University of Northern Colorado football coach Ed McCaffrey inherited a program in desperate need of a rebuild. Despite being slightly stymied by COVID-19, McCaffrey believes the signees, particularly transfers, from the 2020 and 2021 classes will put UNC on the right track.
The Bears, when they hopefully take the field this fall, will have a bunch of new faces. Some players have experience at Power Five programs. Many others will be freshman or 2020 signees who missed out on their first year due to the pandemic.
McCaffrey said this mix of experience is exactly what the program needs for short- and long-term success.
“You need that good combination of experience and youth,” McCaffrey said on Thursday during a virtual press conference. “You need your youth to build your program, but if you want to win, you need guys that have some kind of game experience.”
McCaffrey said the ideal roster situation would be to sign players right after high school and develop them until graduation. Teams could then add new recruits each year that would follow a similar path and provide consistency within the program. That’s not really how it is anymore, though.
The rookie coach said “that ship has sailed” for the majority of college football programs on the FBS and FCS levels, alike.
McCaffrey said there are certain schools — “and you can guess who they are” — that are able to sign top high school talent each year and develop them until the end of their careers. While that’s not the reality for most teams, he still thinks UNC is doing well.
In the last two recruiting classes, UNC has signed Dylan McCaffrey, Kassidy Woods from Washington State, Dylan Thomas from TCU, Lamarius Benson from Central Florida, and several other mid-major or community college transfers.
NCAA rules allow undergraduate transfers with at least two years of eligibility that drop from FBS — think Power Five and Group of Five schools — to FCS or junior college programs to play immediately.
Graduate transfers who have completed their undergraduate degrees can play immediately, though they still have to adhere to the NCAA’s eligibility clock.
For example, McCaffrey’s son, Dylan, will finish his undergraduate degree at Michigan this spring. He is expected to play at UNC immediately due to his status as a grad transfer. He has two years remaining on his eligibility clock that can be used.
“Ideally, you’d love to get the best players possible and hold onto them for four or five years, but they can leave now whenever they think there’s greener grass,” McCaffrey said of current transfer rules. “But we can accept players who think there’s greener grass at UNC. I think the players are used to that, it’s a little more transient, but we’ve been blessed that it’s been a positive for us.”
McCaffrey expects the transfers and long-time Northern Colorado players to not only have success on the field, but he already sees their impact among their teammates. This should help the program for years past the transfers’ careers.
“Thank goodness we have a lot of leaders on this team who have already taken some of our younger players under their wings already and will hopefully be mentors to the young men coming into our program next season,” McCaffrey said.
Spring practice is expected to begin in the coming weeks. UNC opted out of the Big Sky Conference season due to safety concerns. It plans to schedule a few — likely two or three — regional scrimmages before summer break.