Saturday felt normal — as normal as things can be these days — for the Colorado Mesa football team.
The Mavericks had their first scrimmage at Stocker Stadium in preparation for their abbreviated season.
“These guys have fought through a lot,” first-year coach Tremaine Jackson said after the scrimmage. “A lot of people don’t see what they fight through, so it’s a special day. We’re going to cherish it and we’ll get better from it.”
Although they only have four games on the schedule for the fall, it’s better than nothing at all, the players say.
“This summer we were told we’d have a full season and put in a lot of work, and then all of a sudden we get told we’re going to have no season,” junior tight end Dagan Rienks said after practice earlier this week. “Then we’re told we’re going to have a few games in the spring and we finally have a set schedule. I’m looking for some people to finally get that energy up there now that we know what’s set in place, we can prepare for something.
“Before it was doing all this preparation but we don’t know what we’re preparing for. Now we’ve got a vision that will help us prepare and train.”
The Mavericks started practicing Sept. 1, but shut down for a week for COVID-19 contact tracing protocols. They got the go-ahead to return to the field Monday, with four weeks to prepare for the season.
“I think that scare last week was a little bit of a shock to people,” senior linebacker Dylan Tait said. “That put a mindset in you can’t be doing stuff; if you want to play this game you have to stay true to the team and stay with the team.”
No spectators were allowed in the stadium Saturday, but several parents and friends found spots outside the fence to watch. CMU is awaiting word from the Mesa County Health Department about spectators at its two home games this fall.
Jackson lined up behind the offense, where he got a good look at the Mavs’ new defense, which recorded five interceptions and swarmed to ball carriers.
“We want to be able to take the ball away and give it back to our offense,” Jackson said. “Our offense is going to be pretty good. People saw today what I’ve been able to see all week when it’s been back and forth, back and forth. We’ve got a long way to go, but if we can take the ball away from people, then we’ve got a chance.”
Damar’ren Mitchell made a leaping interception early on, D’Angelo Lindsay had a couple, and Garrett Zanon deflected a pass into the hands of Nic Smith for another.
It wasn’t all defense — the offense its moments, with Aaron Howard throwing a sideline route to transfer receiver BJ Brown for an 80-yard touchdown. Jesse Rodriquez broke off several good runs and made a leaping touchdown over the goal line.
Howard also found Rienks for a touchdown on a tight end drag on fourth down.
Redshirt freshman Logan Bollinger led some long drives to do his part to stay in the battle to run the offense. From Day 1, Jackson has said the days of rotating quarterbacks is over at CMU.
“We’re going to have one guy. When you’ve got more than one quarterback you don’t have none at all, so there’ll be competition going on,” Jackson said.
Until Air Force announced it will play Army and Navy for the annual Commander-in-Chief trophy, CMU was the only college team in Colorado to commit to playing this fall. The Mountain West and Pac-12 are now discussing returning this fall.
“It puts a target on our back, we have to represent our state right,” Tait said. “We can’t go out there and make fools of ourselves. It’s in everyone’s mind to be Colorado’s team and prove to everyone we deserve to be playing right now and deserve to be the team we want to be.”
The coronavirus pandemic has presented unique challenges, and for the Mavs, part of that was learning new schemes and terminology remotely. With no spring football camp, the coaches taught Xs and Os via Zoom.
“We put in the offense basically through our video conference calls. That was definitely new, I’ve never put in an offense online like that,” Rienks said, laughing.
Now it’s time to transfer Zoom to the field by Oct. 10, when CMU hosts Chadron State at noon.
“We’ve got the Xs and Os down,” Rienks said. “We just need to make plays, get in shape and fly around. Now that we know it, we don’t have to think so much and we can go faster.”
The countdown is on, and the players are counting on each other to make sacrifices so they can play.
“The coaches have preached the whole COVID deal, the whole pandemic, that we have to be smart off the field so that we can be on the field,” Rienks said. “Now that we have games it’s easier. Guys, we have something to actually go do, whereas before we’re doing all this training and we don’t have any reward for it.
“Now I think we can say, this is our reward.”