Monday, November 30, 2015         


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Freshmen come through for Colorado State

By Natalie Meisler / Special to the Star-Advertiser


FORT COLLINS, Colo. » Colorado State players, rejoicing over the conclusion of a six-game losing streak, streamed off Sonny Lubick Field on Saturday shouting, "Winners!"

Then the Rams nearly forgot to sing the fight song.

At least the freshmen — and to some extent the redshirt freshmen — had an amnesia excuse. The last time anyone heard the song was the season opener Sept. 1 over arch rival and partner in ineptitude Colorado. Prior to Labor Day weekend, CSU's locker room had been mostly silent since Sept. 24, 2011.

"They almost forgot to sing the fight song because it's been so darn long since we did it," said first-year coach Jim McElwain.

Redshirt freshman starting cornerback DeAndre Elliott and true freshman reserve corner Jasen Oden opened and closed the fourth quarter with interception returns for touchdowns of 76 and 40 yards to seal CSU's 42-27 Mountain West decision over Hawaii.

Then Elliott and Oden were silenced by "The List."

Before the season, McElwain devised a 34-man list of players approved to talk to the media after games or during the limited midweek interview time.

Although McElwain made an exception the previous week when redshirt freshman quarterback Conner Smith closed out a game, Elliott and Oden will have to wait until they are sophomores to relive their first career TDs.

But McElwain said, "It's a peek into our future. These freshmen need to compete every down."

With a few key exceptions — including junior running back Chris Nwoke's season-best 115 yards rushing, senior punter Pete Kontodiakos's 61.8-yard average and senior linebacker James Skelton's first career TD out of a wildcat offense — CSU freshmen ruled the day.

Colorado State saw true freshman utility back Joe Hansley explode for the school's longest punt return (76 yards) in 13 years and quarterback Smith had a decent starting debut (10-for-17 for 115 yards, one TD, one interception).

"They were huge," Skelton said of the freshman contributions throughout the lineup. "That tells you what the Rams are going to be like in the future. We definitely have young talent coming up."

The reliance on first-year players also helps explain why CSU (2-6, 1-3) isn't as far along as other Mountain West schools with first-year coaches such as Fresno State and New Mexico.

That only leaves Norm Chow's Warriors as the other program struggling in transition, although Hawaii's success is much closer in the rear-view mirror than CSU's.

The Rams ceased being a conference contender after 2003, or around the time the Hughes Stadium field was named for the coach who coached the school in the WAC in the 1990s.

Although McElwain said all the right things leading up to Saturday's game, the players could read the scores.

"We knew it was Hawaii and we had a good shot against them," said Smith.

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