Fresh­men big key to success

Nine play­ers fresh out of high school played for Rams, with sev­eral in cru­cial roles

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Mike Bro­hard

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

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