Freshmen big key to success
Nine players fresh out of high school played for Rams, with several in crucial roles
fort collins» Mike Bobo wants players who crave to see the field now, not later.
In the current age of recruiting and the instant fame coming to young athletes on social media, the feeling of belonging for a true freshman can grow before he ever arrives on a college campus. Players of that caliber have been “the guy” for so long, they don’t know any different, and the Colorado State coach said that’s OK, just as long as the internal belief merges with the team concept. It happened this year for the Rams. “No question. They were a confident group when they came in,” Bobo said of the class he signed in February 2016. “You want guys that are confident in their abilities. Even when they hit a little bit of a wall — some of the guys hit walls and realized, ‘Whoa, I’ve got a lot of work to do in order to play’ — they didn’t back down. They continued to compete and fight for their chance to get on the field. I’m really proud of those guys, and you’re going to see a big improvement from this year to next year with those guys because of the experience they had this year on the field.”
Nine true freshmen played for Colorado State this season, after five did in 2015, and the majority of them eventually were filling key roles for the team. There weren’t necessarily a lot of starts — nine in all — but the contributions they made can’t be overlooked as the Rams improved each passing week, heading to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Idaho on Dec. 22 with four wins in the past five contests.
The greatest impact came on the defensive side of the ball, where five of them cut their teeth collegiately.
Toby McBride never started a game, but the defensive lineman leads his group with 30 tackles (the most for a CSU true freshman since Shaq Bell’s 39 in 2010) and is tied for the team lead with three sacks. Arjay Jean became a pass-rush specialist (2½ sacks), but his athleticism was used to great effect against New Mexico’s option offense. Jamal Hicks started four games at safety and had a big interception in the win over San Diego State, and Robert Awunganyi became a reserve at cornerback.
Offensively, two of the bigger contributors — running back Marvin Kinsey Jr. and quarterback Collin Hill — had their campaign’s cut short by ACL injuries, but not before they put their promise on display.
Hill started four games and threw for 1,096 yards and eight touchdowns, as well as ripping off a 51-yard scoring run. Kinsey led conference freshmen with seven touchdowns, and his big-play ability led to a pair of long scoring runs among his 549 yards rushing.
“I think a lot of them, especially since the UNLV game, they’ve matured,” center Jake Bennett said. “They’re not freshmen anymore. They’re there to play, and they’re producing for us. It’s nice to have those guys grow out of the young-guy mind-set and playing and producing for us.”
For some of them, it took time. Hill didn’t start until the third game. Hicks and Awunganyi had to learn and prove themselves, as did Kinsey, who had to learn patience at this level. Lineman Jeff Taylor became part of the “jumbo” package the team used, and did see snaps in regular game action.
Wanting to play is crucial, Bobo said, but so is putting in the time and the work. Those who can continue to do that through the lean times are the ones who can make a difference down the road.
“Jamal Hicks is one of the examples I was thinking about. He came in and was very confident, hit a little bit of a wall trying to understand what we were doing conceptually,” Bobo said. “You saw there was some talent there, and then did what all freshmen do sometimes, started to pout a little bit, then realized that wasn’t getting him anywhere.”
CSU freshman quarterback Collin Hill showed great promise before getting hurt. Andy Cross, The Denver Post