Jack Walters wasn’t planning to play college football.
Now, he plays for the reigning NCAA Division II National Runner-Up, practically down the street from where he grew up.
A three-sport athlete for Golden High School, Walters hoped one of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference universities would recruit him during his senior year. Once Colorado School of Mines reached out and offered him a scholarship, he knew that’s where he belonged.
“Growing up in Golden, Mines is just in our backyard,” Walters said. “ … I knew I wasn’t going to pass up on it. It’s a great academic school, and (has) some of the best football in the country.”
Walters is one of about 30 players from the Denver metro area on the Mines football team, helping spur the Orediggers toward their first-ever national title.
Because many of them played against each other in high school, the local Orediggers have a unique bond, Walters and Pomona High School graduate Billy Pospisil III described. The players sometimes dish out good-hearted “smack talk,” they said, and share stories about opponents or coaches they had in common.
Walters explained how those similar experiences can make things easier when meeting new players on recruiting visits or at camps.
That’s something Valor Christian High School graduates Jackson Zimmermann and Carter Forsythe can attest to. The two played together at VCHS, and when Forsythe visited the Mines campus, Zimmermann — who was a freshman cornerback for the Orediggers — showed him around.
Forsythe, now a redshirt freshman linebacker, said seeing Zimmermann find success at Mines was one of the reasons he decided to join too. Another was the program’s culture, and how similar it was to Valor Christian’s, he continued, adding how there are now six VCHS alumni among the Orediggers.
“Mines’ culture is already so fantastic,” Forsythe said, “ … (and) Jackson made it an easy decision.”
Another benefit of playing so close to home, they described, was how frequently they get to see their loved ones at the games. They said their family members, former teammates and coaches, family friends and others from the Valor Christian community show up to support them at the games.
Pospisil, who played wide receiver at Washington State University and grad-transferred to Mines in fall 2022, commented how grateful he was to be back home. He believed attending a local college was “underrated,” and that some high school students might overlook it as an option.
“But, coming back after being away, there’s really not much that beats it,” Pospisil continued. “ … It’s been a great ride ever since.”
MINES FOOTBALL 4-1-1
- NCAA Division II team
- Mascot: Orediggers
- Colors: navy blue, silver and white
- Slogans: Helluva Engineer, Where Nerds Win
- Home venue: Marv Kay Stadium in Golden, Colorado
- Member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference
- Went 13-3 in 2022 and lost to Ferris State in the Dec. 17 national title game
- First two wins of 2023 were against Top 5 teams
- As of Oct. 12, was 6-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country
- Last regular-season home game is Nov. 4 against New Mexico Highlands
- Was in national spotlight recently for players’ “horrendous haircut” headshots, which has become an annual tradition among the Orediggers
Where nerds win
Despite attending different high schools, the four players said their experiences helped prepare them for everything they’d face at Mines.
Walters said Golden’s football team struggled his freshman and sophomore years, but a new head coach and a change in culture propelled the program to new heights.
“It taught us what it was like to be in a winning program,” he continued.
That was something Zimmermann found very early at Valor Christian.
The redshirt sophomore cornerback said he wasn’t planning to play high school football, clarifying that he went to Valor Christian for its academics. But he ended up “falling in love” with the game and the program’s culture.
Despite having six head coaches since starting high school, he said he’s been drawn to programs “where, no matter who the coach is … you’re going to have a great brotherhood around you.”
Zimmermann and Forsythe described how Valor Christian and Mines have similar cultures centered on brotherhood and trust. And for both programs, that’s translated into winning records, Forsythe added.
“Winning isn’t everything,” he continued. “But it’s definitely a byproduct of the hard work we put in here (at Mines) and the chemistry we have.”
The Orediggers aren’t just facing tough situations on the field, but in the classroom as well. The players must learn to balance athletics with their classes in engineering, computer science and similar subjects.
Pospisil, who’s pursuing a master’s degree in environmental engineering science, said the Orediggers face a “truly unique situation” as far as college football goes.
“School is tough, but it’s going to be tough when you’re doing any one of these majors,” Pospisil continued. “But when you’re done, you’re set up for life. I think in the receiver’s room, the average starting salary in the last five years is close to $100,000 now.”
While Pospisil was unsure if he’d return to Mines next year, Walters plans to use his final year of eligibility in fall 2024 and pursue a master’s degree in engineering & technology management.
Walters is currently studying mechanical engineering, which he said he didn’t know much about when he first started at Mines. But he’s enjoyed becoming a proverbial jack-of-all-trades, studying everything from construction to technology consulting.
“It’s really hard, but I like it,” he said. “ … If I was telling my high school self if I should come to Mines, I’d say do it 100%.”
‘The perfect fit’
While there’s been plenty of adversity to overcome both on and off the field, Walters had no regrets about coming to Mines. He said the university and the football program have taught him “how to grow up.”
“You don’t really know how hard school and football can be,” he said, adding that because of that adversity he’s now forged bonds with his fellow Orediggers that’ll likely endure all their lives.
Those planning to attend college shouldn’t be afraid to stay local, Walters said. While he always wanted to go to an out-of-state college, he described how Mines “is such a special place you can’t get anywhere else in the country.”
Pospisil felt the university deserved more national recognition for its academic prowess. When he graduated from Washington State with an engineering-related degree, he knew Mines would be the “perfect fit.”
“‘Where can I go play some great football and get a great education?’” he continued. “There’s really no better place super close to home.”
Zimmermann and Forsythe both said they were grateful to be able to represent Valor Christian and the Highlands Ranch-Littleton area on the college football stage. The two hoped their families, hometown communities and the Denver area would continue to support them as the Orediggers hope to end 2023 holding a trophy.
“It’s really cool to just see the support,” Zimmermann said, “and see everyone come together in Golden.”
DO YOU KNOW THESE LOCAL OREDIGGERS?
The Colorado School of Mines football team features 50 players from Colorado, about half of whom graduated from Denver-area high schools. They include, but aren’t limited to:
- Billy Pospisil III (Arvada/Pomona High School)
- Sean McNair (Highlands Ranch/Valor Christian High School)
- Nick Stone (Highlands Ranch/Mountain Vista High School)
- Jalen Thomas (Englewood/Arapahoe High School)
- Mikee Barker (Parker/Ponderosa High School)
- Jackson Zimmermann (Highlands Ranch/Valor Christian High School)
- Carter Forsythe (Littleton/Valor Christian High School)
- Will Adams (Littleton/Columbine High School)
- Christian Benedetto (Parker/Valor Christian High School)
- Levi Johnson (Arvada/Ralston Valley High School)
- Jack Walters (Golden/Golden High School)
- Preston Rose (Highlands Ranch/Valor Christian High School)
- Peyton Rose (Highlands Ranch/Valor Christian High School)
- James Hess (Littleton/Dakota Ridge High School)
- Blake Doud (Parker/Legend High School)
- Clayton Jacobs (Parker/Lutheran High School)
- Mitchell Morehead (Arvada/Ralston Valley High School)
- Brock Zanetell (Evergreen/Columbine High School)