Forget last year. For most football teams, that advice is only for moving past failure; not so for the Colorado State Rams.
Last season was their best in nearly a decade. Their quarterback-running back duo rewrote the school’s record books and the Rams won their first bowl game since 2008 — by all accounts a successful season. But all of that is in the past.
The coach who refuses to be complacent has passed on that same mentality to his team.
“There’s no reason to be satisfied with the little success we had,” CSU head coach Jim McElwain said at Thursday’s preseason press conference. The third-year coach likened last year’s New Mexico Bowl victory to summiting the foothills. After the fog clears, the mountainous Rocky Mountains still sit high above with their peaks in the clouds.
This season, the Rams want more; they are hungrier. The ‘One Town, One Team, One Dream” of last season is long gone. A new dream is at stake.
“Last year’s team was last year’s team,” senior TE Kivon Cartwright said. “They got to a bowl game because of the work they put in. We want to put in our own work, we want to make our own bowl game.”
With the much-lamented losses of senior offensive linemen Jared Biard, Brandon Haynes, Jordan Gragert and Weston Richburg as well as running backs Chris Nwoke, Kapri Bibbs and Donnell Alexander, McElwain knows his team will have to take on another dynamic.
Last season, he expressed being proud of the offensive balance, splitting yardage between the run (2,861) and the pass (3,730). However, without the explosiveness Bibbs and Alexander brought to the Rams, repeating those numbers seems all but impossible on paper.
“To have a 3,600 yard passer and a 1,700 yard rusher, that shows pretty good balance, and yet we will probably be more top-heavy throwing it, because that’s who we have right now,” McElwain said. “But I still believe to have a successful program, you have to be able to stop the run and you have to be able to run to win.”
This spring, it looked as though the weight of the run game would fall heavily upon the shoulders of converted safety Jasen Oden and redshirt freshman Bryce Peters. Oden impressed coaches during spring camp, but, as always, the competition is thick heading into the preseason. Along with the aforementioned duo, the Rams added prep standouts Deron Thompson and Jonathan Lewis as well as junior college transfer Treyous Jarrells over the summer. It was also reported earlier this week that former Alabama tailback Dee Hart will transfer to Colorado State, but due to NCAA rules coaches are prohibited from commenting on the status of players who have yet to enroll or sign a financial aid agreement.
But for the Rams to reach their goal of finishing at the top of the Mountain West, they will have no time for excuses or sluggish starts. They will kick off the season against rival Colorado in the Rocky Mountain Showdown on Aug. 29 before boarding a plane to Idaho the next week to face perennial league power Boise State on Sept. 6. The Broncos are the cream of the crop in the Mountain West, and they handed CSU a 42-30 loss last season.
“Boise (State) is the meat of the Mountain West, you have to get past them to get at the rest of the Mountain West, we know that,” Cartwright said.
Yet despite all of the heightened expectations, McElwain and his team remain coolly confident in the hunt for further success.
“Okay, we won a bowl game – great. Now what? We still have a long ways to go, but I do believe our guys have put our stamp on this program,” McElwain said. “But I like this team, I like the guys on this team, I like the leadership on this team. They’re living up to expectations.”
Even if those expectations are a mile into the clouds.Football Beat Reporter Cali Rastrelli can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @c_rasta5.