During his sophomore year, running back Kyle Bell rushed for 1,288 yards and 10 touchdowns. CSU finished that season 6-6 and reached a bowl game.
Last season, Bell missed the entire year after tearing his ACL, and the Rams struggled to a 4-8 finish and eighth-place in the Mountain West Conference.
Coincidence? The Rams hope not.
After taking a medical redshirt, Bell returns to a squad looking to re-establish the run game in 2007 after averaging a league-worst 77 rush yards per game a year ago.
Through the first few practices of fall camp, Bell has already taken several big hits, which he said he was ready for.
“I think by day three, we had shoulder pads on and were starting to hit a little, and it was already feeling natural,” he said. “Mentally, I’m the same as always. You still get some soreness letting you know the knee might not be quite there, but I feel ready.”
Bell, who holds the Colorado state high school record with 8,248 career rushing yards at Weld Central High School, said getting the run game back to where it was before last season is a priority for the Rams.
“Re-establishing the run game is big, but the biggest thing we want is to find a balance,” Bell said. “When you get the run game going, it opens up the pass game, and then the pass game opens up the run.”
Coach Sonny Lubick, back for his 15th year at CSU, said he is excited to have Bell back, but stressed the fact that one player alone can’t be expected to turn around the offense.
“Everybody keeps asking me about Kyle Bell and he’s great, he’s 100 percent perfect,” Lubick said. “He’s not going to do it by himself, though. He’ll need a lot more help from the offensive line.”
Senior quarterback Caleb Hanie agreed with his coach, saying the offensive line, which has impressed him in practice so far, will be a major part of the team’s season.
But Hanie did admit that Bell adds a certain toughness the Rams missed in 2006.
“(Bell) adds a presence, I think,” Hanie said. “He rushed for over 1,000 yards two years ago and he still wants to be better; he wants to be the best. Obviously, he’s a pretty tough guy.”
Bell’s 1,200 yards in 2005 were not easily earned, as he scraped out a good portion of them after contact, something the Rams sorely missed last season.
Junior running back Gartrell Johnson III was first in line to replace Bell last year and finished as the team’s rushing leader with a mere 305 yards.
Johnson, who will also see time a fullback, is one of several backs competing for carries behind Bell. Junior Michael Myers and freshman John Mosure are among the others.
Lubick said the Rams’ have “more running back depth than we know what to do with,” which will help allow Bell to return to his old self at a reasonable pace.
Under Lubick, the Rams have lived and died by the run game. During Lubick’s run of six conference titles from 1994 to 2003, the Rams consistently ranked among the nation’s leaders in rushing offense.
From 2001 to 2003, CSU averaged 4.6 yards per carry. But since the 2003 season, the Rams have been up-and-down in the run game, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry in 2004 and just 2.5 per rush 2006.
The one up-tick was 2005 when Bell helped the Rams average 3.5 yards per carry and 26.8 points per game.
But Bell said the key isn’t in the number rushing yards or touchdowns; he has bigger goals for this team.
“I don’t like making specific goals as far as statistics, but the biggest thing for me is winning for this senior class,” he said. “I know if I go out there and just do my part, this team can be very successful. We want to win the conference, and I know we can do it.”