For head coach Jim McElwain, growing up is a process.
The first step of his team’s maturation was evident in the summer when the players developed a slogan now posted on a sign above the practice field: “1TTD:” one town, one team, one dream.
The purpose of the slogan was to build camaraderie with the community; one town, one team, said tight end Kivon Cartwright before the season began.
After four consecutive losing seasons, the Rams noticed a slight disconnect with the town and the CSU community, a blame they put on themselves for not winning more games.
That disconnect is fading.
“I’ve talked to a lot of kids in my class and they’re telling us, ‘Good job, that was crazy, that was awesome this weekend,’” said quarterback Garrett Grayson. “I got a lot of that after Alabama and I got a lot of that (after Wyoming). It’s just stuff like that that makes you happy and smile just to know people are watching and rooting for you.”
Previously, the team had been tight-lipped when it came to discussing the dream part of the slogan. After the big win against border war rival Wyoming last week, part of the dream is being revealed.
“It would be a disappointment (to not go to a bowl game),” said tight end Crockett Gillmore. “We need to continue to win, take it week by week but that is a goal of ours.”
That goal doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it might have had the Rams fallen to the Cowboys last weekend.
Still, the win against the Cowboys was just one game in the Rams’ very up and down season. In order to turn the dream into a reality, CSU needs to win at least four of their next six games to become bowl eligible. With a 3-4 record heading into Saturday’s game at Hawaii, the Rams don’t have the luxury of looking past this weekend.
“It’s the biggest game of the year because it’s the next game,” Gillmore said.
While they won’t look too far forward or backward, the Rams are hoping the win against Wyoming was the start of a more consistent season, instead of losing second-half leads, which has been their Achilles heel this season.
“Now we’re just trying to get this thing rolling in the right direction,” Grayson said. “We’ve had so many games that we feel like we should have won so we don’t want to have anymore ‘should-haves.’ We want to get them done.”
Saturday’s game at Hawaii will be a telling one to see what the Rams learned about themselves last week and how they will use that knowledge to get a second win in a row, something the McElwain-led Rams have yet to do since his arrival at CSU.
While Hawaii has yet to win a game, the Warriors haven’t gone down without putting up a fight and the Rams don’t expect a win to come easily. In their last game, the Warriors fell to UNLV 39-37 on a last second field goal. Two weeks prior, they rattled off 34 unanswered points to threaten a big Fresno State lead, eventually falling 42-37 to the number one team in the Mountain West.
With a bye week to prepare for CSU, the Rams are hoping Hawaii’s first win doesn’t come this week.
“We don’t want to be their coming out party,” said co-defensive coordinator Marty English.
The Rams have beat Hawaii the last four times the two teams have met (1995, 1996, 1997, 2012) and own the overall record, 12-9. Still, the coaches aren’t worried about the team being over-confident or looking too far ahead.
“We won’t let them,” English said.
Football Beat Reporter Katie O’Keefe can be reached at email@example.com.