Instead of graduating this year and watching next season as a fan, senior Ben Stratton will have a chance to finish his career at CSU on the field.
Pending his recovery from a torn ACL, a recovery that he describes as “going really well,” Stratton will once again be the physical and vocal leader that has made him a favorite among teammates and fans alike.
And with any luck, the injury will only make Stratton stronger come fall.
“When you’re on the sideline looking in, you appreciate things more,” said defensive coordinator Steve Stanard. “When a guy comes in and plays as a freshman like Ben did, he loses that experience. I think this could be a positive thing for Ben.”
That still leaves one safety spot open, however, with seniors Travis Garcia and Miles Kochevar graduating in May. Three players, all with previous experience, will fight during spring and summer practices for that final spot in the team’s secondary.
Freshman Klint Kubiak looks to be the early choice for the position. Kubiak got valuable time in last season as a defensive reserve and a full-time spot on special teams. Behind him are freshman Mike Pagnotta, a backup safety last year, and Jake Galusha, a transfer from New Mexico State.
Despite the fact that all three players know they are in direct competition with each other, they have been able to come together as a unit so far this spring.
“Those are my boys out there,” said Kubiak. “I’m not playing against them, I’m playing against myself. I’m out there working as hard as I can – they are too.”
Whoever ends up starting alongside Stratton next fall has at least the rest of spring and all of summer before they find out. Each candidate will be doing all they can this off-season to give himself a better chance at the spot.
“I’ve been working a lot on my footwork and I’ve watched a lot of films,” said Pagnotta. “I’ve prepared myself well. If the coaches think I deserve a starting spot, I’ll start. If they think I’d do better coming off the bench, I’ll do that. I want my team to win first and foremost.”
Pagnotta’s dedication isn’t rare among the other safeties, as each has said they put the team’s success before their own individual success. According to Stanard, that ideology might lead to a system that combines all of the players’ talents, rather than rely on only the starting two.
“If a guy’s ready to play, he’s going to,” said Stanard. “If one guy goes 40 plays and another plays 25, we’ll be more solid at the end of the game. That’s the key to a defense, is your depth.”