Even in the heart of Black Hills gold country in Spearfish, South Dakota, Black Hills State head football coach John Reiners has been doing a lot of heavy mining in Boulder and Broomfield counties for talent.
In a honest example of commitment, those same young kids from schools such as Legacy, Silver Creek and Broomfield have endured some pretty ugly seasons on the Yellow Jackets gridiron only to see their 2016 campaign — so far — to be one that has been quite memorable.
In all eyes, Saturday afternoon's 48-34 win against Colorado Mesa figures to be one of the school's most historical upsets. But Black Hills State, 0-11 last year, is no fluke after improving to 5-1 overall.
Legacy's contributions include leading tailback Phydell Paris, starting defensive back Drew Hebel and starting offensive lineman Aaron Montoya. Silver Creek's Trey Fleming, who was doing everything including placekicking, is currently injured but should be back in the mix soon, and the Raptors also are represented by Zane Lindsey and Ben Sjobakken. Broomfield true freshman Jack Burgesser is also on the roster.
It's quite a group of Colorado kids in general — 36 overall — but you'd be hard pressed to find another region recruited more heavily by one out-of-state school than BoCo has been by Reiners.
"When we first got into the (NCAA Division II Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference), we really realized right away that we had to hit Colorado," Reiners, the fifth-year BHSU head coach, said earlier this week. "It really is nice that we have a beautiful campus up here — we're not the Rocky Mountains but we are the next best thing. Kids can come up here from out-of-state and feel in a familiar place, but then we go to our away games and they're right there in their own backyard. It's been great.
"But we've really found good football down there and there are well-coached football teams down there. We got guys like Phydell and Trey ... and you see them have success and it starts to form a bit of a pipeline. That leads to getting Montoya, a Zane Lindsey, Sjobakken. There are a ton of kids having success."
Fairly new to RMAC, the Yellow Jackets have had three seasons in a row that Paris and Fleming would just as soon forget (prior to 2015, the team was also just 3-8 in back-to-back seasons). At the same time, though, it's been seen as a means to an end for the pair of redshirt juniors.
"One of the biggest things they told us when they were recruiting us was that (the program) was new and young, and that meant we were going to get opportunities early on and we took advantage of that to get where we are," said Fleming, who had 14 receptions, 217 receiving yards, one touchdown, 12 extra points and four field goals the first four games of this year. "(Staying the course) was a huge part of it. We came in as the second NCAA recruiting class for this program, so from the start it was almost a mindset that yes there might be a rough start to it overall but we were hoping all along to be the guys to help bring things up. It's been a rough ride from the beginning but it feels great to get it going now."
"It's everybody being bought in to one goal, and it just feels like there's a lot less selfishness this year. I mean, any one of us can have a big game at any time, defensively, offensively, we need everyone," Paris said just a couple days after setting a school record with 244 yards rushing against New Mexico Highlands. "It's been all 57 guys on this team and it's a family we've tried to create since the beginning."
The Yellow Jackets have won every which way when outcomes may have been quite different a year or two ago. On the road at Adams State, it was a stop on a 2-point conversion that led to a 34-33 win; the very next week at Fort Lewis, the offense drove 77 yards on 14 plays for a game-winning drive and a 39-36 win.
Those two wins opened the season in a positive manner, and Saturday's win over the Mavericks really solidified the high ceiling for what is really still a young team with only 11 seniors. Colorado Mesa came in 5-0 and is regarded as one of the division's heavy hitters.
"There's just a new feeling that this is a new beginning for us, and we just hope we can keep it rolling," Fleming said.
"Having a couple of close games and actually being on the right side of those, I think that's propelled us to a new level," Paris added. "We're really trusting the system, trusting the scheme and the players around us. That's helped us through the course of each and every game."
Reiners hasn't just reached out to BoCo for players — former Fairview coaches Evan Eastburn and Ben Lewien are serving as offensive coordinator and linebackers coaches, respectively — for him.
The Yellow Jackets have a tough road ahead with CSU-Pueblo and Colorado Mines still heading up their way to play in the coming weeks, but Reiners and his team certainly have the compass pointing north.
"It's just so gratifying because I'm a real believer in finishing what you start and that you're committed to something," Reiners said. "This group of seniors, juniors and (redshirt) sophomores, the commitment level they've shown has been unbelievable.
"You play football, you play sports, to win. But there are also things that are bigger than that. They are an outstanding group of young men who are family to each other. They proved it last year and have changed the course of where this team is going."