The initial shock was starting to wear off Monday afternoon for Colorado Mesa football players, who are once again without a coach.

After only two seasons, Tremaine Jackson abruptly resigned Monday morning to become the head coach at Valdosta State.

For the upperclassmen, it’s yet another coaching change just as they’ve settled into Jackson’s program. Senior running back Isaac Maestas said the biggest question, other than who the new coach will be, is how to keep the team together in the meantime.

“It’s tricky, because a lot of dudes came here to play for him, and who knows if they stay,” the Palisade High School product said. “That’s the tricky part. If we can get a lot of people to stay and buy in, we can push through this adversity.

“This is about us and always will be. (Coaches) can leave whenever, but I think if we can do (stick together), we can get past this. You can’t blame players for leaving because of this situation and there might be some dudes that will decommit, people who are here will maybe want to leave to go play for Coach Jack. That’s part of it.”

Jackson said Monday he hadn’t planned to pull up stakes at CMU, but when Valdosta State, which reached the Division II national championship game this past season, contacted him, it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“When you have a chance, when they call you to go somewhere where football is the premier sport, and it’s invested in that way, you’ve really got to take a look at that,” he said.

Another blow to CMU’s program is that the majority of the coaching staff will be going with Jackson to Valdosta State, a common practice, but it will leave the football team with a skeleton staff at best during the crucial recruiting period. The midyear transfer recruiting period ends in mid-January — Jackson said a dozen transfers have signed with the Mavs — and national signing day is Feb. 2, when high school players make their choices official.

Once Valdosta State announced Jackson’s hiring Monday afternoon, CMU announced it will immediately begin a national search for his replacement. Jackson said he had received several calls by midday from coaches inquiring about the job, and the Mavs’ success — 10-3 the past two seasons, including a truncated three-game schedule during the coronavirus pandemic in the fall of 2020.

“Whoever gets this job, I think we’re leaving it better than we found it,” Jackson said.

Mesa ranked No. 13 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 15.6 points per game, this season, and No. 10 in total defense (258.2 yards per game). Led by redshirt freshman quarterback Karst Hunter, one of about two dozen transfers brought in this past season, the Mavs were No. 16 in total offense (452 yards per game) and No. 34 in scoring offense (33.7 points per game).

Jackson said he didn’t think Valdosta State would offer him the job — until it was offered.

“You talk about shocked,” Jackson said. “I thought long and hard about it because I think we weren’t very far off from being able to compete nationally (at CMU). … It took me three days to really lean into this and say, OK, this is something we want to do. I thought about all the faces that I brought here. That was the deal that made me go, ‘ugh, hard to leave those guys.’ ”

Jackson brought plenty of energy to the program, vowing to compete not only for RMAC titles, but at the national level. The pandemic slowed the early momentum, then a deep dive into the transfer portal signaled that Jackson wasn’t content to slowly build from the high school ranks.

CMU went 8-2, including a win over then-No. 3 Colorado School of Mines, which lost to Valdosta State in the national semifinals, this past fall.

“He did a good job coming here and changing the narrative,” said Maestas, who has had a new offensive coordinator every year of his career, “preaching Dedicated to Destiny and D.O.G (discipline, obedience, grit) and for us to believe and buy in and now he’s gone. That’s hard.

“A lot of us are happy for him; it is a business and we wish him luck. It’s a goal in life to keep getting better in your profession, but for us, it does suck that we’re without a coach again.”

Jackson met with the players Monday via Zoom, explaining why he was leaving so suddenly, and said several players called or texted him after the virtual meeting.

“The vision we had, they wanted everybody to get there together,” Jackson said. “I respect that, because we sold and we really believed we could compete for a national championship. I thought we were recruiting that way, I thought we were coaching that way and doing other things off the field. They wanted everybody to get there.”