Brandon Crosby was hard at work recruiting before he was named the interim head coach of the Fort Lewis College football team Jan. 16. He was busy selling potential incoming players on himself and his philosophies. Players were listening.
Crosby was named the interim head coach when former head coach Joe Morris left for the defensive coordinator position at West Texas A&M after two seasons leading his alma mater Skyhawks.
During this recruiting period, a buzz began to generate on social media amongst recruits who had already signed with FLC along with those who had given verbal commitments. The talk was of changing the culture of FLC football, a program coming off a 1-9 season with only 11 winning seasons since it was founded in 1963.
During Wednesday’s National Signing Day, Crosby saw 11 players sign National Letters of Intent with FLC to add to the five players who had already committed during the early signing period.
“When I first had my team meeting, I kind of just looked at the team and said, ‘I’m your new head coach.’ They all stood up and cheered, clapped, screaming and yelling,” Crosby said. “During recruiting, social media has been a good avenue for us. We’ve got some young coaches that are doing a good job of marketing what we have and what’s good about Durango.”
Crosby has chosen not to focus on what the FLC football program doesn’t have when it comes to facilities, a stadium and resources comparable to the top teams in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
“These kids are coming to play for me and my coaches,” Crosby said. “We sell ourselves. We don’t need to sell a weight room, a stadium. We sell the town, the school, academics and the human beings they are going to be coached by. It has a lot more to do with it than people think.”
With the current class at 16 players, Crosby said he will continue to recruit up until Aug. 1 to solidify a roster that will lose 16 seniors from a year ago.
Before signing day, Crosby had already secured two transfer quarterbacks in Isaac Leppke from Wyoming and Terrence Trujillo, a Durango High alum who came from Eastern New Mexico. He also signed Ka’Lonn Milton, a defensive back transfer from Fresno State, and Riko Tamasese, a 6-foot-2, 350-pound lineman out of Army. The Skyhawks bulked up with another big man transfer with Devon Taylor from Humboldt State, a 6-3, 335-pound offensive lineman.
Offensive line remained a focus for the Skyhawks during signing day. Of the seven freshmen who signed, four were offensive linemen. The Skyhawks also brought in Darrius Mosley, a 6-5, 295-pound tackle from Trinity Valley Community College who has two years of eligibility remaining.
“It was a huge recruiting class for us up front,” Crosby said. “Historically, I think FLC football’s D-line has always been good, if not great. We have some depth there. But if your O-line isn’t good, your offense isn’t good. We struggled in a variety of ways offensively last year, but when you struggle up front you struggle with your quarterback and running game. It’s a domino effect for the entire offense.
“My main goal, and my offensive line coach’s main goal, was to fill that need, and we’re still going to beat the bushes and find every guy we think can fit our program and move in the right direction.”
The incoming freshmen linemen include Brennan Dibella, a 6-5, 310-pound tackle out of Mead High School in Longmont, and his Mead teammate Preston Hall, a 6-foot, 260-pound guard. The men from Mead are joined by AJ Ortez, a 6-2, 275-pound guard from Arvada West High School, and Ethan Vlchek, a 6-3, 275-pound tackle from Legend High School in Parker.
The Skyhawks brought in a pair of transfer running backs to run behind the beefy new linemen, headlined by junior Emmanuel Nwosu of Santa Barbara City College. The 6-foot, 225-pound running back totaled 2,055 all-purpose yards to go with 18 touchdowns in junior college. He as a two-time all-conference and all-state player. Nwosu is originally out of Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, Calif. He was a two-time all-league soccer player and team MVP and was all-league and all-city in football, as he had 1,300 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns his senior season.
“I actually recruited (Nwosu) last year, but he was one class short so we couldn’t get him at the last second,” Crosby said. “I developed a good relationship with him. My O-line coach (Jeff Nady) was joking the other day, and we’ve just got a gut feeling that the kid is going to come in here and tear the RMAC up. Not a lot of kids walk around at 225 and move like him. It’s a huge get for us.”
FLC also signed Jeff Hansen, a 5-10, 205-pound running back out of El Camino College. The junior is originally from Bothell High in Washington.
“Hansen is a mixture of power but can also play the slot,” Crosby said. “With Nwosu and Hansen, it’s definitely a thunder and lightning combo back there.”
FLC also signed freshman running back Evan Walsh out of Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument. The first-team all-state running back is a three-sport athlete for the Rangers. Last season, Walsh ran for 1,545 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also had a receiving touchdown and was the team’s top kick returner.
The Skyhawks signed Drake Cortez, a 6-foot, 170-pound wide receiver out of Brighton High School. In 10 games, Cortez had 65 receptions in 10 games for 1,003 yards and five touchdowns. He also ran for a score.
Fred Mady III rounded out the FLC freshmen who signed Wednesday. The 6-2, 225-pound linebacker out of La Cueva High School in Albuquerque has long been regarded one of the top linebackers in New Mexico as a two-time all-state selection who helped lead the Bears to a state championship in 2018. He’s a standout student with all-academic awards to go with his on-field accolades that include a 2018 All-USA New Mexico Football Team selection.
The Skyhawks did add another defensive lineman with Michael Tuggle Jr. out of Fresno City College. The 6-3, 255-pounder out of Rampart totaled 31 tackles and 2½ sacks last season in nine games as a sophomore.
“We are moving forward 100 percent,” Crosby said. “Even with our spring workouts right now, we’re a better team than we were after last year, from the quarterback position to O-line. We got some great guys coming in with this signing day class. We are better, and there’s more to build on. We gotta make sure we get some more pieces together, stay healthy and keep everyone moving in the direction of changing the culture. I truly believe we have a good opportunity to shake things up next season.”