Most people do not come for the opener. They are not interested in what small-name band will be living out their dream two hours before the show begins, half of them tailgate through the performance and show up for the headliner.
For the Colorado State football team, fall camp was a very long, very gruesome and exhaustive opening act. The difference is that this small-town team has demanded attention, all of it pointing to their dream, paved with blood, sweat and tears. In year one, the Rams entered a Bold New Era, headlined by head coach Jim McElwain. The program immersed itself in a series of changes from personnel to locker room to team bonding, but it was undoubtedly a growing year. Final record, 4-8.
Year two of the McElwain Era, the Rams were “On the Rise,” working towards braiding together the communities of the University and the town they played for. They wore the 1TTD wristbands and achieved their dream — they were bowl champions and had a winning season for the first time in a decade. Final record 8-6.
This year, the Rams have risen, but they are still on the climb. Preseason camp was not about implementing new schemes; there was not a lot of preaching and scolding going around. McElwain has conditioned his team, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. Coaches no longer need to tell the players what to do — they know it, and if someone steps out of line, they tell each other.
“I’m ready to play — I know our guys are prepared, and our guys are doing a really good job,” McElwain said. “My philosophy is ‘it’s about us — it’s not about what the other guys do.’”
This fall camp was about working harder and training harder than many thought they could do. They have everything to prove and everything to play for. They sent last year’s seniors out with a miraculous victory in a nationally televised game — they aren’t settling for less.
“I just want to keep being the leader that coach Mac expects me to be, not just leading by example like I have in the past, but the vocal leader that he wants,” quarterback Garrett Grayson said. “And then just staying after, working on routes — that’s something me and Rashard (Higgins) have tried, a new one every day.”
They now have a quarterback who has the arm, the heart and the confidence for another eye-opening season. They have a 5-star recruit, ex-Rolling-Tide running back Dee Hart in the backfield and a veteran left tackle in Ty Sambrailo to protect Grayson’s blind side.
They have a secondary who have spent the offseason waiting like caged lions to repair the image they made for themselves last season and a veteran linebacking core with multiple players jockeying for starting positions.
“They have really taken to heart the need, they saw and were embararrsed last year on some plays that shouldn’t have happened,” McElwain said of the secondary. “The one good thing is that they understad the true importance — they are up front, if you verbalize it, it’s cemented.”
It seems CSU has all of the pieces.
They have finished their opening act and they’re ready for the headliner. Monday begins one of the most-hyped weeks in Colorado college football: Rocky Mountain Showdown week.
Last year’s loss still burns in the back of every mind in the CSU locker room, despite the success that came later. They have no time to waste this season and they know it’s now their time to shine.
Lights, camera, action.
Collegian Sports Reporter Cali Rastrelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @c_rasta5.