Remember how exciting the world was when you were nine years old?
Ben Hissrich waited patiently behind the chain that separates access to the artificial grass of Sonny Lubick Field and the bleachers of Hughes Stadium that seat the general public. He knew that his opportunity only came around once a year, standing strong in front of the hundreds of people behind him.
With the conclusion of the Colorado State spring football game, the chain was lifted.
It was better than a candy store — Hissrich was a kid with an empty autograph sheet on the football field with his favorite team and a determination to meet every player. He led the stampede of fans fighting to filter through a space the size of a doorway, busting out in a sprint the second his foot left the final step.
It was his fifth-consecutive year attending the annual event, so he knew the drill — and his father, Howie, a CSU alumnus who brings Ben out to Hughes every April, was going to let his son have free reign during the period of time open for fans to mingle with athletes.
Hissrich targeted his favorite player first, Nick Stevens, because seeing the backup quarterback in a Rams uniform was the coolest thing since having a pair of light-up shoes (OK, maybe that was just me).
You see, Stevens is more than just No. 17 on the CSU roster to little Ben. To him, they’re buddies. Hissrich and Stevens are claimed to be linked through a friend of a family member of a neighbor, although his explanation was lost in translation — as any third grader with a focus on getting to the next idolized player naturally would.
His two friends and little brother who previously accompanied Ben on the field were soon left in the dust once he found wide receiver Joe Hansley. Then it was off to offensive lineman Ty Sombrailo, who was quickly followed by tight end Brett Jordan and wide receiver Rashard Higgins.
Heck, even backup kicker Berto Garcia had a passionate fan wanting to get his picture once Ben got around to him. Nobody was off limits to him, no player more important than another. They were all members of his favorite team and that’s all that mattered.
Ben began building a collection of autographs like I did Pokemon cards at his age. And, once the poster board he was provided had no more white space left, he insisted on having them sign parts of his body that he swore he’d never wash away.
“I need to be able to show this off!” he said, pointing to Josh Lovingwood’s signature stamped on his forehead in Sharpie despite not knowing who’s name it actually was.
Not many conclusions can be drawn from a spring football game.
It’s the same squad playing each other on their own field, going roughly 70 percent and hardly ever getting to make physical contact. However, one of the most important things the CSU football program did on Saturday was make a connection with the Fort Collins community.
And when you’re in a conference like the Mountain West, factors like that are huge.
The spring football finale at Hughes wasn’t a do-or-die roster fight, it won’t be seen on national television and there will never be 70,000 people in attendance like other programs in the country experience.
But it’s unique in its own way. It has the rare opportunity to link CSU football with true fans who genuinely care before the real season kicks off.
“I love it. It’s fun to see the fans get excited and give autographs to the kids,” Hansley said. “Every team has their fairweather fans. But the ones who come out for the spring game to show their support, we know will be here in the regular season and we appreciate them.”
The defensive team pulled out a 45-40 victory in front of an estimated 3,100 people on hand Saturday afternoon, but the real win was watching someone like little Ben Hissrich, who walked out of the stadium through the south tunnel with his hands in the air.
Collegian Sports Editor Quentin Sickafoose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @QSickafoose.