Once again, RMAC football teams are chasing CSU-Pueblo.
The ThunderWolves received all 10 first-place votes possible in voting of conference coaches in the preseason rankings released Wednesday before the RMAC's annual media day at the Denver Broncos UCHealth Training Center in Denver. CSU-Pueblo received 10 first-place votes and 100 points — coaches cannot vote for their own teams.
Colorado Mesa is picked fourth, behind Colorado School of Mines, which received the other first-place vote, and Chadron State. The Mavericks, 7-4 a year ago, 6-4 in conference play, will feature a new quarterback and new faces in the backfield when they report to practice next month.
The Mavericks opened up the quarterback competition in the spring after Eystin Salum graduated, with senior Rope Ruel having the most experience. Sophomores Aaron Howard and Hayden Bollinger also had outstanding spring camps, with the competition for playing time likely going right up to the Sept. 7 opener. CMU coach Russ Martin said after spring camp it's possible multiple quarterbacks could play.
"A big question is the spot to be filled at quarterback," Ruel said. "I've been blessed to be behind (Salum) and learn from him these past two years, but the past four years at Colorado Mesa I've prepared every week, even though I know I'm not the guy that's going out there right away. With our position, it's one snap, I've been preparing every week, every season for being one snap away from being that guy."
Jonathan Beverly has graduated and last year's freshman sensation running back, Lake Makakona, was held out of spring practice and is appealing an NCAA suspension. Makakona was prescribed medication after surgery in the offseason that is on the NCAA's banned substance list.
Instead of releasing an preseason all-conference team, RMAC teams submitted "players to watch," with CMU tabbing wide receiver Peter Anderson and safety Darian Turner.
Anderson, the speedy wideout who set CMU single-season records in receptions with 67 and receiving yards with 1,344, had eight straight games with more than 100 receiving yards, is poised for another big season.
"I feel like I can showcase a lot more. I feel like I got targeted quite a bit, but I feel I can be incorporated into the offense a lot more, and that's something we're going to try to do this year," Anderson said. "I've been working a lot this summer and we've only got a couple more weeks until we're back on campus, so I'm excited to get started."
Turner is back at safety after missing all of last season with a knee injury sustained over the summer. The 2017 All-RMAC honorable mention defensive back was third in tackles with 67 and had three interceptions.
Getting Turner back is a boon for the defense, which will also get Devonte Loggins, who redshirted last season after transferring, and will join DaMar'ren Mitchell in what could become one of the best secondaries CMU has had in years.
"Fourteen months I've been out just rehabbing, focusing on getting back on the field and being the leader I should be for the younger guys on the team," Turner said. "There's a lot of pressure coming off the injury, something that could end your carer. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity to play with these guys and the rest of the guys on the team I've been with five years. There's nothing I'm afraid of in terms of my injury, I'm just focused and ready to get back on the field with my guys."