Longmont High School’s leading linebacker during the 2011 season, Cris Chacon has had to start over from scratch since joining the Division-III ranks in 2012.
Searching for his niche with the North Central College Cardinals, one of the top Division III programs in the nation located in suburban Chicago, Chacon is rapidly making a name for himself as one of the squad’s top special teams players. Still only a sophomore, the former Trojans linebacker feels like he’s progressing at an acceptable pace early on.
“Freshman year I just served as a backup linebacker. This year I have a starting role on special teams,” Chacon said. “I’ve embraced it. It’s the best opportunity I’ve got right now so I’m focused on playing hard, doing my job and making plays.”
The undefeated Cardinals won the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin title this season, tying a CCIW record with their eighth consecutive conference championship. Ranked fourth in D-III by the latest American Football Coaches Association poll, the Cardinals will host Albion College (8-2) in the first round of the national championship tournament at 11 a.m. (MST) Saturday.
Playing special teams and reserve linebacker, Chacon has made 13 tackles in seven games this year. Left out of last year’s playoffs after the roster was cut down prior to the tournament, Chacon has cemented his spot in this year’s postseason lineup.
With his playing career beginning to develop and a playoff appearance on the horizon, Chacon is enjoying the D-III football life.
“I think D-III is really underrated because we have such a great program here,” Chacon said. “I’m really excited about the playoffs. Last year I was a little bummed out that I didn’t get to go last year. I’m just really focused on my practice. All the teams are really good now and we have finals next week so everyone’s got to focus up.”
Though it may seem a secondary role, playing special teams for the Cardinals is a good way to make an impression. Head coach John Thorne himself also coaches the special teams.
Little escapes Thorne’s observing eyes, and Chacon’s ability has not gone unnoticed.
“He’s a fabulous, fabulous young man,” Thorne said. “He’s on our special teams unit and has played extremely well. He’s a very coachable player and we just love the guy. We’re very pleased he decided to come to North Central College.”
Though he also plays on kick and punt returns, Chacon excels on kick and punt coverage. This isn’t a major surprise for a linebacker who would rather tackle than block.
Chacon led the Trojans with 100 tackles and had five sacks his senior year at Longmont High in 2011. He also forced four fumbles and had an interception. During his sophomore season in 2009 he played in the Class 4A state title game against Heritage.
Apart from his development as a special teams contributor, Thorne said he has been impressed by Chacon’s dedication to the team off the field. For example, Chacon is a big part of organizing the Cardinals’ football bible study group through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“It’s just a great opportunity for them to share their stories and talk about things that are going on in football and in their lives,” Thorne said.
Chacon said he has kept up with the Longmont Trojans since graduating and was watching current player Logan Goodner’s Twitter feed during the Trojans’ 38-27 first-round playoff loss to Pueblo South.
He hasn’t forgotten his Trojans roots. But looking forward, Chacon’s future looks promising with the Cardinals.
“We’ve got two more years with him so we’re expecting big things,” Thorne said.
Follow Brad on Twitter at twitter.com/BradCochi