HIGHLANDS RANCH -- When looking at the hotbed states for Division I football recruits, Colorado is not the first state that comes to mind. States like California and Texas often take the spotlight and are highlighted as the areas that are deepest in talent.
But in 2014, those Friday night lights are shining a little brighter than usual in the Rocky Mountains. On National Signing Day 46 high school seniors from Colorado committed to play for Division I schools (FBS and FCS). This is the highest total for the state since 2008 when 38 kids signed with D-I schools.
It’s hard to point to a single factor as to the reason for the increase in signees this year as opposed to a year ago. The logical explanation seems relatively simple, that this class is simply more talented than those before it.
“It’s incredible. I’ve been saying for the longest time now that I don’t think Colorado gets enough respect at the high school level,” Valor Christian running back Christian McCaffrey said. “It’s just so exciting to look back and see how far Colorado football has come and now we’re right there with everyone else in competition.”
But the reality of it just being an exceptional class may not be that clear cut. In recent years, there have been many factors that have led to the rise of talent in Colorado high school football. Specifically in the Denver region, the high school growth has become obvious in the last decade. Schools such as Valor Christian and ThunderRidge that have become dominant in the last several years have also regularly produced college-level talent on an annual basis.
“As (the state’s) population increases, yes I think Colorado is going to produce more and more college-bound football players,” Cherokee Trail head coach Monte Thelen said. “It’s the work of the young men, whether it be at a high school or a workout facility or wherever that work happens, it puts them in a position to earn Division I scholarships.”
Specialized training regimens have also found their place when it comes to college recruits. On top of training current NFL players, Niwot High School alum and former CU Buff and Denver Bronco Matt McChesney also trains and looks for opportunities for Colorado high school football players.
McChesney’s connections through his time at CU and in the NFL has made him a lifeline for players to turn to when it comes to seeking out opportunities to continue playing at the next level. As a Colorado kid himself, he is perhaps one of the biggest advocates for the players in his home state.
“I personally think every class is underrated because people look at Colorado high school football -- from a national perspective -- and they think it’s about five to 10 years behind from what I've heard from Division I head coaches that I have talked to,” McChesney said. “But the development of players in this state has gotten better through my facility and a couple of others out there with guys who know what it takes to play at that level.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Colorado’s college signees is the diversity that this deep class provides on the field. Offensive line is by far the deepest position this season with 15 players signed to Division I schools, but the rest class is spread out pretty evenly as it amounts to positions.
Players like McCaffrey and Evan White out of Cherokee Trail might put spotlights on running backs and defensive backs respectively, but the overall field contains balance. That includes several designated athletes throughout the class such as Kalen Ballage (Falcon) and John Freismuth (Loveland).
Simply put, this class is not just deep in the number of commitments, but outside of the offensive line it’s deep in talent across the board. Many factors have led to the impressive numbers for this class, but it all has to start with an opportunity to be seen.
“There are so many kids that can play that (in the past) get overlooked because of opportunity,” McChesney said. “Maybe a coach didn’t go to that high school or maybe their high school coach didn’t think they were a D-I kid when he really is.”
For the players themselves, they’re happy to get the opportunity to continue their football careers, but are aware of just how special this class is.
“There are a lot of good players from not around the metro area,” White said. “There are some great athletes from Colorado Springs and a lot of other great players throughout the state.”
Time will tell whether or not there is something special about this class or the state of Colorado as a whole is trending upwards in terms of Division I talent. The commits this year are spread out among several successful college programs ranging from Navy to Alabama. The in-state schools are doing a great job at keep talent within Colorado as well. It’s becoming a foundation that both high schools and colleges can build on and benefit from, should the upward trend continue.
“I think (the trend will continue), I really do,” McCaffrey said. “I think our class has done a great job at setting the tone of hard work ethic. I know at Valor, our senior class takes pride in really developing our younger guys into becoming possible Division I players and that is just attributed to how hard they work and that aspect of the game.”