A football career which began in the Hub City has taken Mike Nesbitt, a graduate of Belen High School, all over the country.

Nesbitt was a multi-sport athlete while he was a Belen Eagle, playing football, basketball and running track in addition to playing soccer on a club team.

He and his family moved to Belen when he was 8 years old, and he attended Dennis Chavez Elementary, which is when he originally developed an interest in sports.

“I was really lucky; I grew up in the same house, my parents lived there for over 30 years,” Nesbitt said. “There was a group of us who always had a football or basketball and we’d be running around in some pasture or riding our bikes over to the pool.”

Mike Nesbitt addresses his team after practice at Ottawa University Arizona.

Nesbitt knew early on he was going to play in the NFL or coach college football, both of which he has accomplished. Much of the credit belongs to his father, as well as the coaches he had at Belen.

“My dad got up for work every day at 4 a.m.,” Nesbitt said. “I never saw him have a hard time with work, which showed me that if you get up and you love it, you’re never going to have a hard time getting up and going.”

During his time at Belen, Nesbitt highlighted playing for coaches Jim Danner, Danny Griego, Dennis Sanchez, Larry Garley and Jim Anderson.

“It was really about the coaches. I thought those guys hung the moon,” Nesbitt said. “Joe Dixon, Robert Chavez, those guys were young, probably fresh out of college. They still call me and text me Saturday night before a game. That, to me, is the coolest part of that existence.”

After he graduated from BHS, Nesbitt went to the University of New Mexico to play football for head coach Dennis Franchione.

Nesbitt found plenty of success at UNM and led the nation in net punting yards his senior year.

Nesbitt led the West Texas A&M Buffaloes to a record of 25-17 in his three years in charge of the program.

After his career at UNM came to a close, Nesbitt spent time on the NFL rosters of the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings but didn’t appear in a regular-season game.

While he was in the NFL, Nesbitt got his first taste of coaching.

“I knew I wanted to coach football but I really enjoyed my time coaching basketball,” Nesbitt said. “That happened when I was in the NFL and after I got released, I ended up as a graduate assistant (at UNM) and then I end up the head coach at Belen High School.”

Nesbitt said he credits landing the Belen job goes to Ron Marquez, who was the one who pushed him to apply. After his stint leading the Eagles, Nesbitt was the head coach at Manzano High School before he made the jump to the college ranks, which is where he has stayed for the last 20 years.

Nesbitt’s stops in college football included a stint at Blinn Junior College, where he was the offensive coordinator for a national championship team in 2006, and a brief stint at the University of Houston.

Currently, he is the head coach at Ottawa University in Arizona, and the program is Nesbitt’s through and through. He was selected as the first head coach in school history in April 2017.

“We started the football program here four years ago,” Nesbitt said. It’s an interesting deal starting a program from the ground up. We’ve been fortunate to have some great guys and some great players.

“The two things that I’ll always take from it, we had such a blank slate, we didn’t have a stadium or a field,” he said. “We could do it however we wanted to do it. It wasn’t a situation where you were stuck with anything because that was the way you’d always done it.”

Nesbitt spent his first season leading the NAIA program recruiting in a dirt lot, but since the team began play during the 2018 season, he’s led the Spirit to a record of 20-7, highlighted by a Sooner Athletic Conference championship in 2019.

He was honored as the SAC Coach of the Year as well as the NAIA West Region Coach of the Year for his efforts leading OUAZ to its first conference championship.

Nesbitt still returns to Belen a few times a year and often makes Pete’s Cafe his first stop.

“I was always happy and proud to be from Belen. We still go back two or three times a year and always go to Pete’s,” Nesbitt said. “My parents always ate dinner there on Thursday nights from the time I was in junior high.”

Even though his career has taken him away from Belen and across the region, keeping up with the Eagles has always remained part of Nesbitt’s routine.

“I always check the score of the Belen game on Saturday mornings,” Nesbitt said. “I follow the basketball scores as well when basketball season rolls around, and of course the Los Lunas game as well.”

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Cameron Goeldner grew up in Boulder, Colo., and attended the University of New Mexico. He covers everything sports for all Valencia County schools.