Nowhere man: Mavs’ deBraga making impact as kick returner

Mavs' deBraga making impact as kick returner



Mesa State (4-3, 4-1 RMAC) at Western State (3-4, 3-2 RMAC)

1 p.m. Saturday, Mountaineer Bowl, Gunnison

Radio: 1230-AM (KEXO), pre-game at 12:30 p.m.

Series: Mesa leads 18-17, including a 29-19 victory last season at Stocker Stadium.

Mesa State

Coach: Joe Ramunno, 12th year, 72-60

Last year: 6-5 (6-3 RMAC)

Last week: Defeated CSU-Pueblo 21-13 in Pueblo.

Noteworthy: The Mavericks have at least one interception in each of their seven games this season. Their four sacks against CSU-Pueblo ties for third-most sacks in a game. Junior center Ryan Swope is out for the season with torn ligaments in his right knee. Michael Mankoff has been elevated to the starting QB this week after completing 15 of 27 passes for 148 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions last week.

Western State

Coach: Pat Stewart, 4th year, 9-30

Last year: 2-8 (2-7 RMAC)

Last week: Lost to Colorado Mines 24-7 in Golden.

Noteworthy: Quarterback Tyler Daniels has thrown 168 passes without an interception this season. The Mountaineers are the only team in Division II without an interception. Junior receiver Shaun Suttorp is among the top 10 in the nation in catches and receiving yards per game. The defense is led by linebacker Trevor Bobb, who has 39 tackles.

— Allen Gemaehlich

Trent deBraga came to Mesa State College out of nowhere.

Now, deBraga is making an impact on the Mesa State football team.

The freshman took over as the Mavericks’ kickoff return mane two weeks ago. He’s run with the chance to, well, run.

DeBraga has returned five kickoffs for 154 yards (30.8 per attempt). He would rank ninth in Division II if he had enough attempts. The minimum is 1.2 per game, but deBraga has only played in two games.

“We loved him coming out (of high school); his temperament and the way got after it,” Mesa State coach Joe Ramunno said.  “We didn’t know we could get him. He might be able to go Division I, but that fell through. He fell in our lap late in the recruiting period. He was one of our top guys on the board when we started.”

DeBraga grew up in a small town outside of Carson City, Nev., where he was a three-sport athlete and two-time state wrestling champion. He passed on wrestling for a Division I program for a chance to play football, but with only a handful of Division II programs on the Pacific Coast and no offers from Division I, he didn’t have many options.

“I sent my highlight films out and Coach (Ramunno) gave me a call,” deBraga said. “They were interested. It sounded like they wanted me here. I came out to visit and fell in love with the place and ended up here.”

Ramunno and his staff were impressed with what they saw on the DVD deBraga sent.

“He brings a lot of toughness,” Mesa co-defensive coordinator and special teams coach Darin Robidoux said. “He’s a good, tough competitor. We noticed that on his film. He is a good athlete. When he got here for two-a-days, we considered playing him this year.”

He was a wide receiver and safety in high school, but the Mesa State coaching staff decided to move him to cornerback.

“I never played that,” deBraga said. “It was a big transition. It’s a good thing we have Coach Miles (Kochevar). He’s a good coach. He showed me how to play the corner.

“The first couple of weeks was hard. It was a struggle. As the weeks went on, I started picking up the techniques and learned from the older guys. From watching them, I was able to pick up what they do right.”

DeBraga, though, wasn’t cleared to play by the NCAA until the fourth week of the season.

When he got the go-ahead, he had a chance to play on special teams and that was fine with him.

“I knew my role as a freshman would be special teams,” deBraga said. “I knew I had to make the most out of my role. I could’ve been replaced. I had to prove myself.

“They gave me the opportunity to play early. Just being on the field, whether it’s special teams or not, is an honor to me. I look forward to kickoff, kick returns, everything. That’s what I love.”

His first kickoff return was two weeks ago against Colorado School of Mines in Mesa’s efforts to get better field position on kickoffs, and in part because of Joey Applehans’ season-ending injury.

“With some injuries, we stumbled upon that,” Robidoux said. “We thought Trent did some of that in high school. He is a good athlete. It took a little bit for Coach (Donnie) Holmes to be comfortable with him back there, but we knew he would be a good returner because he has no fear. Now he just catches it and hits it.

“He’s on all our special teams because of his ability. We knew we could put him on there. He’s saved our tails a lot on a few kickoffs with big tackles.”

DeBraga had three returns for 71 yards against Mines.

He had two returns for 83 yards last week, including one for 48 yards in Mesa’s 21-13 victory over Colorado State-Pueblo.

“My favorite thing in high school was returning kickoffs,” deBraga said.

“Once they let me do it here, it was an honor and a privilege. That’s the thing that excites me the most, being able to touch the ball and seeing what I can do with it.”


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