Young Mavs make strides
Salum, Ruel shine at QB
Eystin Salum looks and feels like a starting quarterback. Rope Ruel looks like a guy pushing for playing time at that spot, too.
Justice Jackson played like a bona fide contender in a talented veteran backfield.
And perhaps most of all, Dylan Tait is one of several defensive players who don’t feel like freshmen any more.
Mission accomplished for spring football at Colorado Mesa University, which ended Saturday morning with the annual spring scrimmage at Bergman Field.
Now the real work begins, with strength and conditioning four days a week until final exams.
With the majority of the returning linebackers, including Tom Saager and Carlos Aviles, defensive backs, including safety Dustin Rivas, and starting running back David Tann among the Mavericks who did not participate in spring drills, the young players got some much-needed work.
“We had about seven defensive starters who didn’t get a rep this spring, so I think we’ve got a chance to be pretty dang good because of those guys,” CMU coach Russ Martin said. “They’ve been very, very good in helping the coaches, and I think they understand the position even better now.”
Salum and Ruel took the majority of snaps at quarterback, and it showed in how both ran the offense.
“A lot of reps, definitely. I think as a quarterback group we really improved on getting the ball out of our hands fast, knowing exactly what we’re looking at when we’re looking at defenses and exactly what we should be looking for in the play calls,” Salum said.
“Rope did a great job, Kelton, for his first time coming in and learning the offense, did a great job getting the ball out of his hands. We started to execute at a high level.”
Kelton McCoy is sort of a bonus quarterback for the Mavericks, who won the RMAC championship last season and reached the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs. He led Bayfield to the Class 2A state championship in 2015 and then opted to play baseball at the University of New Mexico, but transferred to CMU after the first semester and joined the football team.
The freshman has picked up the offense quickly, and should give CMU even more depth next fall, when two more highly touted freshmen join the Mavs. He uncorked several long throws, one a deep route to AJ Scott that was called back by a penalty but had the good-sized crowd oohing.
With Tann not enrolled in school this spring to save his final semester of eligibility for the fall, Jonathon Beverly and Brett Ojiyi got a lot of work, but Jackson also turned heads. The freshman from Las Vegas broke off a couple of big runs and had Martin grinning at his potential.
“He’s going to be a really good running back. We really liked him coming ut of high school,” Martin said. “It’s been interesting this spring, he had a slow start, but the last week he’s really been picking it up and you can see he’s getting more and more comfortable in this stuff.
“I think we’ve got some really good running backs again. David isn’t taking reps, but Jonathon and Brett ran well.”
Martin cautioned his defensive coaches early in the spring to not get discouraged when practices were ragged because so many freshmen were getting their first true reps in the scheme.
They were anything but discouraged Saturday when the defense, especially early, dominated the offense.
At one point, a receiver picked up a lateral, only to get trucked by all-conference defensive Blake Nelson, who pretty much stood him on his head on the sideline.
Tait was one of several young linebackers who were putting big hits on backs, including meeting Ruel head-on on a quarterback draw.
Ruel later found Josh Brown on a deep sideline route, putting the ball at the 10, and Ojiyi ran in for a touchdown.
Salum ran the final few series of the scrimmage, showing how much he’s learned about the offense, standing in the pocket and letting the play develop, then letting his quick feet work if things broke down.
And for the young defensive players, those reps they got this spring will have them ready come fall, when the starters are cleared for contact.
“It was a new experience,” Tait said. “We really learned the defense this spring. I didn’t really know it last fall coming in. Now I know pretty much all of it, I think, going into the fall.
“The first day, I couldn’t even get the calls or anything out at first. Once that first week was over, going into that next week after spring break, I got it more, it made more sense.”
Now, Tait said, college football feels real.
“It’s real that I’m not a freshman any more,” he said with a grin. “I have to step up and not just be a practice-squad guy.”