Following the 2019 season, the Northern Colorado football program made the decision to go in a different direction.
After nine years with Earnest Collins Jr. at the helm, the Bears hired former Denver Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey as head coach, turning the page to a new era.
Add in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Bears go into this season basically hitting the restart button on the program.
Leading up to preseason camp, BuffZone.com will preview each of Colorado’s 2021 opponents and in this first installment, we look at the UNC Bears.
McCaffrey was hired on Dec. 12, 2019, and is still waiting to coach his first game with the Bears, who have overhauled the roster since they last played. UNC went 2-10 in 2019 and then didn’t play this past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Football Championship Subdivision season was canceled last fall and then the Bears opted out of the spring season to focus on this fall.
McCaffrey doesn’t have any college coaching experience, but he’s a big name that has brought some energy to the program. It’s also brought some attention from transfers, as UNC has 17 players on the roster who previously played at Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
“We brought in a significant number of players with FBS experience to add to our roster, and also guys who love football and are in it for the right reasons,” McCaffrey said during a virtual press conference in February. “They want to have some success and they all believe that’s going to happen here and so do I.”
Headlining the list of newcomers is McCaffrey’s son, Dylan, who transferred from Michigan and is expected to start at quarterback.
“I think he gives us a wealth of experience and a ton of talent,” McCaffrey said of his son. “We also have some weapons for him that were on the team and that we brought in. I think that’s one of the reasons he decided to choose us over some other schools.
“He wanted to come home, wanted to live in Colorado, wanted to play at UNC. As a coach, obviously, I’m extremely thrilled because he makes us, I think, a whole lot better, but also as a father, it’s a really cool experience being able to coach your son.”
In addition to Dylan McCaffrey, the Bears added former Michigan running back Tru Wilson and receivers from Washington State (Kassidy Woods), TCU (Dylan Thomas) and Akron (Jonah Morris).
Defensively, the Bears have added linebackers Xander Gagnon (from Duke) and RJ Potts (Cincinnati), defensive back Komotay Koffie (from New Mexico State) and others.
UNC also has three former Buffs on the roster, with defensive lineman Tava Finau and defensive backs Uryan Hudson and Dustin Johnson.
“We brought in all kinds of players that are going to help us,” coach McCaffrey said. “Some will help us right away. Others we’ll have to get into our weight room and put on a little muscle and develop. You’ve got to become stronger physically, mentally and emotionally to play at the next level.”
In April, the Bears shook off a bit of rust with scrimmages against CSU-Pueblo and Chadron State.
“Spring ball was a good time for us,” Jaren Mitchell, the Bears leading receiver in 2019, said after the scrimmage against Chadron State. “We got to get together, get our chemistry right, worked on the things that we needed to get done.”
There’s a lot to be done at UNC, which was 28-72 under Collins, including 7-26 in the last three seasons. Initially, there won’t be many expectations this year, either. Lindy’s magazine projected the Bears to finish 10th in the 13-team Big Sky Conference.
The path to turning it around starts in Boulder on Sept. 3.
“I don’t feel like anybody is counting on us to do anything, but when I was hired here, I was hired because I was given a vote of confidence by our president and our athletic director who said they would invest in this program and they would help me create a winning culture,” coach McCaffrey said. “We prepare to be the best we can be to give ourselves a chance to win a championship. That’s the goal; that’ll always be the goal. A lot of people are laughing. I’m hoping they’re not laughing at the end of the season.”
Northern Colorado Bears
Date with CU: Sept. 3, 7 p.m., at Folsom Field in Boulder
Head coach: Ed McCaffrey, 1st year
Series: Colorado leads 10-2
Bears in 2019: 2-10, 2-6 in Big Sky Conference
Offensive players to watch:
- TE Robert Gillum, Sr., 6-5, 260 (Transfer from Illinois State; 2019: started 15 games)
- QB Dylan McCaffrey, Sr., 6-5, 220 (Transfer from Michigan; 2019: 10-of-20, 116 yards, 1 TD)
- WR Jaren Mitchell, So., 5-10, 184 (2019: 48 rec., 740 yards, 2 TD)
- WR Jonah Morris, Sr., 6-4, 215 (Transfer from Akron)
- WR Dylan Thomas, 6-1, 200 (Transfer from TCU; 2019: 8 rec., 121 yards, 1 TD)
- RB Tru Wilson, Sr., 5-10, 200 (Transfer from Michigan; 2019: 44 att., 221 yards, 1 TD)
- WR Kassidy Woods, So., 6-4, 225 (Transfer from Washington State; 2019: 6 rec., 58 yards)
Defensive players to watch:
- LB Jace Bobo, Jr., 6-1, 221 (2019: 54 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INT)
- DL Germaine Carmena, Jr., 6-5, 385 (Transfer from Coffeyville C.C.; 2019: 39 tackles, 0.5 sacks)
- LB Xander Gagnon, Sr., 6-3, 235 (Transfer from Duke; 2019: 12 games, 8 tackles)
- DB Aaron Harris, Jr., 6-0, 192 (2019: 54 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries)
- DB Jerone Jackson, Sr., 5-10, 188 (2019: 105 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 PBU
- DB Komotay Koffie, Sr., 6-1, 190 (Transfer from New Mexico State; 2019: 2 games, 4 tackles)
- LB RJ Potts, Jr., 6-2, 230 (Transfer from Cincinnati; 2019: 9 games, 7 tackles)
Notable: The season-opening matchup will mark the college coaching debut for McCaffrey, who most recently was the head coach at Valor Christian High School. … McCaffrey played receiver in the NFL for 13 years (1991-2003), including nine seasons with the Denver Broncos. With the Broncos, he caught 462 passes for 6,200 yards and 46 touchdowns, while helping them win two Super Bowls. … For three of McCaffrey’s seasons with the Broncos (2000-02), his position coach was Karl Dorrell, now the head coach of the Buffs. … CU won the last meeting, 41-21, at Folsom Field on Sept. 16, 2017. That was the first matchup between the Buffs and Bears since 1934. … Dylan McCaffrey played in 13 games at Michigan, going 18-of-35 for 242 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 166 yards and two scores. … Tru Wilson was a four-time letterman at Michigan, rushing for 585 yards in his last two years with the Wolverines. … Jonah Morris missed the 2019 season with injury, but started all 12 games in 2018, catching 26 passes for 381 yards.