Nine transfers from Kearney quickly fit in with Mavericks
Daniel Rankin had high hopes for his role in the University of Nebraska-Kearney offense last season.
Offensive coordinator Russ Martin, though, left Kearney to be the head coach at Colorado Mesa University, and Rankin never became the offensive weapon he hoped to be for the Lopers. The converted safety rushed for 117 yards on 12 carries and caught two passes for nine yards.
“The season didn’t end up how I expected,” Rankin said. “I expected to get a better shot to play. They didn’t believe I could do the job. I was ready to go to school and not play football anymore.”
His roommate and teammate, Ryan Lendrum, convinced Rankin not to give up on football, even if it meant looking somewhere else.
Rankin took his advice, and now is one of nine former Nebraska-Kearney players on the Colorado Mesa University football team.
Last season was Nebraska-Kearney’s first in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association after being a member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and playing against Mesa each season.
Horatio Salazar decided after last season to transfer to CMU, so Rankin gave Martin a call.
He was enrolled at Mesa last spring, and along with four other former Lopers, participated in spring football for the Mavs.
“Coach Martin said he was excited to have me out here,” Rankin said. “(The Lopers) went through six quarterbacks last year. It wasn’t believed the players were getting the job done.
“The difference was Coach Martin not being there. He knows exactly what he’s doing. They tried to implement his offense, but it’s hard to do.”
Shortly after Rankin decided to transfer, Lendrum decided he, too, wanted to be a part of Martin’s plans for the Mavs.
“I respect everyone at UNK, but I felt it was time to make a change,” Lendrum said. “It wasn’t a matter of playing time for me. I was a two-year starter. I wasn’t a fan of where it was headed.
“I had a great opportunity to come to Mesa and play for a coach who really wanted me to be a guy for him.”
Kearney teammates Ricky Trinidad, Aric Kaiser, Nick Yeros, Ryan Tasker, Ryan Rankin (no relation to Daniel) and Jeremy Aquino soon followed.
“I was fortunate to be involved in recruiting several of them and developing a relationship with them there,” Martin said. “When I came here, I was blessed they wanted to be a part of this program here.”
Kaiser decided to transfer after he was asked to move to wide receiver despite earning the starting quarterback job last year. He completed 56 percent of his passes for 426 yards and four touchdowns in three games before a shoulder injury ended his season.
“I felt I could be a starting quarterback,” Kaiser said. “Knowing how Martin runs his team and the situation here running the same offense, I knew it would be an easy transition. I knew it would be a good fit for me.”
The redshirt freshman from Broomfield won the starting job for the Mavericks’ 2013 season opener, but he injured his left knee on the second series. He is expected to miss two to four weeks.
Trinidad, who led the Lopers in rushing last season with 1,037 yards in eight games, wanted to play for the coach who recruited him.
“I wanted to change it up and have a change of scenery,” Trinidad said. “I like Coach Martin. I like what he wants to do. I definitely wanted to follow him here.”
With that many transfers, the Colorado Mesa players already in the program could’ve resented the former Lopers.
Instead, the Mavericks welcomed their new teammates.
“I can’t thank the players here at CMU enough,” Lendrum said. “They could’ve easily had an attitude against us, thinking we were trying to take spots. We just wanted to be a part of this program and make this team better. The guys here want to win. We have a goal of RMAC championship. They’re excited to have us.”
Martin made sure the Kearney transfers understood they couldn’t waltz in and take over the team. They had to follow the already established leaders of the team and fit into another role.
“We were not going to focus the team on them,” Martin said. “They had to focus on what we’re doing. They have jumped in and are sold-out Mavericks. They have certainly helped with the depth issues and quality play. They do a great job leading off the field as well.”
The Kearney transfers bring experience and knowledge of Martin’s offense. Instead of expecting playing time over the returning Mesa players, the Kearney transfers have helped the returning players learn the offense.
Daniel Rankin has seen Martin’s offense from both sides and admits it is complicated, but he believes in it so much, he wants to coach it someday.
“Terminology can get confusing at times, but once it gets going, it’s a momentum offense, I think,” he said. “If we get a first down, our chances to score will go way up. It’s very tough to stop us.”
Daniel Rankin was going to be a big part of the offense in several aspects until an ACL tear during the first week of practice ended his season. Tasker and Salazar are also out for the season with knee injuries.
“That’s Coach Martin’s brain,” Rankin said. “He had me all over the place. He has an amazing football brain. I plan to coach, and I’m going to absorb everything I can from him.”
Two years ago, Martin’s offense at Kearney ranked second in all of NCAA Division II in total yards.
Lendrum, who plays cornerback, dreaded going against that offense every day in practice.
“We struggled going against them, and we go against them every day,” Lendrum said of Kearney’s practices. “The thought of only having a week to prepare ... we’ve been going against them all spring, and they still throw stuff at us that’s like, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’
“As a defensive player playing against them, it is one of the most difficult schemes to play against. It’s not a triple option. It’s an everywhere option. They can go everywhere on the field. I think the players are starting to fully understand it.”
Rankin expects the Mavericks to compete in the RMAC this season.
“If we go 4-7 this year, there’s something wrong with us players,” Rankin said. “I believe a conference championship is going to happen.”