Mesa still has plenty in place for 2017 football season
#Unfinishedbusiness and WorbyStrong drove the 2016 Colorado Mesa football team.
The realization that they belong in the Division II playoffs will undoubtedly drive the 2017 Mavericks.
Too many mistakes at crucial times cost CMU a chance to move on in the playoffs Saturday in its 34-23 loss to No. 8 Texas A&M Commerce. A dropped pass in the end zone, fumble, interception and miscommunication that caused another fumble all added up. It swung momentum to the Lions, who scored 20 points after four takeaways.
“We had hopes of continuing on,” CMU coach Russ Martin said after Saturday’s game. “We knew if we played well we had a team that could advance in the playoffs.
“I think every one of the young players in our program, they expect great things. If anything, this will help them down the line that this is a football team that can compete extremely well. Even in the conference, we were co-champions with Mines and Pueblo, and we beat them head to head. We beat Azusa Pacific, another playoff team, and we had a chance today to beat the Lone Star champ, and we didn’t.
“We know we have a chance to compete against the best of the best, and that’s the standard we set for our program.”
The season started off like gangbusters, with CMU ripping off five impressive victories against the top teams in the conference, the “gauntlet,” as the Mavs called it. A double-overtime victory against Colorado Mines and the epic goal-line stand to preserve a one-point win over CSU-Pueblo were part of that run.
However, they put so much emphasis on those five games, they let down, perhaps getting caught up in conference championship dreams, combined with a rash of injuries, led to losses in the next two games. Those losses ultimately cost the Mavericks the outright RMAC title, an undefeated regular season and a likely first-round home game in the playoffs.
With only 11 seniors on the roster, more and more underclassmen moved into the lineup as injuries kept piling up.
If the entire junior class returns, CMU will have more than twice as many seniors — many with three years of playing time behind them — next fall. Safety/punt returner/kick blocker extraordinaire Dustin Rivas will be a senior, and running back David Tann, Division II’s touchdown leader, was granted one more semester of eligibility by the NCAA.
Tann will sit out spring football, giving his bum left ankle plenty of time to heal, and return next fall. He aggravated a lingering injury twice on Saturday, and after the game was wearing an orthotic boot.
Linebacker Tom Saager, the most dominant middle linebacker in the RMAC, missed the entire season with a lower leg injury and should receive a medical redshirt season, giving him two more years to play.
Dynamic sophomore quarterback Eystin Salum, the heir apparent to Sean Rubalcaba next season, missed the final two games with an undisclosed injury during the South Dakota Mines game. Safety Steven Sumey was out the final half of the season and outside linebacker Carlos Aviles, critical in Mesa’s run defense, played in only eight games.
Those losses only scratch the surface of the number of injuries.
Plus, nose guard William Milo, the RMAC preseason defensive player of the year, was ruled ineligible just before camp opened. After the win over South Dakota Mines that clinched the RMAC title, Milo vowed to be back on the field next season.
At least two defensive players, linebacker Blake Brockett and cornerback Antonio Clark, will have surgery to repair injuries. Brockett injured a shoulder against Azusa Pacific and Clark, who broke his right wrist on Saturday, said he’s scheduled for surgery today.
Before the Mavericks left for Texas, Martin half-joked that he doubted the Mavericks had 58 fully healthy players for the playoff game, the number of players allowed to suit up. Texas A&M Commerce’s participation report from Saturday lists only 36 Mavericks who got into the game.
Injuries aside, the past two years, the Mavericks have served notice that the program is back on more-than solid ground under Martin.
An exceptional group of freshmen who redshirted are waiting in the wings, and several should compete for playing time next fall.
With classes out of session for Thanksgiving all week, the Mavericks were turned loose after arriving in Grand Junction just before midnight Saturday.
When they return, it’s back to the weight room, where they shattered all kinds of records last season, setting the bar higher for this offseason.
The bar for spring and next fall, too, has been raised. When asked about what message the seniors wanted to send to the young players, linebacker Marcus Cross said they honestly didn’t need to say a word.
“I don’t think we have to tell them anything,” he said. “The young guys, they’re all great leaders themselves. There’s never been any (age difference) on this team; we’re all seniors. They come to work every day.
“They felt that same pain we felt out there; they just have another year to come back.”