Few Colorado State Rams on the spring football roster have been in Fort Collins as long as redshirt senior safety Jake Schlager.
Schlager has played a variety of roles since he arrived at CSU — stretching from a special teams star in his first few seasons, to an occasional defensive fill-in in 2015.
But with the loss of safeties Trent Matthews and Kevin Pierre-Louis after that 2015 season, 2016 was set to be Schlager’s time patrolling the back-end of the CSU defense.
Even though he had only one defensive start prior to last season, Schlager helped plug that much needed role in the defensive backfield, ending the year third on the team in tackles with 72, along with one interception and three pass breakups.
And with his previous experience, it did not take long for Schlager to become the leader in the safeties room, and the defensive backfield as a whole.
“Jake is an intelligent guy,” CSU safeties coach and special team coordinator Jamie Bryant said. “He understands the scheme and all of the adjustments. That’s probably where the most leadership came in — is communicating and making sure we got lined up and we were where we were supposed to be.”
As a communicator, Schlager led a safeties group that saw four different players start over the course of the season. One of those was a true freshman in Jamal Hicks, who made five starts last season, while recording 25 tackles and one interception.
“I thought Jake Schlager did a nice job of growing in his role,” coach Mike Bobo said. “Really, his leadership consisted of leading his segment of safeties. He did a nice job with Jamal Hicks — teaching him how to study, how to prepare and teaching him how to communicate in games.”
Schlager may have been the leader in the safeties room last year, but that was before the departure of cornerback Tyree Simmons and his 30 career starts. Now, Schlager is the unquestioned elder-statesman in the CSU defensive backfield.
With seniority might come a title change, but Schlager makes it clear that not much is different. He was called on to be that leader a season ago, so too will he be this year.
“Everyone realizes that well okay, ‘not only does he start and not only has he been here a while, but he’s also a senior,’ so I think you just kind of earn a little bit more respect from the people who may not know you as much when you step in that senior position,” Schlager said. “It’s definitely a different feeling, but at the same time it’s not. A leader is a leader.”
“…I kind of felt like I was in that senior leadership position last year, but now that I have this extra year, I feel like I am just playing on borrowed time. It’s a great feeling to know that and just be able to continue to lead and accept that leadership position as a senior.”
Schlager’s “borrowed time,” comes from the 2014 season, when he received a medical redshirt after only appearing in four games before an ankle injury ended his season.
In his CSU career, Schlager has appeared in 41 games, the majority of those coming primarily in that special teams role. But Schlager has still been at the school five years. He has spent the time playing with guys like Matthews, Simmons, Pierre-Louis and DeAndre Elliott.
He always felt he had the experience to match those types of players. Now, he has a full year as a starter in the bag, and he is ready to see where that takes him this season.
“Having that starting (season) underneath my belt at the safety position, it just adds to a whole other level of experience,” Schlager said. “People respect that you are not a first-year starter anymore. You are a vet you and have been in this position.”
Collegian sports reporter Eric Wolf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @eric_wolf5