Of all the talented seniors to leave the CSU football team after last season, none left a bigger hole than running back Cecil Sapp.
After rumbling for 1,673 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2002, Sapp will take his chances in the NFL Draft. Meanwhile, the Rams will have to find the best candidate to fill his large shoes before the end of spring practices.
“We’ve got tremendous numbers this spring, we’ve got 10 kids out and the competition is really big time,” running backs coach Mick Delaney said. “From an experience standpoint, from what happened in the past, obviously, Rahsaan Sanders comes in as the No. 1 guy. He did some really fine things for us last fall. He’s the frontrunner at this point.”
Sanders ranked third on the team in rushing last season behind Sapp and quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt. A fifth-year senior from San Diego, Calif., Sanders’ 311 yards in 2002 came mostly when Sapp needed a breather.
“I played behind Sapp last year so I just want a chance to be the man,” Sanders said.
When asked whether he thought he would be the starting running back, he said, “I’d hope so. I should because I’ve been here four years.”
As a freshman, Sanders’ 468 rushing yards was the fourth most by a true freshman in school history and he started seven games in 2000 as a sophomore. But a severe hamstring injury in preseason drills kept him on the sideline in 2001.
“We’re looking real good and coach wants to come out of here with four running backs so guys need to step up and take the initiative,” Sanders said.
Freshman Tristan Walker and sophomore Uldis Jaunarajs are also in the mix and will compete for playing time. Delaney said Walker has been impressive in spring drills and he would consider playing dual running backs that would split playing time.
“Right now I can say it’s me and Rahsaan fighting for the job,” Walker said. “Cecil is a great athlete and a great player, but I don’t really feel like we have to fill his shoes because its going to be more of dual running backs rather than last year when it was just Cecil.”
Another question mark for Delaney is the status of Colorado transfer running back Marcus Houston. NCAA regulations require transfer players to sit out the year after changing schools, but Houston is appealing this decision and should hear soon whether he will be allowed to play for the Rams this season.
“Right now I think I love playing football so much that the only thing that really matters is today,” said Houston, who declined to comment on the status of his appeal.
“This is a great program with high standards, and no matter who is carrying the ball, I think he will uphold the tradition and the work ethic that is represented every day out here.”
Sapp, who took some time to check out a few of the Rams’ spring drills from the sidelines, said he was hoping to see the running backs push each other to get better.
“Everybody’s hungry right now and everybody wants to go out there and prove themselves,” Sapp said. “Rahsaan is the No. 1 guy, but hopefully Tristan can push Rahsaan to have a better year and become a better football player.”