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CSU football looks to start fresh against Washington State

Collegian | Avery Coates
The Colorado State University football team plays against each other during the Green vs. Gold spring game in Canvas Stadium April 22.

There’s no denying Jay Norvell‘s inaugural season as head coach didn’t go the way most fans — or even Norvell himself — hoped for. 

On Sept. 2 Colorado State will get a rematch when they play Washington State, a team they lost to by 31 points a season ago. 


“We played this football team a year ago,” Norvell said. “We really couldn’t have played any worse than we did a year ago, especially in the first quarter (and) the first half. We gave three touchdowns defensively; we couldn’t move the ball offensively. We covered some of those areas today; we’ve reviewed the game several times and are pretty tired of watching it honestly.”

The Rams are ready to wipe the slate clean and show fans who the team is this year. In order to prepare for that, there was a lot of change this offseason, including establishing a sense of maturity and a sense of pride in CSU football.


The offense was the one side of the ball that saw a lot of new faces come in, especially at the offensive line. Last time they faced off against the Cougars, quarterback Clay Millen was sacked seven times.

“Coach Norvell, he talked about it this morning, but a lot of this game relies on the O-line,” offensive lineman Jacob Gardner said. “And we have to go out there and send a message and knock the people off the ball.”

Knocking people off the ball will be a big thing for the Rams, who struggled all around on offense. CSU averaged just 1.2 yards per carry against the Cougars last season, but with the addition of Kobe Johnson, who rushed for almost 1,000 yards in his last season at North Dakota State, that is something that should be remedied.

Norvell said he’s treating Johnson and returning running back Avery Morrow as starters. He told them they shouldn’t worry about who’s taking the first snaps on Saturday because he sees them both as starters.

Watchlist: Dallin Holker is the starting tight end for CSU. The tight end position didn’t register a catch for CSU against the Cougars last season. Holker has been praised for both his impact in practice as well as his maturity and could be a big part of the game plan this weekend.

“He’s probably the last one off the field every single day, and he’s always in there doing recovery with me,” Gardner said. “And he’s watching film, catching balls after practice. Guys see that (and) see how committed he is. … He’s one of the guys that’s helping the team gel together, and he’s just a good dude overall. He wants to win, just like everybody else.”


Something that killed the Rams a season ago was long plays. Cougar wide receivers Donovan Ollie and De’Zhaun Stribling both averaged more than 10 yards per catch. With a bolstered secondary, that’s not expected to be the case this time around. 


“I feel confident in our coverage,” Norvell said. “I think we got some really good players, (and) I think we’re much improved from a year ago in our secondary. I really love Ron Hardge, Dom Jones — those guys have added a lot to (Chigozie Anusiem) as cover guys back there, and Ayden Hector’s a really good cover guy as a nickel, and Washington State should know all about him — he came from there.”

Washington State lost their top three wide receivers this offseason, but despite that major turnover from the Cougars, the man at the helm remains. Cameron Ward gave CSU problems last year, throwing for 299 yards and four touchdowns. 

While the Cougars lost several of their starting receivers, the Rams gained more depth in the secondary. This helps translate into fresh bodies who will be able to rotate in and still play at a high level.

“We know that the level of play is not going to drop off,” Rams safety Henry Blackburn said. “It’s going to stay the same standard for guys, and that’s just the biggest thing is knowing that if we need a series off or something like that, we know that guys can step in, and there’s not going to be a drop-off of execution.”

Watchlist: Chase Wilson is a familiar face around Ram country. He will make his debut as one of the leaders of the defense for the Rams. Wilson has been praised by several coaches and called the leader of the defense by Blackburn.

“That’s one thing about Chase: We all feed off of him,” Blackburn said. “I believe it’s his passion. You can see it when he’s out there on the field — he loves it. We get in the huddle before we go out to take the field, (and) he’s the one head butting all of us getting us read to go.”

Special teams

Winning special teams is something Norvell has preached over and over to his team, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to do that. Rams star wide receiver Tory Horton is expected to field punts with Morrow, and Johnson is expected to be back on kickoffs. 

While unprecedented, Norvell believes that playing his best guys on special teams gives them the best chance at winning.

Watchlist: Jordan Noyes, the kicker who came over from Utah in the offseason, is super consistent, making all 34 of his extra points last season. If the game goes like Norvell expects, the Rams will need him to convert his attempts in order to win the game.

“It’s going to be important that our field goal kicker is effective,” Norvell said. “That was another problem we had a year ago. We didn’t make our field goals. We didn’t handle the net punt efficiently. We got to really make an impact on special teams as well.”

Reach Damon Cook at or on Twitter @dwcook2001.

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Damon Cook, Sports Editor
Damon Cook is the 2023-24 sports editor for the The Collegian and has been at the paper since August 2022. He started doing coverage on volleyball and club sports before moving onto the women's basketball beat. He is in his third year and is completing his degree with a major in journalism and media communication and a minor in sports management. As The Collegian's sports editor, Cook reports on CSU sports and helps manage the sports desk and content throughout the week. After having a year to learn and improve, Cook will now get to be part of a new age under the sports desk. The desk moved on from all but one other person and will now enter into a new era. Damon started school as a construction management major looking to go in a completely different direction than journalism. After taking the year off during the COVID-19 pandemic, he quickly realized that construction wasn't for him. With sports and writing as passions, he finally decided to chase his dreams, with The Collegian helping him achieve that. He is most excited to bring the best and most in-depth sports coverage that The Collegian can provide.

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