and the year before that. But also, you’ve got to act in the now.”
Running back Jake Cimolino, who rushed for more 1,100 yards last fall, had to leave the program because of lingering injuries. A stable of running backs that includes Ricky Trinidad and Jerreon Dennis will try to fill his shoes, running behind an offensive line that returns four starters.
“It’s great to know we have kids back there that will run hard for us, and we’re going to block hard for them,” said Leonard, who is moving from guard to center. “We expect them to be just as good as Jake.”
The Mavericks open the 2014 season on Sept. 6 at Stocker Stadium against Dixie State.