MAVS’ FINAL PRODUCT
Colorado Mesa focused on putting games away after sour ’13 finish
That’s the focus for the 2014 Colorado Mesa University football team after a four-game losing streak last season left the Mavericks disappointed.
The Mavericks started the 2013 season with a lot of hope. They were 5-2 at one point, but numerous injuries and a lack of depth resulted in a four-game losing streak. Mesa finished 5-6 (4-5 in the RMAC). It was the Mavs’ fifth consecutive season with a losing record.
“That’s a great way to put it (ran out of gas),” senior defensive end Ryan Sivetts said. “The biggest thing was not finishing the fourth quarter. A majority of games we lost, we lost in the last few minutes. We’ve been focusing on finishing every game. Keep on the gas pedal, never stop until (the game) is over.”
Colorado Mesa led in the second half of three of its losses last year. Two of them were at home.
“It’s a fine line between 9-2 and 2-9,” CMU coach Russ Martin said. “We could’ve easily won a few more games. We led Chadron, we had Adams (beat), and we had Mines (beat) in the fourth quarter. If we win those, we’re 8-3 instead of 5-6.”
The Mavericks began work on finishing games in the summer when the team was lifting weights outside with strength and conditioning coach Dan Linsacum while the new weight room was under construction.
Senior running back/wide receiver Daniel Rankin was one of them. He was out last season with a knee injury before the season started.
“Coach Scum’s point of emphasis this summer was making sure we were in shape, so we are able to finish games,” Rankin said. “We have an expectation and I believe it’s paying off.”
Rankin was one of more than a dozen players out with an injury and a half-dozen with season-ending injuries last year.
There were no significant injuries when the players reported for the first practice nearly two weeks ago.
“I think we’re healthier, and our kids have a better understanding of what we need to do,” Martin said. “All of those things will be positives.”
Martin has more players with at least one year experience in his system, with close to 40 returning players and another 25 redshirt freshmen with one year of experience in the program.
“Last year, we redshirted all but three kids in the class that could be good,” Martin said. “Now, you’ll see them playing this year either as a starter or backup. What we do have is more depth than we’ve ever had. That’s a huge thing. When injuries occur, we have guys ready that have been in the system.”
The additional year of experience should make a big difference for the offense, which struggled to throw the ball and score points last season.
“We’re not blind to the fact the offense was not up to par last year,” Rankin said. “We were not a good offense last year. That expectation has changed. Day One, we blew our expectations up. It’s a matter of being consistent. We know how good we can be. We have the talent to do it.”
The offense has seven returning starters, including four offensive linemen, two receivers and quarterback Aric Kaiser. The sophomore completed 51 percent of his passes for 875 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Kyle Duran also returns at QB.
“Right now, Aric Kaiser is the front-runner,” Martin said. “Last year, he went into the season as the starter and got hurt.
“We definitely need to be more consistent, but last spring Aric became really consistent. He was very effective running our (offense).”
The Mavericks’ leading rusher the past three years is gone — injuries forced Jake Cimolino to forgo his senior year of eligibility — but Martin has a stable of runners capable of exploding for big gains.
Senior Ricky Trinidad, who rushed for 1,000 yards at Nebraska-Kearney before joining Kaiser and Rankin at Mesa, will likely get a majority of the carries. Sophomores Jerreon Dennis, Darryl Hawkins and Christian Fonbuena could see some time and emerge in the backfield.
They will run behind a more experienced offensive line with four returning starters. Nick Leonard (6-foot-2, 270 pounds) moves from guard to center. Teddy Silano (6-8, 285) and Zeth Ramsey (6-6, 280) return at the tackles, and Mitch Wehrli (6-4, 275) started a handful of games at left guard.
Junior Eric Sander-Cedarlof (6-4, 255) and several redshirt freshmen also will play.
The Mavericks lost two receivers, but two of their top four return in seniors Ian Juede and Steven Lindquist. Juede led the team with 39 catches for 353 yards. Lindquist had 18 receptions for 284 yards. They are joined by junior Blaine Jackson and sophomores Daniel Perse, Ryan Rankin and Eli Williams.
“We have more speed at the receiver with those guys,” Martin said. “Those guys are interchangeable. They are versatile guys.”
Junior Dalton Horan, redshirt freshmen Bryan Bonner and Derek Hizer and junior college transfer Mike Mandic are the leading candidates to replace Drew Holder at tight end.
Rankin and DJ Hubbard could get some carries in addition to lining up in the slot.
“We know our defense is our strong point,” Rankin said. “We want to compete with them day in and day out. If we can win those two aspects of the game and capitalize on special teams with all the talent and depth we have ...
“People don’t know what we have. Myself and Trinidad were out. We have younger guys competing with the older guys.”
Martin has seven returning starters on defense as well, but Mesa lost its leading tackler, All-American linebacker Jake Edmiston. Edmiston is back with the Mavericks as a graduate assistant. He was injured during a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks in the spring.
“Jake Edmiston is irreplaceable,” Sivetts said. “People are always asking me: Are we worried about that position now that Jake is gone? No, not at all. We have Marc Palacios, who played for us last year and did great things for us. We have Carlos Avilas coming down from Division I. He’s got playing experience there. Plus, the defensive line, no one graduated.”
Avilas, a Valor Christian graduate, went to Division I Indiana State out of high school, but transferred to Colorado Mesa after one year.
“He is a player,” Martin said. “He is athletic. He has closing ability, and he is tough. That’s just being downright honest. He can play. I’m excited to have him playing for us.”
The entire defensive line returns from last season, but preseason All-RMAC pick William Milo is academically ineligible and won’t play. Milo was the RMAC co-defensive freshman of the year last season.
Sivetts and Zach Beach are back at defensive tackle. Sivetts started every game last year.
Senior Wes Sorenson (6-5), juniors Jeremy Aquino and Mitch Irwin will play on the rush end. Several more redshirt freshmen are waiting in the wings.
Marcus Cross, Isaac Koch, Olie Olson, Tom Saager and AJ Coccillos join Avilas and Palacios in the linebacker corps.
Three of the four starting defensive backs are gone, but preseason All-RMAC cornerback Jordan Price returns.
Other cornerbacks include Turmour Battle, Jackson Burrell, Tyler Winder, Nick Yeros and redshirt freshman Dustin Rivas. Transfers Tony White, Salim Cleghorn and David Tann join the team. Tann is a transfer from Iowa.
Cody Daniels, Colby Dixon and Frank deBraga are back at safety. Redshirt freshman Blake Nelson could also play.
Marcus Patton takes over as defensive coordinator from Todd Auer, who left for the same position at Division I Southern Illinois.
Patton is Mesa’s third defensive coordinator in the past four years.
“My personal experience going through about four different defenses since I’ve been here, it’s nothing new to me,” Sivetts said. “As a team, I think we’re adjusting well. What Coach Auer talked about, playing hard and being physical, is what Coach Patton is teaching us, too. He put in a great scheme for us. It’s going to mess with a lot of teams this year.”
Still, the Mavericks hope to improve despite being among the nation’s leaders in interceptions (third) and red-zone defense (fourth).
“We created a lot of turnovers down there (in the red zone),” Martin said. “The thing we were disappointed in was the yards we gave up. Even though we were great in the red-zone defense, we had poor starting field position offensively. Sometimes we weren’t good enough to get it out.
“Field position is a large part of the game still. One of the things we’re hoping to improve on is being able to get the defense off the field.”