Winning draws fans and media attention, but it also draws players — lots of them.
After finishing with their best record since 2002, winning the 2013 Gildan New Mexico Bowl and sending off at least three players to the NFL Combine, the Rams are garnering national notice for high-class recruits.
But head coach Jim McElwain and his staff want more than just scholarship players. Director of Recruiting Operations Tim LeRoy and Director of Football Operations Tom Ehler have helped McElwain promote CSU as one of the most walk-on friendly Division I programs around.
“Some coaches really like walk-ons, some don’t. Coach McElwain is very pro walk-on,” LeRoy said.
Junior linebacker Ken Hulbert walked-on in 2010, fully participating with the team until he earned a scholarship in last season’s Fall camp.
“Once you join the team, you are part of the family,” Hulbert said. “When I went from walk-on to scholarship, I wasn’t treated any differently as a player. As long as I kept working hard, I was recognized.”
Hulbert has made regular contributions to the team, appearing in 11 games in 2013, including being named team captain in the Border War game.
However, another former walk-on was instrumental to the Rams’ success this season and last. Junior kicker Jared Roberts had Division I dreams but had not garnered any D-I attention as he wrapped up his high school career at Mullen.
“I only had offers to play D-II and D-III coming out of high school, so I knew if I wanted to play DI my only option was to walk-on. Coach Ehlers did a great job setting up meetings for all the walk-ons to fill out paperwork,” Roberts said. “Once a couple weeks go by, you are on your own with the team.”
Roberts earned his scholarship at the start of the 2012 season. His 121 points last season are the most in a single season by a CSU kicker and his .882 career FG percentage is the most accurate in school history. He also kicked a career-long 54-yard FG against Air Force and is a perfect 58-for-58 on PATs.
Ehlers and LeRoy are holding another meeting for walk-ons Thursday at 3 p.m. in the McGraw Auditorium for those interested. It is highly encouraged for anyone hoping to be a part of the team to attend.
“For years, the walk-ons at Colorado State have contributed both here and after. They’ve played in Super Bowls and have really helped us win games,” Ehlers said. ‘Whether we have 20 people show up or 120, we will find a place for them in the program.”
Fifteen seniors graduated last year, but both the offensive and defensive lines suffered the biggest losses. LeRoy made it clear that all position types are welcome, but those areas are in need of bodies.
“If you really love football, CSU is a place where walk-ons can be a part of something special,” Roberts said. “Not a lot of people get the opportunity, so you have nothing to lose. It’s a very close-knit team and a great experience.”Football Beat Reporter Cali Rastrelli can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @c_rasta5.