GREELEY, CO – The University of Northern Colorado Bears football team signed 20 players for the new season. In a town that once saw back-to-back National Championships (Division II) in football success has been asleep at best. Since the premature jump to Division I (FCS) to save the university of financial disaster, the football team has suffered immensely while other teams found winning ways.
Coach Earnest Collins Jr. took his best shot at revitalizing the program with higher recruiting, a focus on academic success, and establishing integrity. The missing piece was consistent winning. Although UNC could knock out ranked teams one week, the very next they would be suffering a three-score loss to a lesser opponent.
Despite his best efforts, Coach Collins could not string together more than two 6-5 seasons in his time at UNC. Success is a novel, but an evasive concept for the Bears. With the Ed McCaffrey hire it has inspired excitement and hope that this next era will be one full of success. Kicking this new era off McCaffrey started it right by hiring his new staff and signing 20 players for the new season.
National Signing Day Players: 20
Early Signing Players: 3
Mid-Year Transfers: 2
Offense: 15 Defense: 10
The incoming class seems to address many of the needs and concerns of the last season. Some of the additions include enough for a new o-line, a new receiving core, four new linebackers, and several talented individuals at other positions.
This class is the most talented yet for the Bears. According to 24/7 Sports, UNC gains three 3-stars and two 2-stars players (rated out of 5-Stars). These five players are in the top 20 highest recruits of 24/7 Sports all-time commit list for UNC.
As UNC struggles for wins and a new identity there will be plenty of building blocks for the Bears to work with. Among the incoming class are two quarterbacks who could make a big impact on the Bears. Jacob Knipp finally graduated from UNC after six years and now looks to find some NFL shot out there for him as scouts visited UNC throughout the year.
Nate Overholt was the 2018-2019 Oregon Gatorade High School Player of the Year and transfers from Tyler Junior College after just one season. His versatile frame of 6’2″ 210 lbs and 40 yard dash time of 4.76 should make him a dangerous addition to the team. In high school, he broke his school’s touchdown passing record with 59 touchdowns in a season.
Andrew Brister is the other quarterback who McCaffrey recruited out of high school from Monroe, Louisana. Brister is the son of NFL veteran Bubby Brister who played 15 years of professional football. His size will give him a unique advantage over the current roster quarterbacks as Brister will be the tallest of them at 6’5″ and 198 lbs. Brister chose Northern Colorado over Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana, Nicholls and Jacksonville State.
This could be time for UNC to try to create a multi-year starter as Connor Martin is the most seasoned quarterback as a Junior and three others are redshirt freshmen. While Martin has experience over the other candidates his pocket awareness and arm strength leave improvement to be desired. Depending on how McCaffrey structures his offense there is more potential for a dynamic offense this year.
The five ranked players UNC was able to persuade to UNC should make instant impacts on the team. Jasiah Snow-Marshall (3-Star WR, 6’1″ 209 lbs.), Elijah Wade (3-Star LB, 6’3″ 235 lbs.), RJ Potts (3-Star Transfer LB/S, 6’2″ 231 lbs.), Austin Lawrence (2-Star OL, 6’5″ 280 lbs.), and Jihad Marks (2-Star WR, 6’1″ 189 lbs).
Jasiah Snow-Marshall is a talented receiver from Tacoma, Washington that may be able to fill the role that Alex Wesley once did at UNC. This never-give-up receiver is athletic, aware, and determined to be a threat. 24/7 Sports grades him as an 81 and he turned down two offers from Georgetown and Western Colorado (D2). Other interested teams were Eastern Washington, Montana, Montana State, NAU, Washington (FBS), and Washington State (FBS).
RJ Potts is a big-time safety transfer from the University of Cincinnati (FBS). It looks like Potts did not get adequate playing time for the Bearcats and now looks to make an impact on a smaller stage of Division I. When he was originally being recruited he had FBS offers from Cincinnati, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Purdue, and Norte Dame. Other interested FBS teams included Michigan, Minnesota, NC State, and Tennessee. 24/7 Sports originally gave him an 87 rating.
Elijah Wade is a pro-size linebacker ready to add hard-hitting to the defense. Wade turned down an offer from Dixie State (D2). Austin Lawrence will also add much-needed size to the offensive line in the fall. Lawrence turned down two Division II offers from Central Washington and Simon Fraser, as well as interest from Eastern Washington and Wyoming (FBS). Rounding out the ranked portion of the recruiting class is Jihad Marks playing receiver as a 2-Star. His brother played for Big Sky foe NAU who was interested in him along with Idaho, South Dakota State, and UTEP (FBS).
The New Staff
New Head Coach Ed McCaffrey was signed just two months ago and has the program geared up to be his pet project for the foreseeable future. In the press conference, McCaffrey said this is a special place to him and he wants to see it succeed. In order to make that happen McCaffrey is customizing his staff to exactly how he wants it. A recent move included moving on from running back coach and talent recruiter Brandon Maguire as “coach wanted to go in a different direction” according to Maguire’s Twitter post.
The staff includes predominantly acquaintances of McCaffrey that he believes in, especially the new receivers coach named Max something… (McCaffrey). Michael Armour at tight ends coach is the last surviving coach of the Earnest Collins Jr. era at UNC after Maguire’s departure. The staff consists of a hodgepodge of high school, college, and professionally experienced coaches.
Dave Baldwin, McCaffrey’s position coach at Stanford, will join the staff as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after coaching WR/TE at Oregon State in 2015-2017. Baldwin, a Denver native, has coached up and down California, around the Mountain West, and a few other stops along the way since 1978. Stanford, San Jose State, Michigan State, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Utah State, and junior colleges in California are part of his various experiences around college football.
Scott Darnell, McCaffrey’s defensive coordinator at Valor Christian High, will join the Bears as the defensive coordinator. Together at Valor Christian, they won the 2018 Colorado 5A State Championship (highest division in Colorado high school football). Darnell has a long history of high school coaching since 1997 and this will be his first time as a college coordinator.
Tony Coaxum played corner for Army in 2009-2014 before going on to become a college and NFL special teams coach. He will be the Bears special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach. Coaxum has helped coach special teams with the Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Central Michigan, and the University of Kansas. During his time with the Broncos Coaxumwas a part of the Super Bowl 50 win.
Daryl Moe, a former Colorado high school football coach as well, will join the staff as an assistant coach for the Bears. He has coached alongside Scott Darnell multiple times over the years, but primarily on the offensive side of the ball. Moe also coached at the same high school that Nate Overholt graduated from. Coincidence or foreshadowing for the future of the quarterback position at UNC? Spring ball may give us that confirmation if it is Overholt vs. Connor Martin for the starting job unless one of the redshirt freshmen or Andrew Brister outplays their lack of experience.
Michael Armour has been a coach at UNC for over 10 years now in various offensive roles. Primarily, Armour has helped develop slot receivers and tight ends in UNC’s spread offense. Another notable role Armour has been recognized for is his ability to persuade local recruits to play for UNC. His talents may be getting called on even more with the departure of Brandon Maguire. Whether or not McCaffrey will delegate that recruiting role away from a position coach has not been able to be confirmed as a new running back coach is still a need before the new season.
Max McCaffrey, Ed’s oldest son, will join the staff as a receivers position coach. This will be Max’s first coaching experience as he has played for three NFL teams and currently in the XFL. He was also a team captain and leading receiver during his time at Duke University. Max’s collegiate and professional experience could translate quite well into developing talent receivers at UNC.
My name is Ben Schleiger and I’m your representative for the Big Sky Conference. I have done work for multiple newspapers and sports blogs including The Johnstown Breeze, The University of Northern Colorado Mirror, and Mile High Maniac. I am a proud alumnus of the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Political Science. In my free time, I like watching sports, playing video games, and trying new foods.