Although he couldn't put his finger on it, Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick knew something was missing. Last August, as the Rams were wrapping up their final round of two-a-days, Lubick scoured the field trying to find the final piece to his team's puzzle.
"Great teams always have something they can pull out of their back pocket when they get down," says Lubick. "I had no idea what our surprise was going to be."
Neither did Dallas Davis. Going into last season, Davis, a scrappy wide receiver, made only his own teammates squirm. He spent summers interning as a keeper in the reptile cage at the Denver Zoo and was the owner of four tarantulas, two six-foot iguanas and an albino Burmese python. " Dallas is a cool guy," says senior quarterback Matt Newton, "but I don't like hanging out at his place. All of his spiders and lizards creep me out too much."
But by midseason Davis was creeping out opposing defenders with the way he slithered down the field on punt returns. In Week 8, in a key game against Mountain West rival Utah, he became the first player in school history to return two punts for touchdowns in a game. He was no slouch as a wideout either, hauling in 51 passes for 665 yards. For Lubick it came just in time. After losing its first two league games, Colorado State won its last five regular-season games to earn a berth in the Liberty Bowl against Southern Miss.
A year later it's time for Lubick to put the pieces of another puzzle together. Newton, despite a slow start, threw for 2,369 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, and will have the luxury of playing behind four returning starters on a line that allowed just 10 sacks all year. Workhorse limning back Kevin McDougal is gone, so sophomore Rahsaan Sanders and junior Duan Ruff will split time in the backfield.
The defense lost key players to the NFL but will get a huge boost from the return of linebacker Rick Crowell, a punishing pass rusher who was granted an extra year of eligibility after tearing his left rotator cuff near the start of last season.
Lubick and Co. will be tested early with nonconference games against Colorado and Arizona State, but the Rams should have enough talent to remain atop the MWC for a second straight year. Even if Lubick doesn't have any more tricks up his sleeve.