Northern Colorado football player Caden Meis bets on himself and wins

As a ball carrier, Northern Colorado running back Caden Meis is a hard man to tackle.

DGD, he tells himself on the field. He’s written the letters on his cleats and on his fingers as a reminder since high school.

DGD means “don’t go down.” No Bears back was harder to tackle late last season and into the spring than Meis, UNC coach Ed Lamb said.

High praise for a player in a position demanding toughness and more than a little determination. It’s perfect then, Meis’ favorite place to run is between the tackles where he’s going to get hit. Meis doesn’t stop with contact. He continues moving his legs — grinding, grinding and refusing to go to the ground.

“That’s all I pride myself on,” he said. “Speed will come. You know, it’s never going to be perfect. You’re never going to have the perfect time to set up a move, so whatever it takes. Don’t let them bring you down. That’s something I always tell myself.”

Meis’ running style is part of the reason the 23-year-old graduate student and second-year UNC player from Parker earned a full scholarship for his final collegiate season. Meis learned of his financial reward after the Bears spring practices when coaches evaluated player performances.

Meis arrived at UNC in 2022 as a walk-on, meaning he didn’t receive any financial assistance. The money also validates his work in the program within the last year — both on the field and in the classroom. He graduated in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in math.

Listed at 5-foot-9, 209 pounds last year, Meis ran for a season-high 89 yards and a touchdown against Portland State in the final game of 2023. He carried the momentum into the intrasquad spring game in late April where the Bears’ defense had the advantage on a bad-weather day. Meis stood out in the cold, windy and wet conditions with team bests in carries (13) and yards (57) including a game-high 15-yard run.

University of Northern Colorado running back Caden Meis runs during speed drills at Nottingham Field in Greeley on June 21, 2024.(Jim Rydbom/Staff Photographer)

“Keeps his feet moving, keeps his balance,” Lamb said. “His desire and decision to work off the field. I think he really represents what we’re trying to accomplish here. Any of these veteran guys who can buy in and improve themselves are putting us ahead.”

Meis was one of those veteran, buy-in guys Lamb has repeatedly said are important at this stage of the program under the second-year head coach.

Meis came to UNC to play for Ed McCaffrey in 2022, and he was among a group of players who needed to develop trust and understanding after Lamb was hired later that year. Meis needed to see Lamb was interested in the players’ progress and that the coach was committed to the program and its improvement.

“That’s when it comes to the realization that maybe we can buy into this guy,” Meis said. “Me and a lot of other people realized he wants us to be better. He wants to push us. That’s where it kind of came in. He’s not here to ditch us. He’s here to get us better.”

At Legend High in Parker, Meis was a high-scoring lacrosse midfielder in addition to a running back and linebacker. He earned all-state and US Lacrosse All-American honors in his senior year in 2019 after totaling 84 points with 57 goals, according to the high school sports website MaxPreps.

In 58 varsity lacrosse games, Meis recorded 232 points with 154 goals and 78 assists.

He started playing lacrosse when he was about 8 years old — two years after he got into football. He had options to play both sports in college. Though he loves lacrosse, there was something about football he couldn’t shake.

An ankle injury limited Meis to one game during the football season his senior year at Legend. Recruiting quieted except for interest from Drake University, a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) program, like UNC, in Des Moines, Iowa.

“I was like, ‘This has been my dream since I was a kid,’ ” he said. “So I stuck with the one school that stuck with me.”

Meis played 2 ½ seasons with the Bulldogs, who are members of the Pioneer Football League and reached the first round of the FCS playoffs last fall.

In 22 games, he ran for 678 yards on 149 carries with six rushing touchdowns. He also had three receiving touchdowns. His time at Drake collided with the COVID-19 pandemic, and he decided to return to Colorado.

Members of the University of Northern Colorado football team gather toward the end workout Friday, June 21, 2024, at Nottingham Field in Greeley. (Jim Rydbom/Staff Photographer)

Meis first approached UNC as he was considering the transfer. He arrived in Greeley and used his redshirt season so he didn’t play games with the Bears. As a redshirt, athletes may practice and participate in workouts and film sessions.

Meis was on scholarship at Drake, but he was comfortable coming to UNC as a walk-on because of a belief in himself. He saw is as a perfect opportunity to prove himself again.

“I know what I have, and I know what I have to offer,” he said. “If it’s not enough at that moment, I’ll push myself to offer more. … I thought, ‘Even if you don’t see it right away, just keep going.’ ”

The opportunity came late in the year. There were injuries to other players, which is always a factor and always a theme in football. Lamb said coaches began to look at other players as the winless season wore on, and Meis was ready to play.

Meis practiced through the year as if preparing to play. He didn’t slack off. He used his time and worked on what he needed to do to improve.

“That’s all it was, really, saying, ‘Hey, I’m here,’ ” he said.

Lamb asked to see Meis one day after spring ball. Meis was initially suspicious, wondering about the reason for the meeting. Meis’ demeanor quickly changed with the news of the scholarship. He called his dad, Joe.

In addition to the money helping his family, Meis said he was happy to receive some validation for his self-confidence and self-belief to come in as a walk-on.

“It kind of felt like I came back up from the bottom to the top,” he said. “I felt accomplished, like what I did was worth it, you know? It wasn’t a waste, and so that felt really good.”

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