Colorado State and Head Coach Steve Fairchild are officially announcing the addition of 27 new football players. It's the fourth signing class since Fairchild took over the Rams' reins in December 2007, but the third in which he and his staff have had a full calendar year to recruit and sign.
The class includes Kapri Bibbs, named by ESPNChicago.com the best offensive player in the nation's third-largest city. It also includes Donnell Alexander, the son of the late Pro Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.
For the first time in program history, Texas has contributed the most recruits to a single CSU signing class. All told, 10 from the Lone Star State are headed to Fort Collins, more than any single class in CSU annals.
The Rams inked five from Colorado, representing a diligent effort by the staff to keep the state's best players home to help the Rams, and not let them leave. CSU landed three of the state's top-rated recruits, in RB Dorian Brown, DL Joe Kawulok and OL/DL Justin Hansen.
Weather or not: The historic storm making headlines across much of the country, especially in the Midwest where the Rams have several recruits, has affected delivery of the paperwork required for individual Rams signees to complete before CSU could announce their signings Wednesday.
Davon Riddick, an underrated RB from Abilene, Texas, was overnighted his paperwork last week, but because of a glitch in the UPS system, had to have another parcel sent. When that second mailing arrived in Abilene Friday, it just missed his mom, who had to run to the grocery store, so it was returned to the UPS station. After an ice storm rocked the area over the weekend, shutting down roads and most transportation, the parcel still could not make it into the hands of Riddick. So, this morning, CSU assistant athletic director/compliance Shalini Shanker e-mailed a scan of the letter to Riddick, who then signed and returned it, in order to become officially announced as a Rams signing.
Several signees, including TE Blake Jones from Tulsa, Okla., and CB DeAndre Carter from Dallas Carter High School, had their signing day press conferences and classes at their schools cancelled by the weather, and saw similar obstacles in getting their letters in this morning.
The first letter: According to Linda Krier, Steve Fairchild's administrative assistant, the first letter to arrive in the McGraw Center was that of QB Conner Smith, time stamped at exactly 6 a.m. MST. His letter was followed by that of TE Blake Jones at 6:10 a.m. and K/P Keenan Adams at 6:12 a.m. The NCAA allows Division I-eligible athletes in football, track, hockey, soccer and men's water polo to declare their future plans beginning at 7 a.m. in the player's time zone, on the first February Wednesday.
Back to Colorado: The Rams have always emphasized their home state in recruiting, and this year, that continued effort has paid off. CSU landed three of the state's top 11 prospects, according to the Denver Post, in RB Dorian Brown (No. 5), DE Joe Kawulok (No. 10), and OL/DL Justin Hansen (No. 11). Additionally, Kapri Bibbs was born in Colorado Springs.
"This is the best effort by our staff since we've been here," Fairchild said of the Rams' recruiting in Colorado. "We know it's very important for us to recruit our home territory well. I think any good football program does that. But the numbers do fluctuate from year to year, so we've always felt that we need to be prepared to supplement. But I think from a talent standpoint and a numbers standpoint, this is the best we've done so far in Colorado."
Battling adversity: New CSU lineman Justin Hansen, one of the state's highest ranked recruits, started on both sides of the ball at Longmont High School the past two years. He's now earned a major-college football scholarship and he's done it after battling Asperger's Syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum.An accomplished heavyweight wrestler, Hansen hopes to compete for the Class 4A state championship later this month at the Pepsi Center. He's also played basketball for Longmont, and earned all-conference recognition in track as a thrower.
Special parents: Coaches and players aren't the only beaming people associated with Signing Day today. The smiles of parents might be the brightest. And a few of the individuals some of the newest CSU signings know as their parents, are smiling even brighter, because of how far their families have come, and what they've had to overcome, to reach this day. While they may not be biological parents, they have no less love and pride for their sons.
George Maumau was raised by aunt and uncle, Michele and Vili Maumau, the former defensive tackle at Colorado. The younger Maumau, part of Valor Christian's consecutive state championship teams, took the surname of his legal guardians. He's no longer known as Talanoa.
Lee Clubb, from a small town called Iowa Park near Wichita Falls, Texas, finished his football career with consecutive district MVP awards. A talented baseball player, he could be drafted by a major-league organization in June. He's a special athlete, no doubt, but he also has special parents. His mom, a nurse, and his dad, who works for the local newspaper, adopted Lee when he was very young, and they could not be more proud of their youngest son.
Inspiration: Eight games into a promising senior season at Del Rio (Texas) High School, Cory James sustained a torn ACL. Devastated, the linebacker needed to look no farther than his own home for inspiration in overcoming the surgery and months of rehab. James' mom, Sheila, is a paraplegic, and his dad, Clarence, has faithfully supported and taken care of her since the car accident paralyzed her nearly two years ago.
Hitting close to home: The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti had a direct impact on new signee Kevin Pierre-Louis. Pierre-Louis, whose brother Wondy won two national championships at Florida under former CSU assistant Urban Meyer, is a first-generation American. His parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, are from Haiti. His family lost its home due to the devastating quake. Long before the quake, Kevin began living with his oldest brother and legal guardian, Jayden Richards. They moved from New York City to Del Rio, Texas, where Richards began working for the U.S. Border Patrol, just before Kevin began high school.
Dust off that FAX machine: The signing day process actually gives value to technology that is quickly becoming obsolete -- the FAX machine. The FAX is critical on signing day because it allows a school's compliance department to proof the paperwork before giving the media relations office permission to announce the signing. Without the FAX, the process would be delayed by at least 24 hours. Colorado State still asks its signees to send the letter via overnight mail, because the school needs to submit the materials to the MWC.
Orlando to Fort Collins pipeline:Pat Meyer used his eye for talent to spot Orlando Jones LB Steven Michel, another athlete with special parents. Michel, who keeps in touch with his mom, Elucia Michel, lives with his godfather and godmother, Lorenzo and LeTecia Edwards. He wore No. 4 in high school in honor of his father, who passed away when Steven was only 4 years old. Michel owns a 3.2 GPA at Jones, an International Baccalaureate World School that has dramatically improved its academics over the past several years. Michel's head coach at Jones was Kenard Lang, the former University of Miami (Fla.) fullback that played in the NFL for the Redskins, Browns and Broncos. Both Lang and Meyer believe the Rams got a steal in Michel.
Four-for-four: Ted and Kim Kawulok, with CSU's signing of Joe Kawulok Wednesday, have incredibly now had four sons earn Division I football scholarships. And, despite playing at Monarch High School in Louisville, Colo., just down the road from Folsom Field, three of the sons -- Chris, Michael and now Joe -- have chosen to play for the Rams.
Ted played college football at Northern Arizona and serves as an assistant on the Monarch coaching staff. Oldest son Chris was a tight end for CSU from 2004-08. Michael is a senior-to-be for the Rams and enters the spring as a starting linebacker. Matt was a tight end at San Diego State. And no, the family isn't all boys. Little sister, Lia, has four older brothers. Michael told the Denver Post recently that he feels sorry for any boyfriend Lia invites over for dinner.
Signing Day is actually Michael's birthday, so in essense, Joe's signing could be interpreted as a birthday present for his older brother, who says Joe actually has never given him a birthday gift. Regardless, the signing does make the Kawuloks one of only a handful of three-brother families to play football for the Rams. But, according to team historian John Hirn (coloradoaggies.com), it's not the school record, believe it or not.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, 55 years before their appearance Sunday in Super Bowl XLV, made Gary Glick out of Colorado State the NFL's No. 1 overall draft selection in 1956. While Glick might've been the most prominent in his family, he wasn't the only one to play football. Like the Kawuloks, the Glick family had four brothers play at the major-college level. But unlike the Kawuloks, all four Glick brothers played and lettered in Fort Collins: Leon, Ivan, and Fred, who played in the old AFL.
Other three-brother families at CSU include the French brothers, Jay, Jack and Jasper from Julesburg, Colo. (Fort Collins' largest high-school football stadium, French Field, is named after Jay, a longtime Fort Collins High School coach).
Perhaps the most prominent player in CSU history, consensus All-American Fum McGraw, also had two brothers play for the school: Bill and Hersh. Bill did not last on the football team long enough to get a letter, but the 1946, `47 and `48 media guides state that Fum was the third brother in a line of Aggies athletes. Bill played on the 1941 team, while Hersh played on the 1942 squad and lost his leg in action during World War II. He returned as a coach and administartor at CSU for many years.
More recently, the Stratton family -- from another arch-rival's territory, Wyoming -- has sent three brothers through Fort Collins. Ben, a safety, and Dane, an offensive lineman, were both starters for the Rams in the last decade. Youngest brother Alex, also a DB, played briefly before injury cut short his career two years ago.
Before Sonny Lubick became coach in 1993 (see below list), several other brothers have played for the Aggies and Rams, even going back to the inception of football in 1893, when Henry and Richard Calkins played on the very first team. Other sets of brothers include the Emich (1899), Hartshorn (1921), Hyde (1923), White (Albert and Wilbur 1929-34), Ashbaugh (1954-59), Graves (1953-58), Driscoll (1974-81), Bell (1974-78), Call (1979-83), Bartalo (1982-88) and Chirico (1982-90) families.
DT:Donnell Alexander was not close to his biological dad, but shows similar athleticism. Alexander's father is the late Derrick Thomas, who still holds the NFL's single-game record with seven sacks. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009 after an 11-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs, who made him the fourth overall selection in the 1989 NFL Draft, out of Alabama
Band of brothers: The additions of Joe Kawulok and Beau and Drew Reilly in 2011 give the Rams four sets of brothers on the active roster, joining T.J. and Bobby Borcky and Austin and Crockett Gillmore, although Beau Reilly is expected to depart on an LDS mission this fall and return to enroll in the 2014 spring semester. All told, 17 sets of brothers have been in the program since Sonny Lubick became head coach in 1993:
Same-class brothers: Unique circumstances had to fall into place in order for the Rams to land brothers Drew and Beau Reilly in the same class. Drew initially signed by the Rams out of Valley Center (Calif.) High School in 2008, just returned from his LDS mission and enrolled at CSU this term. He'll compete for playing time immediately as a 21-year-old true freshman. Younger brother Beau, who guided Valley Center to consecutive CIF state championship berths the past two seasons, will follow in his brother's footsteps and depart on a mission this fall. He's expected to return, like his brother, and enroll at CSU in the spring of 2014.
The last time the Rams announced brothers in the same class was 2004, when CSU landed twins Damon and Dion Morton from Riverside, Calif. Despite signing in the same class, they wound up two years apart in terms of college eligibility, because Damon played as a true freshman, while Dion not only grayshirted, he also redshirted. Damon finished his career in 2007, while Dion played as a senior in 2009. Ironically, Dion was minutes older than Damon.
Tulsa to Siberia: New CSU tight end Blake Jones is an exceptional student that helped Tulsa Union, the school that produced former Rams starter Blake Smith, dominate the state of Oklahoma the past three years. One of his teammates might follow him to the Mountain West and see him on the gridiron whenever the Rams meet Air Force. Unfortunately, Blake's dad, Bobby, could only see about half of his games. That's because his career with an oil company takes him from Tulsa to Siberia every 21 days. The 52-hour trip requires five modes of transportation, including two planes, a bus and helicopter.
Strike: Chicago Offensive Player of the Year Kapri Bibbs, one of the headliners of the Rams' Class of 2011, isn't your average multi-sport athlete.
Bibbs, a Colorado Springs native, is more than a football player. He's also a varsity bowler for his school, Plainfield North, excelling in the sport and following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who taught him the sport. And while he figures to win the Rams' August bowling competition during every fall camp, Bibbs -- according to offensive coordinator Pat Meyer -- came up on the short end of a December compeition between the player and coach, on Meyer's visit to his hometown.Meyer claims to have beaten Bibbs by a few points in what figures to be the first of several one-on-one battles between the two over the next several years.
Meyer recruited Bibbs, the best offensive player in the nation's third-largest city, according to ESPNChicago.com. Showing their ability to spot marquee talent, Meyer and CSU were one of the first staffs to actively recruit Bibbs, who after committing to CSU went on to make national headlines after breaking the Illinois single-game record with 520 yards. In a photo illustration following the game, the Chicago Tribune featured a giant Bibbs leaning on the Hancock Tower, noting that his 520 yards were more than the 376-yard height of the skyscraper.
Other unique sports: Don't be surprised to hear announcers call Nu'vali Fa'apito's name (hopefully, the announcers will read the pronunciation guides provided by the CSU sports information office) after officials unpile bodies scrambling for a fumble. That's because Fa'apito, whose name means painted village in Samoan, is also a rugby player. A linebacker in the fall at La Quinta High School near Palm Springs, Calif., he helped inaugurate his school's newest varsity spring sport, rugby, and loves it.
Tukey shoot: New kicker/punter Keenan Adams, from Bainbridge, Ga., is already a household name in the sport of turkey shooting. A world champion archer and rifleman, Adams has become the world's youngest hunter to accomplish the World Slam, bagging a wild turkey from every major species.
Loyalty: When Tampa, Fla., product Charles Lovett sees his name on the new CSU roster in 2011, he'll probably feel relief that it lists only one position, wide receiver. That's because Lovett, one of the most prolific receivers in city history through his junior season, carried a huge load for his Hillsborough team as a senior. After his 2009 campaign, Lovett had a chance as a senior to break nearly every career receiving record in Florida annals.
After losing his quarterback Tarean Austin (New Mexico) to graduation, Lovett could've transferred to another school to help his own cause. Tampa doesn't penalize football players for transfering schools and he could've played for another team with a QB, without missing games.
But not only did Lovett remain at Hillsborough, one of the oldest schools in Florida, he also unselfishly agreed to move to fill Austin's void at quarterback. Lovett was Hillsborough's field general for the first half of 2010 until the school had groomed a future starter.
Lovett, called by longtime Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia the best all-around player he's had, also played running back and cornerback, and returned punts and kickoffs, in addition to wide receiver.
Same-name players: The addition of Texas QB Conner Smith gives the Rams two players with the same name. Smith joins senior-to-be Connor Smith, another Texas product, at CSU in 2011. The older Smith is an offensive lineman.
The last time the Rams had two players with the same first and last name is believed to be the late 1970s, when Mark E. Bell and Mark R. Bell helped the Rams to one of their best seasons in program history, 1977.
Both players were selected in the first five rounds of the NFL Draft Mark E. Bell, a tight end, played for the Seahawks and Colts. Mark R. Bell, a wide receiver, played for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Mark E. Bell's brother, Mike, was the No. 2 overall selection in the draft, and played 12 years for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Investment: Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on the viewpoint, an injury to a high-school football player can significantly affect his recruitment. CSU, which saw TE Kory Sperry overcome a torn ACL to become an all-conference tight end as a senior and play in the NFL, signed six players Wednesday that lost all or part of their junior or senior seasons due to injury. After doing their homework, and diligently investing the time and research to ensure the signees have an excellent chance to be successful in Fort Collins, the Rams are ecstatic to welcome them into the program.
Bainbridge, Ga., kicker Keenan Adams sustained a season-ending knee injury in the second game of his senior season.
Dorian Brown, an All-Colorado running back from Loveland, tore ligaments in his knee just six days before his senior-season opener. He graduated early from high school, has already enrolled at CSU, and will finish the rehab process under the care of the Rams' medical team.
LB Cory James, from Del Rio, Texas, started 21 consecutive games until sustaining a torn ACL, ending his prep career in the eighth game of his senior season.
Promising safety Trent Matthews, from Converse, Texas, was sidelined most of his junior year by a broken leg, but returned for the state playoffs, and wound up with 20 tackles and one interception in his season's only two games, both in the postseason.
Denver fullback George Maumau sustained a broken fibula in Valor Christian's 2010 opener, and missed the ensuing four games, before returning for the balance of the regular season and run to the Colorado state title...Without him in their backfield, the Eagles (11-3) were just 3-3, losing three of their first four, then went 8-0 after his return.
Robert Nunn, an explosive receiver from Bastrop, Texas, did not play as a junior in 2009 after breaking his ankle as a sophomore in 2008, limiting his recruiting. He enjoyed a stellar senior campaign.
Typically the best athletes: CSU believes that running backs and quarterbacks are many times the best athletes on a high-school football team.
"We will find a way to get those guys on the field," Fairchild said. "Tony Drake is a wide receiver now, and he can play defensive back. Lou Greenwood I'm hoping can step up and play a key role in our success this fall at wide receiver. He was a high-school running back. Mychal Sisson just led the country in forced fumbles as a linebacker last year; he was a running back in high school. Those types of things sort themselves out. On special teams, if we have a guy that's a good-enough athlete and he can help us by returning, or covering kicks, we'll find a way to get him on the field."
From Rams to Rams: Zac Pauga, who leaves a gaping void in the Rams' backfield as he prepares for the NFL, was a Ram in high school at Green Mountain in Lakewood, Colo. There are several such high schools across the country, and one of them, Del Rio in Texas, just gave the CSU Rams two more players: LB Cory James and DB Kevin Pierre-Louis.
Speaking of teammates: James and Pierre-Louis are the seventh set of teammates signed by CSU since 2004:
Unique connection: When Steve Fairchild came to CSU as a junior-college quarterback in 1978, one of his teammates was a walk-on kicker named Mark Mangelsen. Mangelsen's sister, Kim, is the mother of RB Dorian Brown.
NFL genetics: Colorado State now has six players, including brothers T.J. and Bobby Borcky, whose fathers played in the NFL.
LB Aaron Davis (cousin is Manu Tuiasosopo, who played with the Seattle Seahawks and won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers...Other Tuiasosopo cousins include Marques (Oakland Raiders), and Zach (defensive end in the NFL).
DE C.J. James (Tamarick Vanover, Kansas City, cousin).
DT Nuku Latu (Duce Lutui, Arizona, cousin; Vai Sikahema, several teams, cousin).
FB George Maumau's uncle and guardian, Vili Maumau was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the 1998 NFL Draft. Another uncle, Chris Maumalanga, was selected in the fourth round of the 1994 NFL Draft, and played for several teams...Another cousin, Mario Fatafehi, played in the NFL with the Cardinals, Panthers and Broncos.
S Najee James has three NFL cousins, including 2009 Offensive Player of the Year Chris Johnson (Tennessee). Other cousins are former kick returner Kevin Williams and current Jacksonville wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker.
QB Garrett Grayson's uncle, Danny Grayson, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1990.
QB Pete Thomas' cousin, Stephen Neal, has earned three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots.
How's this for a kicker?: Dallas Kimball defensive tackle Isiah Norton, 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds, was his team's kicker.
Position changes: Now that recruiting is complete, the Rams will shift their attention to spring ball. And with every spring comes positon changes. The only position Head Coach Steve Fairchild is certain will change is that of senior-to-be Elijah-Blu Smith. The starting free safety the last two-plus years will shift back to his natural position, cornerback. As the staff prepares for spring ball, it is expected to make more position changes.