The Colorado State football team enters its season opener with a chance to learn and grow as they face a relatively safe opponent in a Savannah State team that went 0-12 last year and is riding a 23-game losing streak. Here are some players to keep on eye on Saturday, and for the rest of the season, on both sides of the ball:
Nick Stevens, quarterback
It seems as though all eyes will be on quarterback Nick Stevens on Saturday against the Savannah State Tigers. The sophomore from Murrieta, California is looking to prove that he has what it takes to be the shot caller that the Rams need after losing Garrett Grayson to the NFL. Stevens played in four games last season, completing 15-of-25 attempts for 136 total yards and one touchdown. He not only has an opportunity Saturday to claim his first win as the starter for the Rams, but to set the tone for the rest of the season and justify Mike Bobo’s decision to award him the job.
Joe Hansley, receiver
Keep an eye out for wide receiver Joe Hansley Saturday against Savannah State. He is a sure-handed receiver with quick feet and has a knack for making explosive plays on the offensive side of the ball and on special teams as a punt returner. The senior from of Highlands Ranch, Colorado has 108 career receptions for 1,427 yards. Bobo acknowledged that while Hansley is not the most physically impressive receiver on the team, his playmaking ability is undeniable. If the run-game opens up opportunities for quarterback Nick Stevens to make a big play, expect Hansley or Higgins to be on the receiving end.
Sam Carlson, tackle
Senior Sam Carlson is a six-foot-four, 295-pound offensive lineman from Wellington, Colorado. He looks to lead the offensive line at right tackle and could very well establish himself this season as an NFL prospect, much like Weston Richburg and Ty Sambrailo did in the past two years respectively. Carlson started all 13 games last season at right tackle and as a first-year starter helped block for a 4,006-yard passer in Garrett Grayson, and a 1,275-yard rusher in Dee Hart. Look for Carlson to set the tone up front and help keep Stevens upright.
Preston Hodges, cornerback
The junior college transfer from Bakersfield Community College started 12 games for CSU last year, but his responsibilities will increase significantly this season with Bernard Blake gone. Hodges gained plenty of experience last year, recording 69 tackles, seven pass breakups, two forced fumbles and an interception. He will not be able to roam as freely as a playmaker this year though, as he will be tasked with tougher assignments in coverage. The junior seems up for the task, but he did miss spring camp, and he will be replacing one of the conference’s best defensive backs.
Joe Kawulok, defensive end
Pass rush is not defined solely by sacks, but that is definitely a big part of it. The Rams finished 10th in the Mountain West with just 19 last season. Kawulok provided 3.5 of those, all in one game against Tulsa. New defensive coordinator Tyson Summers comes to CSU from the University of Central Florida, where he coached a defense that led the American Athletic Conference in sacks (36). With Cory James moving to the middle, the Rams will need to find someone to provide an outside pass rush, and Kawulok seems like the best candidate.
Kiel Robinson, linebacker
Bobo raved about the redshirt sophomore throughout spring and fall camp. However, Robinson will surely have his hands full trying to make up for the loss of last year’s leading tacklers Max Morgan and Aaron Davis. Fans may not be as familiar with Robinson as they are with Kevin Davis, who is more of a known commodity, but both will have to prove themselves not just as reliable tacklers, but as capable coverage linebackers as well.
Collegian Sports Reporter Geoff Huebner can be reached by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @Huebnermedia93. Collegian Sports Editor Emmett McCarthy can be reached on Twitter @emccarthy22.