On the sports world's continuum of ignominy, being a Colorado State Ram has traditionally meant residing somewhere between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Bad News Bears. Current Colorado State players bear witness:
"We looked forward to playing road games because if we were going to get booed, at least it was by someone else's fans," says free safety Greg Myers.
"We went to BYU, and everywhere it said, CONGRATULATIONS LAVELL EDWARDS ON YOUR 200TH WIN—and this was before the game, when he only had 199," says fullback E.J. Watson.
"I remember one time getting off the bus at LSU," says cornerback Ray Jackson, "and all these little kids were giving us the finger, and it made me kind of sad, because it just showed how much those fans cared about their team."
But a funny thing is happening in Fort Collins—Colorado State is threatening to become a football power. Last year the Rams won a school-record 10 games and grabbed their first WAC championship. What's more, they have held on to enough firepower to be a force again this fall.
The man behind the change in fortunes is third-year coach Sonny Lubick. On five occasions last season Lubick preached to his players that they were about to play the biggest game in school history, and they bought it every time. "It's a clich�, but Coach Lubick made us believe in ourselves," says linebacker Garrett Sand. "He told us so many times that we could be a good team that eventually we just gave in and accepted it."
Lubick is treated like the mayor around town, in part because he withdrew his name from consideration for the coaching job at Miami in January. It is common for Lubick to get a standing ovation when he walks into a restaurant, which he says is "downright embarrassing." His discomfort has other origins: "Deep in my heart I'm thinking, What are these people going to do to me if we're a bust this season?"
Lubick, usually an unbending optimist, is being too pessimistic. There is uncertainty at quarterback, because the Rams must replace Anthoney I Hill. Both contenders, sophomore Moses Moreno and J.C. transfer Daren Wilkinson, have looked solid if unspectacular. Whoever gets the job will have two terrific targets, tight end Justin Shull, a clutch pass catcher, and explosive wideout Paul Turner.
The defense is led by Myers, the school's first first-team All-America since 1978. Myers is also a second-team Academic All-America. He is so dedicated to his premed major that he skipped much of spring practice so he could take a class on muscle trauma.
The only thing that dwarfs the Rams' talent is their optimism. To hear the players talk, picking up where they left off last season shouldn't be a problem. "I've heard the players, and I don't know what they've been smoking," Lubick says. "We just better remember what the hell got us here."