Mavs' Drake, Newton have adjusted quite well to new positions on defensive line
Chance Drake was not going to be the skinny kid on the football team when he reported to Colorado Mesa in the fall of 2014.
“I got recruited here as a wide receiver and I came into camp 40 pounds heavier than the last time they saw me,” said Drake, who is definitely not the skinny kid. “They turned me into a tight end.”
A wide receiver at Hinkley High School, Drake knew he had to put some weight on his 6-foot-3 frame. He was listed at 235 pounds in 2014. In 2015 and 2016 he was listed as a 265-pound defensive end. He started seven games and played in all 12 last fall, making 39 tackles.
“I was working out, but minimum running,” he said with a grin about his workout plan after his senior year of high school. “I was just thinking, I don’t want to be the weakest guy coming in from high school, so let’s attack those weights. I attacked them, but I should have attacked the conditioning a little more while I was at it.”
He certainly wasn’t done growing — he’s now a solid 285-pound well-conditioned junior and he’s no longer a defensive end.
“I play D-line is what I tell people,” he said. “I don’t have a position; it’s wherever they need me at the moment.”
At the moment, the Mavericks need him — and want him — at defensive tackle.
CMU coach Russ Martin can’t help but chuckle when he talks about Drake.
“It’s amazing. When we recruited Chance out of high school he was a wide receiver, now he’s a 3-tech(nique down lineman),” Martin said. “Let’s just say he’s a very athletic 3-tech inside, but he is. He’s continued to develop.
“You look at him, in three years it’s been a total turnaround for him in terms of what he’s had to learn. He has done a great job and complements our D-line very well.”
The Mavericks, who open the season at 7 p.m. on Thursday against Western State at Stocker Stadium, could move Drake inside in part because of the way Mason Newton has adapted after a position switch from when he was recruited out of Woods Cross High School in Bountiful, Utah. He was a middle linebacker, but said from Day 1 two years ago was told he was a defensive end.
“Oh, shoot, I haven’t played that since elementary school,” he said, laughing at the memory.
Newton is the only sophomore in the defensive starting lineup, Drake and Tom Saager are the only juniors.
“I’ve tutored a lot with Blake (Nelson) and Chance, getting the steps down, getting my mind prepared,” Newton said. “I’m super into the books and studying everything, but they help me on the field with what I need to be to be a better pass rusher or how to get my assignments down. I’ve been mentored by these guys, so I feel I’m ready for it.”
Drake and Nelson, the Mavericks’ all-conference defensive end, are confident Newton has learned his position. He played in 10 games last season, recording four tackles.
“Mason’s ready,” Nelson said. “He’s a strong kid, a big kid and he knows how to play that position. I’ll give him tips once in awhile if he needs it, but he’s got that side locked down pretty well.”
Drake, who said he feels more at home at tackle, said he’s amazed at how quickly Newton adapted to end.
“This kid has one of the best football minds I’ve seen in a long time. He always comes ready to work,” Drake said. “It might not sound like too much to people who don’t know football, but middle linebacker to defensive end is not an easy transition. He did it in stride.”
The biggest change, Newton said, is not “having a 5-yard head start. You have to be more aggressive. That’s one of the hardest adjustments. Right off the line I have to get past somebody. I don’t have five yards to make a move, fake them out.”
Drake, too, had to adjust his technique from being a pass-rushing defensive end to taking on those big offensive linemen man on man. That’s where his background as a receiver comes in handy.
“My feet are good because I used to play wide receiver. I feel like I’m kind of a mismatch for guys inside,” he said. “I’m big, but I’ll work a move and people will go, ‘whoa.’ ‘’
“He’s got fancy moves,” Newton said.
The Mavericks adopted the motto of “Leave No Doubt” this season after sharing the 2016 RMAC title with CSU-Pueblo and Colorado Mines. Martin tells them daily that good isn’t good enough.
“Everyone can be good,” Newton said. “Only so few can be great.”
The offense expects to be explosive, and the defense wants to feed the beast by stopping opponents and creating turnovers.
“We heard everyone saying how the offense carried us a little bit last year and we tucked it away all spring and now it’s about that time,” Drake said. “You’re in for a treat if you love defense.”