The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology football team has found a new home away from home.
While the Hardrocker coaches recruit from all over the country looking for the best possible student-athlete, they have formed a nice pipeline from the state of Arizona. On the 2017 roster, 17 players are from Arizona, along with one assistant coach.
“The bang for your buck when you are down there, the volume of kids, you are bound to find some engineers down there that can play,” Mines head coach Zach Tinker said.
With the need to recruit from across the country, access to certain markets are vital. The Hardrockers got a big boost when Allegiant Air began a direct flight from Rapid City to Mesa, Arizona.
That pipeline began under former head coach Stacey Collins.
“He said, ‘hey, there’s a direct flight that gets us into Mesa, Arizona, on Allegiant Airlines; do you want to recruit Arizona? I said, yes,’” Tinker emphatically remarked.
Arizona high school football has improved in the last 20 years because the population has exploded, said Tinker, who added that there are more high schools in Maricopa County than in South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming combined.
“Some of our best players are from the Black Hills, but volume-wise, there aren’t quite enough aspiring engineers,” said Tinker, whose Hardrockers (1-0) open their home slate Saturday night against Dixie State University.
Mines junior center Robert Schrock came from Mesa and said he really didn’t know where he was going to college or what he wanted to do. His high school head football coach talked to him about engineering, and his second visit by a school came from Mines and Tinker.
“From what he said, it was a completely different culture. You come from a city of a million people and you come down to 70,000, everything is different. And the weather is awesome up here — it’s not hot,” Schrock said with a smile.
Not only were the Mines coaches recruiting Arizona players, but in a way they recruited an assistant coach, Travis Dixon, who was born and raised in Arizona.
“We consciously recruited Travis Dixon to coach for us. Travis is from Chandler and has a great name recognition down there. It is something that we can’t get enough of,” Tinker said.
Dixon said the population and the competition has seen a big boost, and the Hardrockers have been able to get some good players from there.
“The state has grown tremendously just from the football aspect, not just in the East Valley, but in the West side of the state,” Dixon said. “We have guys coming over from all over the place from Flagstaff, all of the way down to Tucson.”
For senior defensive back Isiah McGuire, Tinker first met with him as he was warming up for a basketball game in Peoria.
“Coach Tink pulled me aside and said, ‘hey, can I talk to you for a second?’” McGuire said. “I didn’t know what was going on; I didn’t think I was being recruited. He talked to me about how they wanted me. All through high school I really wanted to be an engineer, but I didn’t know how to go about looking. He showed me that the School of Mines was all about engineering. I jumped right on board.”
McGuire said he got a couple other offers, but they weren’t where he wanted to go nor did they have the majors he was interested in.
“This is where I wanted to be. Coach Tink was talking about family and I really liked that,’ he said.
Tinker and Dixon came to Adrian Perez’s high school in Phoenix. By that time they already had a lot of Arizona players, so they used that to make him feel welcome.
“They told me what I was going to go through, and what to expect,” said Perez, a sophomore defensive lineman. “I didn’t expect it to be this cold, but you get used to it, and it is nice getting away from the heat.”
Other Arizona players on the Mines roster this season include: sophomore defensive back Harrison Beemiller, freshman defensive back James Stewart III, freshman quarterback Christian Singleton, freshman quarterback Thomas Creese, freshman wide receiver Ezzard Carroll, senior defensive lineman Michael Harlan, freshman defensive back Gavin Smith, senior linebacker Jake Fitzgerald, junior linebacker Chris Counce, redshirt freshman Isaac Joseph, freshman offensive lineman Kobey Rushton, sophomore offensive lineman Griffin Facciano, sophomore wide receiver Ian Anderson and redshirt freshman punter Jared Stangler.
The early recruiting in Arizona wasn’t always easy as the Hardrockers had to make a name for themselves. There are no Division II football schools in the state. It’s either junior college for Division I.
“The first time we were down there, they said, ‘what?’ The second time they said, ‘say it again,’” Tinker said. “But now it is routine for those folks to see us down there, and we’re in the mix on the high academic kids. The more the kids you have from down there, the easier it is to recruit kids. It’s a good draw.”
Social media has also helped spread the word.
“It used to be, not long ago, that kids would go away to play college ball and you might hear about it once or twice. Now, you see it immediately, real time, what they are doing,” Tinker said.
Like most of the athletes that come to Mines, the engineering program was a big sell for Perez.
“I wanted to be an engineer and Coach Tink emphasized how big of an engineering school it is here,” he said. “It was one of the big reasons I came here.”
Access to Arizona and back on a direct flight is not only beneficial for the coaches and student-athletes, but it is important for the player’s family to come to Rapid City to watch him play.
The easy access was also important as Perez’s parents made it to most of his games last season, even surprising him with an appearance for one game.
“We took advantage of Allegiant Airline because they are really not expensive. Being able to play in Colorado is closer and that also helped,” Perez said.
With the large amount of Arizona teammates, the Hardrockers said it has also created a strong family environment.
“The guys feel comfortable about it,” Dixon said. “The transportation has been awesome for the guys to have the family support and see them play.”
McGuire said they have a family environment at Mines and all of the Arizona players bond well together.
“We always make jokes; ‘Arizona is better, or that dude is from Arizona, he’s making plays,’” McGuire said. “When we travel home for breaks, it is nice because we can travel together.”
Schrock said that so far his whole experience up here has been positive.
“The people are awesome and I love Rapid City,” Schrock said. “I had never lived in the snow before and that was amazing. Playing football in the snow? That was a change, it was the coldest experience I have had in my life. It was still fun, though.”