A moment of silence

by Tony Phifer on September 28, 2010

Colorado State lost one of its football greats Saturday when former All-American offensive guard Anthony Cesario died of a heart attack while leading a hunting expedition in the mountains near Steamboat Springs.

Cesario, 34, was a huge, powerful guy who simply overpowered opposing linemen. With fellow All-American Mike Newell at his side playing center, it’s no surprise that some of CSU’s best running backs (Calvin Branch, Damon Washington, Kevin McDougal) ran through holes created by this marvelously talented twosome.

A vow of silence

My lasting memory of Cesario was a stance taken by him and Newell in 1998 to not speak to the media during their senior season, a la the Denver Broncos’ offensive linemen. CSU Senior Associate Athletic Director Gary Ozzello was the sports information director at the time, and he used to beg Cesario and Newell to break their silence so he could get the word out to the rest of the country about their exceptional ability. I was the CSU beat writer for the Fort Collins Coloradoan at the time, and I would have great fun trying to get Cesario to break his vow of silence…and I nearly did on several occasions. He was just too nice to say no, but he knew his buddy Newell would let him have it if he talked.

Injuries prevented Cesario from making much of an impact in the NFL, which is a shame. He certainly is one of the greatest linemen in CSU history and he seemed destined for a long, successful NFL career. He owned a Fort Collins business and, save for some recent heart-related issues, was happy and a good friend to the football program.

Sadly ironic

The first great irony of Cesario’s death is that it happened on the same day CSU was honoring the memory of Keli McGregor, another former Ram All-American who died way too young. The second great irony is that he died working on land owned by former CSU great Steve DeLine – right  about the time DeLine’s son, Ben, was kicking the winning field goal in CSU’s 36-34 win over Idaho.

Memorial service Friday in Pueblo

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Massari Arena on the CSU-Pueblo campus in Cesario’s beloved hometown. I will dedicate a few moments of silence that morning in his honor. After all, he gave me five months of silence in 1998. Offering up a few quiet moments for one of CSU’s true greats is the least I can do in return.

Orange juices weekend success

by Tony Phifer on September 27, 2010

For the most part, I think retro uniforms should be left right where they were in the first place: in the past. It’s rare that a team’s former uniform is worth resurrecting, and the updated versions almost never measure up to the classic uniforms, anyway. There are a few exceptions, with the San Diego Chargers’ power blue jerseys probably topping that list, but when you see outfits like those gawdawful brown and yellow duds the Broncos brought back last year, you wonder why anyone even bothers.

Still, I am a big fan of the orange retros worn by the Colorado State Rams on Saturday in their 36-34 win over Idaho. Not only did the Rams looks sharp, the fans – particularly the students – did their part to make “Orange Out” a welcome addition. Say what you want about fashion, but the Rams looked and played like an entirely different team from the one that started the season 0-3.

The football win was part of a highly successful Rams weekend. Not only did the football team snap its 12-game losing streak, the volleyball team swept its last Utah trip, the cross-country teams performed well at a big meet and the women’s tennis team got to show off its new facility.

Football – The Rams came into their game having scored 19 points in three games and sporting one of the worst offenses in the country. Considering that Idaho entered with one of the nation’s top defenses, it figured to be a long day for Ram fans. Instead, Pete Thomas carved up Idaho’s secondary for 386 yards and three touchdowns, and Raymond Carter became just the second running back in CSU history to post 100 rushing and receiving yards in the same game. Best of all, the Rams showed remarkable poise and resolve in the final minutes when they put together a terrific drive to set up Ben DeLine’s game-winning field goal on the final play. Thomas, by the way, today was named the Mountain West Conference’s offensive player of the week for his memorable performance. Next up: Fifth-ranked TCU – the best team on CSU’s schedule and a possible national championship contender – invades Hughes Stadium for a noon Saturday game.

Volleyball – With BYU and Utah bolting the MWC next year, this was CSU’s last chance to let the good folks in the Beehive State know which team rules the Mountain time zone. The 18th-ranked Rams made a lasting impression, beating BYU on Friday in five sets before crushing Utah in three sets Sunday. Next up: The Rams host MWC rival San Diego State at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Cross-country – The men’s team was eighth and the women 11th Saturday at the Roy Griak Invitational in Minnesota – one of the nation’s most prestigious meets. The Rams return to action Oct. 16 at the Pre-Nationals meet in Terre Haute, Ind. – site of the annual NCAA Championships.

Tennis – The results of the CSU Invitational were far less important than showcasing the Rams’ new 12-court facility. The $2 million complex should give the program an immediate boost and will allow the Rams to host the MWC Championships this spring.

McGregor memories

by Tony Phifer on September 24, 2010

Earlier this summer, my wife and I attended a Colorado Rockies game on “Jason Giambi Jersey Night.” When we entered the stadium, there were purple-clad Rockies employees handing out the T-shirts to fans hungry for a freebie. I walked by, empty-handed.

I really had no interest in wearing a T-shirt that bears the Giambi name. Not that I’m saintly, but I refuse to celebrate a man who has admitted using illegal substances to enhance his physique…and his career. Even today, long since his admission, one look at his abnormally huge arms is all it takes to confirm that Giambi cheated to get bigger and better.

From unknown to All-American

All too often, we sports fans are asked to “honor” people who really aren’t worth honoring. That will not be the case Saturday, when Colorado State honors the memory of Keli McGregor.

McGregor’s life story was a classic American tale. He was a skinny, relatively short kid trying to earn a spot as a walk-on at CSU when he had a growth spurt for the ages that allowed him to become an All-American tight end and NFL draft pick. CSU degree in hand, he went on to a career in college and professional athletics that eventually led him to the Colorado Rockies. He rose through the ranks and became team president and one of the most respected executives in Major League Baseball.

McGregor’s unexpected death from a heart infection in April still is difficult to comprehend. He was always in fabulous shape, and he was only 48. The last time I saw him, shortly after the conclusion of Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, he looked better than any 48-year-old guy has a right to look: tall, strong, and ridiculously handsome. I still can’t believe he’s gone.

A true Ram legend

Along the way, McGregor never forgot his alma mater. He was a huge CSU supporter, and every university president and athletic director over the past 15-plus years sought his counsel. He was one of a kind.

So, while you might not think it’s worth your while to watch the 0-3 Rams take on Idaho on Saturday, it most certainly is worth the trip to Hughes Stadium to honor Keli McGregor – a Ram legend in every way.     

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Ex-Ram Laird on history’s teebox

by Tony Phifer on September 23, 2010

While most CSU fans will be focused this weekend on the football team’s Ag Day battle with Idaho, another former CSU athlete will be trying to make history.

Martin Laird, easily the best golfer to don green and gold, tees it up Thursday in the four-day PGA Tour Championship – the most prestigious non-major tournament on the Tour and the culmination of the four-event chase for the FedEx Cup. Laird is one of just 30 players in the field, and had to outplay some of the game’s finest – including Tiger Woods – to get this far.

Paired with Mickelson

In case you were wondering about the level of competition, consider that Laird – a 2004 CSU graduate who already has won a career-best $1.6 million this season – is paired with defending champion Phil Mickelson the first two days of the tournament in Atlanta. Mickelson, with a win, would take over as the No. 1 golfer in the world.

Big bucks

While Laird last year became the first CSU golfer in history win a PGA title when he triumphed in Las Vegas, winning the Tour Championship would rank as one of the greatest individual achievements by a CSU athlete. Not only would he win the $1.35 million check for victory, he could win the overall FedEx Cup title and the $10 million prize that goes with it.

That’s right, folks, 10 freaking million dollars.

So, while you’re wearing your orange and cheering for the Rams, make sure to check in with Laird in his quest for golfing greatness. Truly, he’s one Ram making his mark.

Hilbert: Hall of a coach

by Tony Phifer on September 21, 2010

It’s no secret that Colorado State volleyball coach Tom Hilbert is the most successful coach on campus. Now in his 14th season, Hilbert has taken the Rams to the NCAA Tournament each year, and he has won a remarkable 80 percent of his games, posting a record of 341-87. He was given the Hall of Honor Award by the CSU Sports Hall of Fame in 2006. You certainly could make a case for him being the most successful coach in any sport in CSU history.

Hilbert’s success, however, isn’t limited to CSU. He’s also the best coach in Idaho’s history. Prior to coming to CSU, he coached the Vandals for eight years, winning 70 percent of his games and leading them to five consecutive NCAA appearances. He was part of the inaugural Idaho Hall of Fame class in 2007.

This past weekend, Hilbert was in Moscow as his 1994 Vandals team was inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame. Hilbert, who was unable to attend the ceremony in 2007 when he was inducted because of a match conflict, led that 1994 team to a 32-3 record and a No. 19 final national ranking.

Blue Monday

by Tony Phifer on September 20, 2010

As weekends go, this past one had a lot of Monday in it for the Colorado State Rams.

It started Friday night with a disappointing five-set volleyball loss to Long Beach State. And it didn’t get any better Saturday when the football team lost 31-10 at Miami. If you’re looking for a positive, CSU golfer Ryan Peterson has the lead going into today’s final round of the Gene Miranda Falcon Invitational at Air Force.

A recap:

Football – The good news is that the Rams scored a touchdown in the final seconds, and no longer are the only team in the country still seeking the end zone. The bad news is that they are 0-3 and have now lost 12 consecutive games. CSU continues to search for its running game (if you find it, please contact the football office IMMEDIATELY!), but freshman quarterback Pete Thomas continues to progress, and the defense played well. Junior receiver Matt Yemm, in addition to scoring the season’s first touchdown, made a one-handed grab in the first half that has to rank among the best catches in all of college football this season. Next up: An Ag Day matchup with Idaho, set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Hughes Stadium.

Volleyball – The 14th-ranked Rams (they undoubtedly will drop a few spots) got their weekend off to a decent start Thursday, knocking off Virginia Commonwealth, but they came up short Friday against Long Beach State, which featured 6-foot-6 Haleigh Hampton, who figures to be a force in college volleyball for the next four years. The Rams let five set points slip through their fingers in Set 2 before losing 33-31, and that eventually cost them. Sophomore Megan Plourde, who very quickly is establishing herself as the program’s next great player, played well in the loss for CSU (9-2). Next up: Thing get serious as the Rams begin Mountain West Conference play with matches at rivals Brigham Young (7 p.m. Friday) and Utah (2 p.m. Saturday).  

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The scheduling puzzle

by Tony Phifer on September 18, 2010

College athletic directors will tell you that putting together a football schedule is a very small part of their job. It also can one of the most important.

Many an AD has had his/her legacy determined by scheduling. Do it well, and you’re a star. Do it poorly, and you start faxing resumes.

A couple of examples:

1. David Ames, the longtime CSU Ag Sciences professor who served as interim AD in 1993 and one of the really good people on this campus, needed to add a game to fill out the 1994 schedule. When he chose a game at Arizona, most CSU fans thought he was nuts. And when Arizona was picked by Sports Illustrated to win the 1994 national championship, Ames himself probably thought he was nuts. But when the Rams beat Arizona and went on to win their first WAC title, Ames became a hero for scheduling a game that many consider the most important in CSU history.

2. Prior to the 2003 season, former CSU AD Jeff Hathaway scheduled a home-and-home series against Miami (Ohio). At the time, no one thought much of it – until we learned that Miami had a brilliant young quarterback coming back for his junior season. Sure enough, that brilliant young quarterback led Miami to a 41-21 win over the Rams at Hughes Stadium and went on to earn several All-American honors. His name: Ben Roethlisberger. Hathaway, now the AD at Connecticut, quickly moved to postpone the return game to Miami, fearing another lopsided defeat. Saturday, seven years after it was originally slated to be played, the Rams and Redhawks finally complete the home-and-home series in Oxford, Ohio.

Rams trivia: Roethlisberger, who has led the Pittsburgh Steelers to world championships in 2006 and 2009, is one of four quarterbacks who have played at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium before leading NFL teams to the Super Bowl. They are: BYU’s Jim McMahon (Chicago Bears, 1986); BYU’s Steve Young (San Francisco 49ers, 1995); and Fresno State’s Trent Dilfer (Baltimore Ravens, 2001).

Strap in, Ram fans

by Tony Phifer on September 17, 2010

One of the most difficult aspects of watching a football program like Colorado State’s go through the rebuilding process is waiting for that inevitable – and necessary – time when the team hits bottom. Then, and only then, can a program start the climb back to respectability.

Most Rams fans came into 2010 expecting this season to be a struggle. I know I did. Heavy graduation losses along the offensive line and at wide receiver severely handicapped the offense, and the defense has yet to live up to its promise. Toss in the fact that 17 true or redshirt freshmen – including starting quarterback Pete Thomas – are playing key roles on this team, and it’s no wonder the Rams are 0-2 heading into Saturday’s game at Miami (Ohio).

Rough ride

Was I hoping for more? Absolutely. Heck the Rams have yet to score a touchdown, and their defense didn’t stop a single drive by Nevada last week. But while the first two games have been ugly, I can’t say the results were unexpected. This is how rebuilding works: you tear down the old and, once you have reached the foundation, start building the new. It’s a long, frustrating process.

I don’t know when the Rams might reach bottom or what it might look like. I suspect it will happen in the next couple of weeks, but it might take longer. All I know is that I am excited by the caliber of young talent in the program, and that the future is bright.

The...bottom...is...coming...

Right now, the easiest thing to do is abandon ship and wait for the team to rebound before committing to the program. We’ve all become so used to instant gratification that we have no patience for the rebuilding process.

However, if CSU is to return to the glory days that made it a Mountain West Conference power and a player on the national scene, this is what has to happen. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but buckle up and hang on. Once the Rams hit bottom, the climb back to the top will make all of the bumps worthwhile.

Bush league

by Tony Phifer on September 15, 2010

Reggie Bush announced today that he is revoking his status as 2005 Heisman Trophy winner. Good for him. When you’ve done as much to cheat the system as he and his family did at Southern Cal, you don’t deserve the reap the benefits – and certainly don’t deserve college football’s highest honor.

I was a Heisman Trophy voter for many years, and I voted for Bush. He was the best player I saw that year, and one of the best running backs/return specialists we’ve ever seen in the college game. But if the Heisman committee had asked me if I thought Bush’s trophy should be revoked, I would have had given a one-word response: absolutely.

I’m not so naive that I think Bush is the first Heisman winner to cheat the system, but he and his family so blatantly flaunted the illegal gifts they received that it would have made a mockery of the system to let him keep the trophy. This way, all future winners will know that the Heisman is about character as much as it is talent. And I’m all for that.

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Wrapping up the weekend…

by Tony Phifer on September 13, 2010

All I can say is, thank goodness for volleyball. The 15th-ranked Rams continue to be the best thing going at Colorado State and their performance at their own Ram Volleyball Classic provided some measure of comfort following a sad showing by the football team. So, here’s the Ram weekend, in review:

Volleyball: The Rams completely dominated the three visiting teams at the Ram Volleyball Classic, beating Texas Tech, Northeastern and Illinois State in straight sets in the two-day event. While they weren’t particularly impressive against Tech and Northeastern, they played their best against Illinois State – the top opposing team – and easily dismantled the Redbirds. Senior Danielle Minch was named tournament MVP, while sophomore Megan Plourde and junior Evan Sanders joined Minch on the all-tournament team. Next up: The Rams host Virginia Commonwealth at 7 p.m. Thursday, with 23rd-ranked Long Beach State invading Moby Arena at 7 p.m. Friday.

Cross country: The wife-husband combination of Jake and Ellie Keyser led the Rams to a pair of second-place finishes Saturday at the CSU Invitational at Hughes Stadium. Ellie won her second consecutive individual title, winning the 5K race in 17:59, while husband Jake was second in the men’s race in 20:54. Western State won both men’s and women’s races. Next up: The Rams travel to Minnesota for Saturday’s Roy Griak Invitational – one of the country’s top races.

Football: If you were looking for a positive spin on the Rams’ 51-6 loss to Nevada…well, so am I. Honestly, this was a numbing defeat – the Rams looked overmatched from the start and never found any rhythm on offense or defense. The concerns are many, but two of them currently top my list: The defense did not force a single punt, and the offense has yet to score a touchdown in two games. Needless to say, the Rams need to get better in a big hurry. Next up: 1:30 p.m. Saturday, at Miami (Ohio).