CSU ea­ger to paint an­other great pic­ture with league ti­tle

Rams seek first Moun­tain West crown in foot­ball since 2002

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Kyle Fredrick­son

FORT COLLINS» Be­fore Colorado State foot­ball play­ers ran onto the prac­tice turf for the first time Fri­day to open pre­sea­son camp, they suited up in a locker room de­signed to honor the past and frame the fu­ture. Painted above each stall are mu­rals of for­mer CSU stars and, most no­tably, leg­ends of the last Rams team to win a Moun­tain West cham­pi­onship: Ce­cil Sapp, Bradlee Van Pelt and Dex­ter Wynn in­cluded.

“It means a lot,” said se­nior quar­ter­back Nick Stevens. “Guys are up, you see them ev­ery day, who you could tell just by look­ing at them that they worked hard … and ac­com­plished what we want to ac­com­plish and be a team that con­tends.”

It has been 15 years since CSU last won a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship, in 2002, back when Stevens was about 7 years old, but the po­ten­tial for a re­turn to glory has never seemed so close. The Rams were picked to fin­ish sec­ond this year in the Moun­tain Di­vi­sion in the league’s pre­sea­son me­dia poll — their high­est pro­jec- tion since the con­fer­ence split into di­vi­sions in 2013. The Rams re­ceived six first­place votes. Boise State was se­lected to win the Moun­tain Di­vi­sion, and San Diego State is the fa­vorite in the West Di­vi­sion.

Af­ter con­sec­u­tive 7-6 sea­sons, third-year CSU coach Mike Bobo has rea­son to be­lieve the Rams can ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions.

“We all came here, my­self and these play­ers, to win a cham­pi­onship and be great. That’s why you com­pete, to be the best,” Bobo said. “We talked about it when we came back in Jan­uary be­fore we hit the fourth quar­ter. We talked about it be­fore spring prac­tice and we talked about it last night. But

then that’s it.

“How are we go­ing to win it? Con­trol­ling what we can con­trol. Not talking about it.”

Stevens was among the most pro­fi­cient quar­ter­backs in the coun­try last sea­son, par­tic­u­larly in Novem­ber, when he com­pleted 60-of-78 passes for 998 yards, 10 touch­downs and just one in­ter­cep­tion. A trio of re­turn­ing tail­backs — Da­lyn Dawkins, Izzy Matthews and Marvin Kin­sey — com­bined for 2,217 yards rush­ing and 24 touch­downs a year ago. Se­nior wide­out Michael Gallup also fin­ished the 2016 cam­paign on a tear with at least 100 yards re­ceiv­ing in each of the Rams’ fi­nal five games.

CSU re­turns eight de­fen­sive starters in ad­di­tion to se­nior line­backer Deonte Cly­burn, who broke out in 2015 but missed all of last sea­son while be­ing treated for blood clots.

“Con­fi­dence is def­i­nitely at an all-time high,” Stevens said. “I think we have an ex­pec­ta­tion of win­ning ev­ery time we hit the field; it doesn’t mat­ter who we’re play­ing. Our ex- pec­ta­tion is to win 14 games this year and take home the Moun­tain West cham­pi­onship.”

Fri­day was yet an­other mile­stone in reach­ing that goal. CSU opened pre­sea­son camp with a two-hour work­out in hel­mets and shorts as play­ers and coaches uti­lized the new prac­tice fields just west of the nearly com­pleted on-cam­pus sta­dium. The new lo­ca­tion is a short walk to the train­ing room and nu­tri­tion cen­ter and trades worn grass for sta­teof-the-art turf.

“You can re­ally tell the dif­fer­ence when we’re out there mak­ing cuts,” Gallup said. “You can grasp ev­ery­thing a lit­tle bit bet­ter.”

CSU faces a time crunch in prepa­ra­tion for its Aug. 26 sea­son opener against Ore­gon State in Fort Collins. Play­ing a Zero Week game in ad­di­tion to an NCAA rule pro­hibit­ing two-a-day work­outs mean fewer prac­tice op­por­tu­ni­ties. But the Rams’ con­fi­dence stems from ex­pe­ri­ence — they have 41 re­turn­ing let­ter­men on the ros­ter.

Each player has the same goal: Pay homage to those Rams painted on the walls at the new sta­dium with a Moun­tain West cham­pi­onship.

“There are a lot of peo­ple that have gone be­fore us and made this pos­si­ble,” Bobo said.

Love­land Re­porter-Her­ald

Third-year CSU foot­ball coach Mike Bobo barks out com­mands to his play­ers dur­ing their con­di­tion­ing drills Fri­day.

Love­land Re­porter-Her­ald

Colorado State wide re­ceiver E.J. Scott on Fri­day watches the ball into his hands dur­ing a pass­ing drill that was part of the first full-team work­out of pre­sea­son camp. Scott is one of 27 true fresh­men on the ros­ter.

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