With a bevy of returning offensive weapons ready to start the 2002 season, head coach Sonny Lubick and his staff have only one problem – figuring out how to use all of them.
Between the scrambling ability of quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt, the power and finesse of running back Cecil Sapp and the athleticism of a strong receiving core, the Rams have the potential to put up huge numbers this year.
CSU accumulated up 299 total points in 2001, fourth best in the Mountain West
Conference. However, after the Rams’ 35-point production in the season opener against Virginia last week, CSU offers hope it could easily surpass that number.
In contrast to last season, when Van Pelt battled D.J. Busch for the starting job, Van Pelt enters this year knowing his job is secure. The junior started the last nine games of 2001 and helped salvage a 7-5 season for the Rams after a 2-4 start. Van Pelt threw for 1,247 yards with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also set the school record for rushing by a quarterback with 522 yards.
The one question facing Van Pelt going into the season was whether he could improve his passing game to complement his running ability.
“Of course I was looking to improve my passing the most. I was a little shaky last year and I know that I have improved,” he said. “It’s amazing what one year of experience will do. I’m not going to be an All-American passer, I’m not going to lie, but I think I’m going to improve a lot.”
If his career-best performance against Virginia in the Jim Thorpe Classic is any indication (16-26, 221 yards, 1 touchdown) of that improvement, Van Pelt should surprise teams with his arm as well as his legs this season.
But should he falter, or fall victim to injury, heralded redshirt freshman Justin Holland is ready and waiting. Holland is Colorado’s all-time high school passing leader.
With the return of Cecil “The Diesel” Sapp this season, the Rams have a potent attack out of the backfield. After missing the entire 2001 season because of surgery required to remove a benign tumor in his leg, Sapp threw his own welcome back party in the Rams’ first game against Virginia. Sapp rushed for a career-best 186 yards and two touchdowns and was named the Jim Thorpe Classic MVP.
“It feels great coming back this season. When I was out last year, I was down, then I realized I had an extra year,” Sapp said. “I’ve just worked my butt off so I could be prepared for this season.”
Last year’s leading rusher, senior Henri Childs, ran for 841 yards and four touchdowns last year. With the reappearance of Sapp, he’ll be the backup but will see a lot of time at H-back and as a receiver this season. Freshman Uldis Jaunarajs will also see some action out of the backfield.
The departures of Pete Rebstock and Dallas Davis, two of the most prolific receivers in CSU history, left the Rams with some big shoes to fill this season.
Taking over the position are four veterans who have all had game experience. Senior Joey Cuppari and juniors Eric Hill, Chris Pittman and Russell Sprague combined for 20 receptions and 352 yards in 2001.
The Rams also lost second-team All-Mountain West tight end Jose Ochoa, but replace him with sophomore Joel Dreessen. Dreessen tied for second on the team with 22 receptions in 2001 with 205 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think the receiving core will be ready,” Hill said. “I know that we all haven’t started before, but we’ve been in the system for a while and know how it works. We’ll be ready to go.”
Pittman, Hill and Dreessen started the game at Virginia to open the season, but all five receivers saw action. Cuppari had the only receiving touchdown for the Rams.
Leading the offensive line for the Rams is senior Morgan Pears. The 6-foot-8, 309-pound tackle has started 21 straight games for CSU and is joined by his younger brother Erik Pears, who started three games last year.
Also returning is junior center Mark Dreyer, who started all 12 games in 2001 and was named to the academic all-Mountain West conference team. Senior tackle Aaron Green started four games in 2001 and played in nine. Jon Van Lant, Terrell Gardner and Kelly Wall, all backups last season, will round out the offensive line.