These guys are easy to pick out of the crowd.
While other players appear to be suffering through the grind of another CSU football practice, these guys look like they are really having fun. They are the Rams’ receiving corps, a group of four veteran players who have been around the program for years, and are just now getting their chance to shine.
“That’s a touchdown,” yells junior Chris Pittman after catching a pass while barely staying in bounds.
“No way, you were out, man,” replies senior Joey Cuppari with a laugh. “Way out.”
Cuppari, Pittman and juniors Eric Hill and Russell Sprague are in the middle of passing drills, catching balls from receiver’s coach Matt Lubick, Sonny’s 31-year-old son. The guys are bragging, laughing, and holding a friendly competition, all while making shoestring grabs along the sideline.
“We do joke, you get a little joking every once in a while,” Cuppari said. “We’ve been with each other for a little while now.”
The rest of the team doesn’t seem as spirited. The hulking linemen gasp through drill after drill, the quarterbacks and running backs silently concentrate under the intense scrutiny of the coaches. Meanwhile, CSU’s receivers are simply enjoying each other, and their opportunity to finally get a piece of the glory after years of waiting their turn.
“Their chemistry is great. They’ve all got great attitudes, they’re all team guys, they all love to play football and they enjoy practice,” Matt Lubick said. “I think it’s the first year since I’ve been here where not one receiver has missed a practice. They all want to play and they kind of feed off each other. But they’re unselfish and they generally enjoy each other’s success.”
What the receivers don’t enjoy are the questions. They’re sick of them, in fact. All through the preseason, they were asked the same thing over and over. How can you fill the shoes of last year’s receivers? How will you make up for the losses at receiver?
Those queries refer to the loss of Pete Rebstock and Dallas Davis, who now play on NFL teams and are fourth and ninth, respectively, on CSU’s all-time receiving list.
“It’s a real athletic group compared to last year. Last year we had a lot of seniors, guys that had done great things and had great statistics. Statistically, they were probably the best class I’ve ever had,” Lubick said. “These guys are just untested, but athletically, probably as good as we’ve ever had.”
The Rams’ receivers have respect for those who came before them, but are more concerned with the what they can do for the team, not how they will compare to their predecessors.
“We had great receivers ahead of us that we got to learn from each year, day in and day out,” Pittman said. “We got to learn about their work ethic and how to come out there and do it right everyday. When I got here I knew you had to wait your turn, so this is my turn and I’m just taking advantage of it.”
Unlike Rebstock and Davis, all four of this year’s receivers are over six feet tall. They believe that their size and athleticism separate them from past receiving units and will give them an advantage over smaller defensive backs.
“I would definitely say we bring more depth, and we bring more size,” Hill said. “I know smaller receivers get the job done too, but being bigger at receiver, you got more of a chance of going over DB’s (defensive backs) to make plays over their heads.”
Of the four, Sprague and Hill are both Colorado natives, while Cuppari and Pittman hail from California. Sprague was regarded as one of the top high school athletes in Colorado at Holyoke High School, and Hill was an all-state performer at Montbello High School in Denver. At West Lake High School in California, Cuppari was an all-state selection in his junior and senior years, as was Pittman at Castle Park High School in suburban San Diego.
As accomplished and gifted as they all were coming out of high school, they found themselves taking a back seat to the talented veteran receivers already at their position on the Rams. Because they were all in a very similar situation, a bond formed among them on the sidelines and the scout team.
Hill couldn’t agree more.
“We’ve all been pretty close — the camaraderie has been good ever since we’ve been here and we get along out there,” he said. “We just keep each other up, keep each other motivated and we just have fun.”
Lubick and his four receivers felt they played well in the first game against Virginia, but believe they can do much better and must continue to improve. Pittman led the unit with five catches for 76 yards, but Cuppari had the game’s lone receiving touchdown and an additional 65 yards. The only problem for them now is deciding who has bragging rights.
“I know Pitt (Pittman) was bragging about the five catches and 76 yards, but I got the touchdown,” Cuppari said. “That’s the little things we talk about. It’s good competition because basically, if I’m competing against him, he’s going to get better. I just like to see that he did well and I did well and we all got out of there with out any injuries.”
With possibly the most challenging opponent of the season only three days away, the Rams receivers know they will have to do something special to take the Rocky Mountain Showdown. Whatever that is, there’s no doubt these guys will have fun doing it, together.