Aug. 6, 2010
By Zak Gilbert
Athletic Media Relations
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Every year, national college football publications like Phil Steele, Athlon Sports and Lindy’s comb through every roster and make their predictions.
The skinny on the 2010 Colorado State Rams? Great running backs, yes, but too many question marks in the offensive line, at wide receiver, and especially quarterback. Most think the Rams will finish seventh at best in the Mountain West, with the conference’s three perennial top 25 teams.
Not so fast, my friend.
Head Coach Steve Fairchild said after the team’s second fall practice Friday that if the Rams can shorten the learning curve at those three positions, CSU might be able to surprise a lot of people.
At first glance on the offensive line, where four of the Rams’ 2009 starters are now in NFL training camps. CSU looks decimated. But look more closely and discover that CSU’s roster actually has 29 combined starts. The only returning starter, tackle Paul Madsen, has seven, while the opposite bookend, Mark Starr, has 16. Madsen replaced Starr in the lineup midway through 2009.
Meanwhile, starting guard Jake Gdowski got his first three starts to begin the 2009 season, when the Rams went 3-0 and were receiving votes in both national polls; he replaced an injured Shelley Smith, eventually the Houston Texans’ sixth-round draft selection. Connor Smith, who split first-team reps at center Friday with Tyler McDermott, has three career starts – all in 2008 before injuring his shoulder last season and gaining an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA.
The only potential starter without a start entering this year is newly married Ryan Griffith, a senior guard who has 11 games of experience on the line.
And the Rams haven’t even donned pads. When they do Monday, offensive coordinator/line coach Pat Meyer will be anxious to see which of the young players separate themselves.
“We have seven or eight guys there waiting in the wings,” Fairchild said. “Down the road, I feel really good about our offensive line.”
“Just on these two days,” Fairchild said of the start of fall camp, “it’s like night and day, the effort. We’re still filtering through what we have, because they’re all pretty young. Even the Bryon Steeles are pretty young, but I do know that we’ve got a pretty good depth of guys that will go hard, and I think in the long run, that’s going to make that a strong position for us.
“I’m not sure in the past we’ve played as hard as we are right now.”
The leader of the hard-working group is senior Tyson Liggett, a former walk-on who already has earned enough respect from his teammates to be voted a team caption this year. The receivers also have a new position coach, Dan Hammerschmidt.
“I’ve worked with Dan before,” Fairchild said, “and I knew the toughness and the effort. I like that group. There’s a lot of them that can make plays. We’re obviously young, having trouble even getting lined up right now, but it’s going to end up being a good position for us. “
Finally, at quarterback, even casual fans now know the Rams are pitting a pair of freshmen in a battle for the starting role. Fairchild has no doubt that either true freshman Pete Thomas or redshirt freshman Nico Ranieri are good enough to win in the Mountain West. Now, he wants to coach them like he has former conference offensive players of the year Moses Moreno and Matt Newton.
“Consistency,” he said. “I want that edge. Every play, every rep, every drill, I want them to be perfect and not drop their guard, not be an up-and-down kind of guy, because you just can’t be that way at that spot if you’re going to be a good one.
The player that eventually earns the job won’t need to do anything special, he said, other than be consistent.
“It’s just, the guy’s open, get it out on time, hit him in the face with the ball and throw it to the right guy. But that’s easier said than done when you’re 135 plays into a practice and you’re tired and it’s brand new and we just installed it. You’ve got to be able to do it. You’ve got to be able to function consistently.”
New players: Other than the signing class previously announced, the Rams have six other newcomers on their 105-man roster. All but one are true freshmen, while the sixth, LB Kameron Wilhite, is a redshirt-freshman transfer from CSU-Pueblo.
Safety Zane Petty, who hails from Corning (Calif.) Union High School, is no stranger to the CSU program. His father, Manson, was a three-year letterman on the Rams’ defensive line in the early 1970s.
The others are defensive lineman Nick Virgil (Regis High School in Denver), WR Michael Moore (Dayspring Christian, Greeley, Colo.), FB Jacob Levin (Brighton, Colo., Legacy High School), and CB Conner Roggy (West High School, Greeley, Colo.).
The team will expand its roster to a number determined by the athletic department and Title IX, usually around 117 players, once school begins Aug. 23.
It’s digital: Senior tight end Eric Peitz, who hails from a tiny town in Nebraska without a stoplight, can swap stories with graduate assistant Trevor Wikre. The two individuals sustained serious finger injuries during their playing careers.
Wikre was a four-year starter (2005-08) at Mesa State, and midway through that 2008 campaign, a compound dislocation of his finger caused ligament damage that doctors told him would prevent his return that season. But to preserve his college career, Wikre chose to have his finger amputated. The surgery forced him to miss the only game of his career, but he returned and played in the final five contests. The story spawned features in Sports Illustrated, People, the New York Times, USA Today, Sunday NFL Countdown and ESPN The Magazine, as well as guest appearances on ESPN's First Take and Mike and Mike in the Morning.
Peitz was more fortunate. During practice last April at the Rams’ stadium, his finger was nearly severed after a blow from notorious CSU hitman Elijah-Blu Smith. Peitz looked down at his hand to see the tip of his finger held to his hand by a thread of skin. Peitz missed the rest of spring ball, really as a precaution. He quickly returned to full health and already has made several plays during the first two days of fall camp.
Plays of the Day: Strong safety Ivory Herd laid out in the center of the field to make an athletic play in deflecting a pass early in practice. Mike Orakpo, now a linebacker, collided with Peitz over the middle as the pass arrived, then kept his focus, stole the ball from Peitz and returned the interception down the sideline. Momo Thomas picked off Nico Ranieri on a deep-out pattern, getting one foot down before going out of bounds. Marcus Shaw and Shaq Bell broke up passes late in practice. Nuku Latu highlighted the final team period by blasting into the backfield and throwing Chris Nwoke for what would’ve been a 4-yard loss.
On offense, Steele used his height advantage to beat defenders to the ball on a 48-yard reception during 7-on-7. Marquise Law hauled in a 43-yard reception that would’ve given the Rams’ first-and-goal at the 7-yard line. James Boone also secured a deep pass over the middle.
Borcky vs. Borcky: Between them, T.J. Borcky and younger brother Bobby Borcky probably lead the nation in positions played by a brother combination. The elder Borcky, currently a wide receiver, beat his brother for a reception during 7-on-7 Friday. An Orlando quarterback like his older brother in high school, Bobby began his college career as a safety Thursday, but could move.
The duo’s father, Tim, was an offensive tackle at Memphis State that was drafted in the seventh round of the 1988 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. Three uncles also played college football, Dennis Borcky (Memphis State), Kevin Borcky (Memphis State) and Paul Borcky (Syracuse). Dennis also played in the NFL, for the New York Giants. Another uncle, Rich Borcky, played basketball at Millersville College. What’s more, an aunt, Anne Borcky, played basketball at Holy Cross, and another aunt, Patty Borcky, played basketball and volleyball at Wilmington.
Team captains: The Rams have selected their permanent team captains for the 2010 season. Joining Liggett as an offensive captain is Gdowski, while Guy Miller and Ricky Brewer are the defensive captains. John Mosure is the special teams captain.
For the second straight season, the Rams have elected a former walk-on a team captain. Liggett follows in the footsteps of Nick Oppenneer, who led the team in interceptions last year as a scholarship senior after walking on before the 2007 campaign.
Weekend schedule: The Rams will don shoulder pads Saturday morning for their third practice, at the fields south of Moby Arena. CSU also will go Sunday before donning full pads for the first time Monday morning. All three practices begin at 7:45 a.m.
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