Season Preview: Colorado School of Mines Football

Ask new Colorado School of Mines head football coach Brandon Moore about the biggest game on this year’s schedule, and he won’t hesitate: Dec. 17, in McKinney, Texas, the Division II national championship . “That’s the goal, from day one of this season,” says Moore, who was named the Orediggers’ head coach in January. “The expectation of everyone around me is to win and win now.”

The Mines are coming off their best year in program history, a 12-2 record, their third straight Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) championship and a season that ended one game away from the title showdown. Today, the Orediggers sit in the top five in the national preseason rankings, are once again favorites to win the RMAC title, and have become a major player within the DII ranks.

That’s saying something for a school where academics, not athletics, rule. “This is a unique environment,” says Michael Zeman, Mines star running back and All-American, who will graduate in December with a master’s degree in engineering and technology management. Recruits are limited within the Oredigger program, largely due to the university’s rigorous academic standards. (The team has just one transfer this season, for the same reason.) There are no major dealings of names, images and likenesses between the most notable players. And of the more than 100 student-athletes on the team, about two-thirds had a summer internship this year. That includes Zeman, who worked 9 to 5 for a bridge engineering company while maintaining a daily schedule of lifting weights before and after work. “Mines is not a program for everyone,” says Moore, who led the Mines defense before taking on the head coaching role. “The children understand why they are here: they want a degree, they want to be good students and they want to be engineers. Football is for them a way to defend something else. Football is an outlet, something they are really passionate about. My children are built differently.”

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So is Moore, who replaced veteran head coach Gregg Brandon, who retired shortly after his team lost to Valdosta State in the DII semifinals, 34-31. Not only has Moore been responsible for putting together one of DII’s strongest defenses, but he also brings a championship mentality to a program that has been on the verge of a football breakthrough for nearly half a decade. Once a standout linebacker at the University of Oklahoma who helped lead his team to a national title in 2002, he spent six seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and has two years of NFL coaching experience. When he arrived at Golden in 2016, Moore admits he was skeptical when Brandon made winning a national championship the primary goal of the Colorado School of Mines football program. Now, he says, “Everyone has agreed. I hope to turn this into a legacy.”

football player for the Colorado School of Mines
Photo courtesy of the Colorado School of Mines

At Grand Valley State University (Mich.), Sept. 1: A non-conference matchup between two of DII’s best programs to start the season, these teams enter the year ranked in the top five in the nation. A win would set the tone for the likely deep march to the playoffs for the Colorado School of Mines football team.

3 players to watch

Michael Zeman, running back: The Wheat Ridge native and former Holy Family High School standout was a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, awarded to the top DII player in the nation. The All-American not only racked up 26 touchdowns last season, Zeman is also a workhorse: He averaged nearly 25 carries per game en route to 1,608 scrimmage yards.

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John Matocha, quarterback: A senior from Magnolia, Texas, the dual-threat quarterback casually turned in 38 touchdown passes, for just eight interceptions, and rushed for another seven touchdowns last season for the Orediggers. Nationally, Matocha ranked 3rd in DII in completion percentage (.681), 8th in passing efficiency, 5th in passing touchdowns, and 15th in passing yards (3,105).

Nolan Reeve, linebacker: This preseason All-American from Mission Viejo, Calif., led the Mines last season with 75 tackles and 10.5 sacks and helped anchor one of DII’s most aggressive defenses. Nominated for the Cliff Harris Award, given to the best defensive player from a small college in the country, Reeve recently earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

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