Two Paonia High School seniors who played for one of the most successful football programs in state history are headed to Division II schools after signing their national letters of intent last Wednesday as part of National Signing Day.
Trevor Smith signed with Western State Colorado University, and Dagan Rienks signed to play at Colorado Mesa University. Both teams compete in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
From 2013-2016, the Eagles posted a 46-5 record and in 2014 posted a 13-0 record. That's the second highest win-loss record in the state, regardless of class, for a four-year period, said head coach Brent McRae. Paonia claimed state championships in 2013 and 2014, were runners up in 2015, and made the state semifinals last fall.
No doubt players felt the pressure when they saw all six feet, three inches of Smith heading their way. The 6-3 middle linebacker started all three seasons at Paonia after attending Delta High School his freshman year. He plans to play at inside linebacker for WSCU.
Smith plans to study energy management at WSCU. He is also vying this week for his fourth state wrestling tournament, and was also recruited to play baseball. In his three years at PHS he had a batting average of .618, hit 139 home runs and struck out 11 times.
Smith said he made his final decision after having good meetings with Mountaineers head coach Jas Bains and defensive coordinator Todd Auer. He was also supported in his decision by McRae, who called Smith "a great fit for Western. They play tough football, tough-nosed, hard football. I really think he'll fit in nicely there."
"You don't get a Trevor Smith very often," said McRae. During his football career, "He just kept getting better." When other coaches talk about great players, "They talk about Trevor."
During his time he was named team defensive player of the year and made all-state second team his sophomore year, and made all-state first team his junior and senior years. "In a successful program like ours, kids like Trevor get a lot of experience," said McRae. What separates Trevor is that he understands football. On the field he's paying attention and gathering information. Then he analyzes it and puts it to use. "That's why he's a good linebacker, because he can see all the information."
Smith also credits defensive coordinator Eric "Pops" McRae for helping him to understand the mechanics of the game.
Smith has also come a long way off the field, said Brent McRae. He struggled his sophomore year, but then got it together, improved his GPA. He ultimately slipped into a leadership role and helped others be better at what they did. "He turned it all around," said McRae. "I'm real proud of that kid."
Rienks, a six-foot-six senior honors student, was also recruited to play basketball, but decided on CMU after meeting with representatives and head coach Russ Martin. "CMU stood out," said Rienks. "It just felt right."
Rienks said he also factored in his opportunity to work again with former teammates, including quarterback Taylor Walters, a 2016 alum who led Paonia to two state titles and a runner-up place, running back Jeramiah Hillman, and 2015 PHS alum Joel Simianer.
Rienks focused on offense early in his high school career and trained at quarterback. He was later shifted to defense, a move McRae said he accepted without complaint. With his combination of size, height, big hands and athleticism, he could play at several positions, said McRae. "It makes it pretty easy, as a coach. You can do a lot of neat things when you have someone that size that can play multiple positions." If he can fill out to 240 pounds, he could be a good defensive player, but on the other hand, he's tall and can jump, said McRae. "Having a target his size, for the quarterback, could be a big plus."
Rienks was also recruited for basketball. This season Rienks is averaging 24 points and more than 10 rebounds per game. He grew up in the gym with his dad, Paonia girls' head coach Scott Rienks. Sister Jordyn was a key player on Paonia's 2010 state champion team and played a year in college.
"It surprised a lot of us that he chose football over basketball," said McRae. "But I think he's got a chance to do some pretty cool things."
Rienks also carries a higher-than-4.0 GPA and plans to major in business. "Dagan epitomizes what the program is about," said McRae.
"He gives us life lessons and leads us in the right way and shows us how to be successful," said Rienks of his former coach. "He just wants to help us be a better person, and football comes second."
It's possible Rienks and Smith could go head to head on the gridiron in the future. Scott Rienks is a Western State grad, but Dagan said that won't be a big deal. "He'll be fine wearing his CMU shirt," he said. "Except when we play Western."