With only a few Division I walk-on offers, John Matocha seriously considered giving up football after high school.
He wasn’t quite ready, though, and decided to pursue a small-school option that took him far from home.
It was a good decision. He enters his fourth season as Colorado Mines’ starting quarterback and is bidding to win a second straight Harlon Hill Trophy as the top player in Division II.
Last year, Matocha passed for a nation-leading 4,778 yards and 52 touchdowns and led the Orediggers to 13 straight wins and the national championship game following an 0-2 start.
Mines brings back 18 starters and begins the season ranked a program-best No. 2 behind Ferris State, the team that beat the Orediggers in the title game.
Matocha grew up in Magnolia, Texas, and was named to the Greater Houston first team after putting up huge numbers as a high school senior. But he didn’t fit the mold of a major-college quarterback.
“I’m not the most impressive-looking guy — 5-11, 180, not very strong, not very fast,” Matocha said. “I’m not a big measurables guy. My 40-yard dash isn’t impressive, verticle jump isn’t impressive.
“But when I get into a game,” he added, “I can play football.”
He got a few invitations from Group of Five schools to walk on; Mines was the only school to offer a scholarship, and it was a partial.
“I decided to take a chance,” he said, “and I couldn’t be happier with how it’s worked out.”
Matocha already has earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science and is working on his master’s. He was named the 2022-23 top scholar-athlete in Division II by College Sports Communicators, formerly the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
“I always say that’s my mom’s favorite award,” Matocha said. “She gets worried watching me play football because I’m not afraid of going for the extra yard or diving for a pylon.”
Matocha’s worst game statistically last year is the one that most impressed Pete Sterbick, who enters his first season as head coach after being offensive coordinator the previous four seasons.
Matocha came down with a stomach bug the night before a game at rival Western State and had to go to an urgent care facility for intravenous fluids. The Orediggers trailed 20-3 after Matocha was intercepted on three of five possessions over the second and third quarters. He then led touchdown drives on four of the next five series and Mines won 30-20.
“He didn’t have juice on the ball, but he roared back,” Sterbick said. “He still threw for 300 yards and made huge plays. He has that special ingredient that people are born with.”
Matocha would like to play at the pro level, and the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals have called Sterbick to ask about him. The CFL and USFL also are possibilities. If football ends for him this year, he’s prepared to work 9 to 5.
“My family always pushed academics,” Matocha said. “The college you choose and decisions you make and the degree you get really matter. I knew that whatever happened with my football career, I would be set for life afterward by attending Colorado School of Mines.”
DB ADAM DeJONG, Dakota Wesleyan (South Dakota)
The 5-11, 210-pound senior from Watertown, South Dakota, was an NAIA first-team All-American and led the nation with seven interceptions. He tied the school record with three interceptions against Briar Cliff, returning two of them for touchdowns.
CB MICHAEL BROWN, UW-River Falls (Wisconsin)
The 6-1, 190-pound junior from Victoria, Minnesota, tied for the Division III lead with eight interceptions and was a first-team All-American. His late interceptions preserved narrow wins over UW-Oshkosh and UW-Stout, and he ran one back for a touchdown against UW-Whitewater.
WR DeANGELO HARDY, North Central (Illinois)
The 6-1, 202-pound senior from Lake Villa, Illinois, ranked second in Division III with 20 touchdowns and fifth with 1,198 receiving yards. The first-team All-American set the school record for longest reception when he caught a 94-yard TD pass in the unbeaten Cardinals’ national championship game win over Mount Union.
DL HECTOR JOHNSON, Endicott (Massachusetts)
The 6-1, 225-pound junior from Worcester, Massachusetts, was Commonwealth Coast Conference defensive player of the year after recording 14.5 sacks, the most of any returning Division III player. He finished with 21.5 tackles for loss and he blocked a punt that he ran back 78 yards for a touchdown.
OL ZACH SIBILA, Marian (Indiana)
The right tackle from Zionsville, Indiana, did not allow a sack in 2022 while earning NAIA first-team All-America honors. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound senior was part of a line that helped Marian rank in the top 25 in total offense, rushing and rushing touchdowns.
Cover Photo: North Central’s DeAngelo Hardy celebrates a touchdown against Mount Union with teammates Jarod Thornton (74) and Matt Robinson in the second quarter in the semifinals NCAA Div. III college football playoffs, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in Alliance, Ohio. Hardy, a senior from Lake Villa, Ill., ranked second in Division III with 20 touchdowns and fifth with 1,198 receiving yards. ( Julie Vennitt Botos/The Canton Repository via AP, File)