CSU-Pueblo sets sights on winning more than RMAC
Colorado State University-Pueblo’s football team was young last year, but it still won a third consecutive Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title.
The ThunderWolves received a top seed for the NCAA Division II playoffs, but they were upset at home. They finished 11-1 (9-0 RMAC).
“We’re proud of winning our third RMAC title, but when you don’t win the last game of the year, it leaves an empty feeling inside of you,” CSU-Pueblo coach John Wristen said.
Most of the players on that team return this season with a hunger to not only win a fourth consecutive RMAC title, but make a deep run in the NCAA playoffs. The ThunderWolves are heavily favored to win the RMAC again this season.
“Our goals and expectations are to play hard for 60 minutes, and when we look up at the scoreboard, we won,” Wristen said. “Hopefully that will put us in position to do something special and go play for national championship.”
CSU-Pueblo has 18 seniors, including quarterback Chris Bonner, who completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,413 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Bonner is a Harlon Hill Trophy candidate and the RMAC preseason offensive player of the year.
The ThunderWolves’ defense is led by senior defensive end Darius Allen. He had 60 tackles, 15.5 sacks and won the Gene Upshaw award as the top lineman in Division II last season. His sacks led all of Division II. He is also the RMAC preseason defensive player of the year.
Bonner and Allen are surrounded by plenty of returning starters and talent.
Chadron State and Colorado School of Mines have several returning starters from last season. The Eagles and Orediggers tied for second place in the RMAC.
Wristen picked Mines to win the RMAC in the preseason poll. Coaches aren’t allowed to pick their own team.
“I think there are a lot of great teams in this league,” Wristen said. “It’s all liquid in Division II because you get transfers and different people in.”
Adams State was right behind in fourth place and is expected to finish there again. The Grizzlies have 10 returning starters on offense and seven back from the RMAC top’s defense.
“This conference is much better now than 10-11 years ago when I came into it,” Colorado Mesa coach Russ Martin said. “It’s night and day difference top to bottom.”
CMU is picked to finish where it did last year, fifth.
Fort Lewis is expected to improve in coach John L. Smith’s second season and finish sixth.
New Mexico Highlands, Western New Mexico, Western State Colorado and Black Hills State are expected to finish seventh through 10th.