Top Colorado Springs-area prep football players make annual migration south to D2 powerhouse at CSU-Pueblo

Photo - Mitchell's Quindell Bryant is signing with NCAA Division II powerhouse CSU-Pueblo.  Photo by Spotlight Sports Photography

Mitchell's Quindell Bryant is signing with NCAA Division II powerhouse CSU-Pueblo. Photo by Spotlight Sports Photography

It's a veritable rite of February.

Go south, young man.

That's music to the ears of those selling the 9-year-old football program at Colorado State-Pueblo, one that's become a perennial powerhouse, highlighted by a Division 2 national championship in 2014.

The squad has prided itself with its largely Southern Colorado contingent, and that grew by three Wednesday with the additions of Mitchell linebacker Quindell Bryant, and Fountain-Fort Carson's Djimon O'Neil, a wide receiver, and walk-on quarterback Jace Christian.

"I think recruiting locally is vital to our program," said coach John Wristen, who has been in charge of the program since its rebirth in 2008 after a 24-year hiatus. "We want to be the Colorado school that all these guys are thinking about. So few guys can go Division 1, so we want them thinking about CSU-Pueblo."

Bryant, a Pueblo native, moved to Colorado Springs prior to his freshman year at Mitchell.

Now, he's ready for a reunion, in more ways than one.

"When I went on my visit, I saw so many former players and a lot of competition I played against at camps," said Bryant, a 6-foot, 197-pound linebacker who led the Marauders with 81 tackles last season. "It helps to know people, and I'll also get to see the friends I grew up with. I was pretty upset about moving, but I'm glad to be headed back."

O'Neil, a 6-5 wide receiver, caught 23 passes from Christian last season for 285 yards and four touchdowns and earned honors as first-team punter on The Gazette's 5A-4A all-area team after averaging 37.9 yards per kick.

Christian threw for 742 yards and six touchdowns during the 2016 season.

Jake Novotny, who just completed his first season at Fountain-Fort Carson, spent the previous five-plus years as an assistant coach at CSU-Pueblo, and has witnessed firsthand the recruiting process to attract players who don't fit the D1 mold.

"Their recruiting philosophy is to control the state and make sure they're going to win the state in recruiting," Novotny said. "We were in every school in the state that played 11-man football, twice a year. It's paying off, especially locally. I think Denver is over-recruited, but not every school goes through Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Local kids wanting to stay local is always a good thing."

And winning helps, too. The ThunderWolves, besides winning the whole thing, have a gaudy 68-9 record since winning their first Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title in 2011, in just their fourth season since starting from scratch.

"All we've done is validate the dream of who we are and what we want to do," Wristen said. "With our history, the kids are very excited about coming here. We get great support from Southern Colorado, and they'll get a great degree on top of the experience they'll get on the field. What more could they ask for?"