July 23, 2013
LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- As the Mountain West Conference continues to establish itself on a national level, Colorado State Head Coach Jim McElwain knows the importance of each conference member doing its part.
“It’s not only the conference, but each individual institution stepping up and saying, ‘this is who we want to be; let’s not just hang on, let’s be a part of that picture,’” said McElwain, surrounded by a group of reporters on Day 1 of the league’s annual Media Days at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. “Each one of us can help that by winning. Each one of us can help that by being competitive and playing a great brand of football, and following through with your other sports. So, it isn’t just driven at the football level. It isn’t just driven at the basketball level, but it’s driven as a complete department.”
McElwain also knows that the foundation is in place at Colorado State for his Rams football team, and the entire CSU athletics department, to continue its growth towards becoming an asset to both The MW, and the university.
“That’s why we’re so fortunate at Colorado State,” added McElwain. “We have an unbelievable administration that has vision on what direction we’re headed and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
McElwain’s message was heard loud and clear throughout the day on Monday, and it was echoed by standout seniors Weston Richburg and Shaquil Barrett, who represented their teammates in front of the gathered media contingent that numbered more than 230 credentialed writers, reporters and radio personalities: The Rams are here to compete with the best that the Mountain West and the rest of the country have to offer.
Barrett and Richburg, who was picked as a preseason All-MW selection, also fielded questions about the Rams’ upcoming campaign throughout the day in various media sessions, including in-depth conversations with the league’s newest platform, The Mountain West Digital Network.
All three Rams went through a full day of interviews and also enjoyed interaction with the rest of the head coaches and players from the other Mountain West schools. Judging from the media assembled, the word is out about the Mountain West, and the event is structured well to accommodate the greatest number of interviews in the available time.
Barrett and Richburg were finished with their media obligations at the end of the day on Monday, while McElwain’s schedule includes another half day of interviews on Tuesday.
#MWFB DAY 1 NOTEBOOK FOR MONDAY, JULY 22
CULTURE CHANGE: McElwain, Barrett and Richburg were asked frequently today what is different about this team in Year 2 of McElwain’s tenure, and the three repeatedly talked about the process of changing the culture.
“We’re in that bond-and-build stage where we want our guys to truly understand that we’re a family and truly understand what it means to know more about each individual than just their name and jersey number,” McElwain explained. “That helps you build a program, and that’s something we’re still working on, and yet our guys are doing a great job of it. Obviously it comes down to recruiting. You keep recruiting to your system and make sure that it fits, and we have a bright future at Colorado State.”
Barrett shared insight from a player’s perspective into how that process takes place on a daily basis.
“Since Coach McElwain came in he took it one step at a time to have everybody come together as a team,” Barrett shared. “Introducing ourselves to each other in the weight room, talking to (teammates) and finding out something about them you never knew, just trying to get us to come together as a team instead of having cliques, and be together as a family, is what we’ve done. You see people who, three years ago, you never would have seen talking to each other having regular conversations now.”
Richburg says he can now see the dividends of the work being put in, and the methods behind the culture change.
“(Coach McElwain) always talks about “the process,” Richburg explained. “Any time you come in and your culture is one thing and you’re trying to change to something else, it might take a while. For me even, it took a while to kind of come around to his ideas and the way he wants to do things. But this spring and this summer it’s been a night and day difference. We’ve started to really take hold of really what he’s all about and what he expects from us. You can see a complete difference in the attitude of my teammates and myself. It’s been a huge offseason for us, getting to doing what he wants us to do, and the way we need to do it.”
MW DIVISIONAL PLAY AND CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: McElwain shared in numerous interviews why he thinks the developments of the past year across the Mountain West landscape show the strength of the league and the bright prospects for the future.
“I think it’s outstanding,” McElwain said of the impact of the first MW Championship Game, set for Dec. 7, 2013. “Having been in some leagues where there was a conference championship game, I think it’s going to help broaden the exposure of the Mountain West Conference, because we’ll get that highlight game, where a lot of people in other parts of the country who don’t even know that we play football out here can see really good football, good coaching and good players. That’s going to help the conference going forward. This conference has sent some great teams into really good bowl games and won. There’s really good programs, there’s really coaches, and I’m excited to be part of it.”
Another development that highlights the strength of the Conference came in the form of its membership.
“One thing I think really helped this past year is that Boise State and San Diego State went out and looked, and found that the grass isn’t always greener. It shows the great things we have going on in the Mountain West Conference. What we’re all trying to do right now is become relevant, and become relevant nationally. Everyone knows how good we are in our areas. But it’s about taking that to the next level, which I really believe the Mountain and the West divisions having a championship game, at a time when you’re the only one on TV—at a time when other people in a different part of the country don’t think we know how to blow a football up out here—will give folks an opportunity to see it and say, ‘wow, that’s pretty good.’ So I really think we are headed in the right direction as a conference.”
QUARTERBACK BATTLE: Continuing a theme from the spring, McElwain was frequently asked how soon he may name a starting quarterback.
“We had two guys (Garrett Grayson and Conner Smith) who played a lot last year and both of them have been working on leadership. One of the things we really stressed in this offseason was, ‘who’s going to step up and make this their team?’ So, I’ll be excited to see in August which one of those guys took those strides and is ready to take the reins of this team.”
The Rams’ head man also emphasized that it won’t necessarily be his decision, adding “they are the ones who will make that decision by the way they work and the way they lead.”
RICHBURG THE LONE RAM ON MW PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM: McElwain shared with media what is special about Richburg, his starting center, on the day he was named to the preseason All-Mountain West, by vote of the media.
“Weston is a guy that really, as we got towards the end of the season, just grew as a player to the point that he made himself a dominant player based on how he played, and the technique that he played with,” McElwain said. “Also, what he has done for our young guys moving forward. Then, in the spring, you guys saw us playing him at a lot of different positions, which will really help us depth-wise. He feels comfortable whether he’s at guard or tackle, and that’s outstanding. Not a lot of guys are that flexible and I think that speaks volumes for who he is and what he’s all about.”
EXPERIENCE UP FRONT: The Rams return four starters from 2012 on the offensive line, and five players who saw significant starting time. The group not only has game experience to adapt to offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin’s offensive scheme and Derek Frazier’s offensive line coaching.
“We definitely have a lot of experience,” Richburg said of his fellow linemates. “It’s huge. It helps with our communication, which is a big thing for us, and that’s going to allow the offense to move a lot more smoothly and allow us to do more things. We just have to get the running game going, which will allow our quarterbacks to throw the ball and add a lot more versatility to our offense.”
NOT A VOCAL LEADER, BUT A LEADER: Barrett knows he has just one more season to leave a legacy at Colorado State and to achieve the things he envisioned when he arrived on the Fort Collins campus in 2011. Being a senior puts him an even different light among his teammates.
“I really just take it as an opportunity to take guys under my way and try to teach them that you don’t have to be a vocal leader,” Barrett said. “You can lead by example also. That’s pretty much my main style of leading. I come out on the field and do what I need to do, like workouts and being on time for everything. Even though I have a family, I don’t use it as an excuse. I still want to take care of my responsibilities that I have in football and show those guys that you can do it no matter circumstances you have. It’s still possible to be a leader even if you’re not that vocal.”
McElwain marvels at the overall leader his senior linebacker has become in his two-plus years at CSU, and what he can become on the field in his final season. With more help up front, Barrett may be free to play positions more natural to him than the ways he had to be utilized in 2012.
“He’s shown that he’s able to handle it, and he’s embraced it, which I think speaks a lot for who he is,” McElwain said. “Now with his ability to get there (to the quarterback), teams may end up having to take an extra guy, which might free up somebody on the other side. And I think you saw that a little bit last year with Lanston (Tanyi) and Corey James. They left the freshman free, so he got two sacks. What you hope to do is put enough guys up there so they (the offense) are like ‘oh boy.’ I’m excited to see how he’s adapted.”
NEWEST OF THE NEWCOMERS: McElwain was asked for the first time about junior college transfers Saladin McCullough and Willie Udofia, who were added to the Colorado State roster last week. McCullough, a cornerback, comes from Moorpark College, while Udofia, a wide receiver, comes from East L.A. College.
“I don’t put a lot of expectations on them to come in and play immediately,” McElwain said. “We’ll see how they do when camp starts, and how quick they pick it up. How quickly they make themselves relevant is really what it’s all about. Those are need positions. When you look at our wide receiver corps as a whole, we got some guys that look like they’re players. Now whether they can play, who knows, we’ll find out. But we’re excited about that. Now when you look at the defensive back position, we’re awful thin, so we still need an influx of skill players.”
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