Superstar in the stands: How Bryce Krisl captured the hearts of CSU players, fans

Colin Barnard

The tears on Michael Gallup’s face stood out after Colorado State’s loss to Marshall in the New Mexico Bowl. After the CSU community grew so accustomed to seeing a vibrant, white smile throughout his two years as a Ram, the tears were a stark contrast.

The Rams just concluded their third consecutive 7-6 season culminating in a bowl game defeat, and an anguished Gallup strolled the sidelines for the last time in his college career. But as teammates sauntered off the field, Gallup found a familiar face in the front row of the stands. The tears rolling down his cheeks soon met that unmistakable smile, and the pain of defeat vanished for a brief moment of bliss.

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5-year-old Bryce Krisl, Gallup’s biggest supporter and the boy who became synonymous with CSU athletics during the season, raced onto the turf of Dreamstyle Stadium and soon found himself in a familiar place – tucked under the chin of his football hero.  

“I was crying and he came over and he had my jersey on and the little helmet on and he gave me a hug and said, ‘You did good,’” Gallup said on his conversation with Bryce after the New Mexico Bowl. “If that doesn’t make you smile, even if you do lose the game, I don’t know what will.”

It was the culmination of a relationship nearly four months in the making, one that developed from high fives and head nods to tight embraces and life-long gifts.

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  • Bryce Krisl sits on his father Lance Krisl’s lap wearing the signed jersey given to him by Colorado State wide receiver Michael Gallup. Bryce has been attending CSU home games since he was two months old. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

  • Bryce Krisl stands in front of his father’s custom helmets wearing the signed jersey given to him by Colorado State wide receiver Michael Gallup. Bryce has been attending CSU home games since he was two months old. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

  • Michael Gallup gives his jersey from the Idaho Potato Bowl to Bryce Krisl prior to CSU’s game against San Jose State. (Photo courtesy of Lance Krisl)

  • Bryce Krisl and Michael Gallup embrace after CSU’s loss in the New Mexico Bowl. Gallup gave Bryce his jersey from the Idaho Potato Bowl. (Photo courtesy of Lance Krisl)

  • Bryce Krisl and Nico Carvacho take some time after a CSU basketball game during the 2017-18 season. (Photo courtesy of Lance Krisl)

  • Bryce Krisl stands in front of his father’s custom helmets wearing the signed jersey given to by Colorado State wide receiver Michael Gallup. Krisl has been attending CSU home games since he was two months old. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

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Bryce and his dad Lance, who graduated from CSU in 2005, first met Gallup during the second home game of the season against Abilene Christian. OCR Field Club members, the Krisls arrived to the field-level porch on the west sideline two hours prior to the game.

Bryce found his spot on the corner of the porch, right where the players run out for warmups, and waited. Surely enough, Gallup noticed Bryce, clad in green and gold and wearing a CSU football helmet, on his way to the field.   

“It all started with Michael. He was the first one who came over and said a quick hello and gave him a pat on his helmet,” Lance said. “And then he kept doing it. I started thinking to myself maybe it’s his pregame ritual or he’s just a really nice guy, whatever it may be. But he kept coming and Bryce would always say, ‘Where’s number 4?’”

What began as a simple gesture towards a young fan expanded into so much more throughout the football season. Lance and Bryce made it a habit to not only attend all the home games, but arrive early enough to greet the players and stay into the wee hours of the morning. In some cases, that meant arriving back home in Littleton after 3 a.m.

Throughout the turbulent season, Gallup’s relationship with Bryce never faltered. Days after the Rams’ loss to Boise State in the penultimate game of the regular season, Lance received a message from Gallup with a special request. He said that Bryce was his good luck charm throughout the season and wanted to reward him with his jersey from the Idaho Potato Bowl.

Lance joyfully accepted the offer, promising that Bryce would keep the jersey clean and give it back after the Senior Day game against San Jose State. But it wasn’t just a one-day gift. Gallup wanted Bryce to keep the precious memorabilia as his own.

“So we showed up to that senior game and I figured he had a bunch of family and he would quickly drop it off and run onto the field,” Lance said. “But he came out and talked to (Bryce), it was a good 10, 15-minute conversation. Bryce is that kid that by the end of it he was like, ‘Hey, do you want to come to my birthday party?’”

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In no time at all, the jersey became a second trademark of Bryce’s along with his CSU helmet. More importantly, the gift cemented his friendship with Gallup.

“Michael is very nice to me, he’s my buddy,” Bryce said. “He shares his Rams jersey with me and I love to wear it around the house.”

Gallup and CSU football aren’t the only Rams that Bryce grew close to during the athletic season. He and Lance made the familiar drive up to Fort Collins for nearly every home basketball game that the CSU men’s team played.

During those games, the same outgoing and charismatic 5-year-old that caught the attention of Gallup developed a similar relationship with forward Nico Carvacho.

Prior to the start of games, Bryce made his way down to the court to receive those coveted high fives from players. The more he waved, the more he noticed the 6-foot-11 Carvacho waving back with a friendly grin.

“About halfway through the season, Bryce said, ‘You know that guy who always points me out? I want to tell him good game,’ even though they lost,” Lance said. “So at the end of every game he’d run down there and it turned into something more. Nico would come over and give him a little hug after every game and say, ‘Thanks for being here.’”

During the worst basketball season in nearly a decade at CSU, that presence and fandom allowed many players to persevere through the turmoil.

“Last year was tough and he stood by us. He was there every game, always looking for a high five or something. Every time I saw him, I had to stop and just talk to him and let him know I appreciate him.” Nico Carvacho, CSU forward

“Last year was tough and he stood by us,” Carvacho said. “He was there every game, always looking for a high five or something. Every time I saw him, I had to stop and just talk to him and let him know I appreciate him.”

Growing up the son of a basketball coach, Carvacho always found himself around players he looked up to. The experience allowed him to recognize the importance of building a relationship with young fans, something he said means the world to him.

When Carvacho announced his decision to consider other schools this offseason, Bryce began mounting a case for his favorite hooper to stay in Fort Collins. During the annual Ram Jam event that gives young fans the chance to interact with CSU players, Bryce made it a mission to deliver his message to Carvacho.

He ran past the long line of kids waiting to see the basketball players and beelined into the arms of Carvacho. He didn’t care about the autograph and instead wanted to know if his favorite player would be back next year.

“He was telling me, ‘Please stay, please stay!’” Carvacho said. “That hit hard, for sure. It’s pretty cool to see that.”

Now with both offseasons underway, the Krisl’s turn towards what’s next in their relationships with the players. Though it took some time, Bryce understands that Gallup will not be at CSU next year and will instead head to the NFL.

“I really hope Michael goes and plays for the Miami Dolphins,” Bryce said. “They have really cool colors and a cool helmet. My daddy said that we will go visit Michael and watch him play for his new team in the NFL, so I hope it’s the Dolphins.”

As for basketball season, Bryce can hardly contain his excitement for the season to begin, even though that won’t happen for another six-plus months. He told his dad he’s ready to watch practices and all things CSU basketball, whatever it takes to see Carvacho on the court again.

The magnitude of Bryce’s relationship with his idols goes back to that dreary night in Albuquerque. Following the bowl game loss, Lance knew Gallup was upset and encouraged Bryce to not bother him. But again, Bryce was adamant about telling his friend what was on his mind.

“’I just want to go tell him it’s okay,’” Bryce told his dad. “That pulled at the heart strings a little so I stood back and Bryce ran up to him, didn’t even tell him, the first thing he did was just give him a hug.”

“When he came back I asked him what he said, and he was like, ‘I just said good game. Told him don’t be sad, you played hard.’ That was probably the best thing he could have told him,” Lance said.

The interaction, and those that followed, reminded everyone that it’s always more than a game.

“That’s why we play this sport,” Gallup said. “I know it is for me because when I see a little kid and he’s sitting there wearing my jersey or he’s just sitting there rooting for me, that’s exciting to me. That just makes you want to go a lot harder, you just want to do good for him. It makes you excited, it makes you want to smile every time you come by.”

And when players realize that, the true power of sport is unleashed.

“Seeing them take the time for a 5-year-old, who as far as having a conversation with, it’s pretty basic. But they treated him like he was the most important person in that stadium and that’s what I think is a special thing about CSU athletics,” Lance said.

Collegian sports director Colin Barnard can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_.