Veteran offensive line key to CSU football’s turnaround season

CSU’s offense is finally clicking.

The unit is clicking to the tune of 1,439 yards rushing for running back Kapri Bibbs and an average of 471.1 yards of total offense per game this season.

Ad

The Rams have scored more than 50 points three times this season, including a 66- point win against New Mexico last week, tying the third most points in a game in program history.

For tight end Crockett Gillmore, the improvement in the offense isn’t surprising. He knew they were capable of producing big numbers and one unit in particular deserves a lot of credit.

“It’s the offensive line,” Gillmore said. “I mean starting with (center Weston Richburg). He’s been consistent for the four years he’s been here. The guards have really stepped up this last year; the tackles are playing outstanding football. They’re able to move the line right down the field and that makes it easier on me, that makes it easier on the quarterback and the running backs and everybody else, but absolutely the offensive line. It’s just a big, strong, powerful line.”

And experienced. Richburg, right guard Jordan Gragert, right tackle Jared Biard and left guard Brandon Haynes are all seniors with left tackle Ty Sambrailo the youngest as a junior.

For them, this year has been a turning point not just because they have added wins to their resumes but because of what it has taken for those wins to come. Not only have they become more consistent on the field after having the chance to work together for more than a year under a new system, but that time has also allowed them to become closer as friends and teammates, thanks to head coach Jim McElwain’s creation of a family-like atmosphere among the players.

“I think you can measure how far we’ve come without looking at the wins and loss column but just by seeing how we interact with each other on a daily basis,” Biard said. “Before Mac got here there were a lot more fractions or factions within the locker room that  didn’t necessarily talk to each other or get to know each other  but nowadays you can talk to anyone and feel comfortable with it.”

After four straight losing seasons, for the first time in their careers as Rams, the offensive line could wind up with a winning season and a trip to a bowl game.

Knowing that four out of the five will play their final collegiate games this season makes trying to win these final two games that much more important for the rest of the team.

“That’s kind of the thing we’ve been doing all year,” quarterback Garrett Grayson said. “The reason we’ve been fighting like we have and what we did in the summer, everything goes into those guys. Obviously they’ve never had the chance to play in a bowl game and that shouldn’t be that way so we want to get those guys a bowl game and get them a win. We don’t want to just get there we want to win.”

For teammates and coaches, watching the offensive linemen grow together has been something special; they’ve brought leadership to a program filled with young players and an unselfish, workmanlike attitude on game days, protecting their quarterback and creating holes for their running backs.

Ad

While the offensive linemen simply do their jobs without worrying about individual performances, these particular five are just as excited for other units on the field as they are when the offense makes a big play.

“As I said even when I took the job over, the most important people on any team are the linemen, end of discussion,” McElwain said. “One of the things you notice when you watch video is reaction on the sideline. When I saw the play (against New Mexico) that Aaron Davis and Max Morgan made on that fourth down… you see the reaction on the sideline and you see this group of offensive linemen and the energy and the excitement. I can really tell they’re into it and that speaks a lot about those guys because it wasn’t their unit, it was a team deal.  I’m really good with them.”

Collegian Football Beat Reporter Katie O’Keefe can be reached at sports@collegian.com.