Last month, Slippery Rock University quarterback Roland Rivers III won the Harlon Hill award. The honor is the highest that can be received by an NCAA Division II football player, and is considered the “Heisman Trophy of DII.” Rivers posted an astonishing 4,460 passing yards for 52 touchdowns on the season. But the nation’s true most valuable player may have been overlooked by the committee.
Oredigger football is no stranger to the Harlon Hill award. Notable quarterbacks of Mines past Chad Friehaug and Justin Dvorak earned the honor in 2004 and 2016 respectively. This season, Mines’ freshman quarterback John Matocha was one of the 36 award nominees named in late November (following the first round of the playoffs). But one of the most underrated seasons came in the rushing game.
Blaster the Burro put up some ridiculous stat lines, despite being sidelined for over half the season due to RMAC mascot restrictions. “This is absolute garbage,” said one Mines fan at the Oredigger’s final playoff game of the season. “He’s our number one guy, you can’t just sideline him!”. Numbers were a little hard to come by, as the NCAA does not record equine statistics, but we were able to find some figures from Blue Key Honor Society.
In six games, Blaster ran for an incredible 31 touchdowns while appearing in only 31 plays. I was unable to find any other season in football history where someone played in 10+ snaps and recording a touchdown on every one of those snaps. For reference, this season’s rushing touchdown leading in Division II (Nate Gunn from Minnesota State) also ran for 31 touchdowns but did so in 260 attempts over 15 games played.
What may be even more impressive than Blaster’s ability to find the endzone, was his pure production on every single carry. After carefully analyzing the tape, I’ve picked up a few notes on his playing style. His stocky 500-pound, four-legged frame makes him almost impossible to take down. Every time he enters the field, he runs to about midfield, and then to the endzone. It’s as if the opposing defense has let the field altogether. This unique rushing pattern has allowed Blaster to accumulate a comical 90 yards per carry, and a total of 2790 yards on the season. That total surpasses Division II’s leader (Jaleel McLaughlin from Notre Dame College Ohio) in both rushing yards and all-purpose yards.
Ignoring the stats, Blaster had a remarkable on-field impact. The fans love him, and he is likely the most photographed Mines athlete in any sport. The athletics department even made a suit to use as a secondary mascot of him. And he’s the ultimate team player, even when he’s not on the field. Mines football has been undefeated in games in which Blaster has appeared since 2016. There’s no way that could be a coincidence.
Anyway, Roland Rivers III may have had the most overall impact on the field in Division II this year. It’s hard to compare apples to oranges, and even harder to compare burros to quarterbacks. But it’s hard to argue that there was a bigger playmaker in college football last season than Blaster the Burro, whether or not the Harlon Hill voters recognize that.