As the 2008-2009 football season ramps up on its way to Denver this Sunday, the Collegian will be taking a three-day look at the playmakers and coaches to watch for on both sides of the ball. Today we introduce the men in charge of lighting up the scoreboard for the Rams. Welcome to the offense.
Quarterback: Billy Farris
Recently named the starting quarterback by head coach Steve Fairchild, fifth-year senior Billy Farris will get his first collegiate start in the Quest Rocky Mountain Showdown against CU-Boulder.
A native of Baton Rouge, La., Farris stands at 6-foot-3, 223 pounds and has all the determination in the world to lead the Rams this season. He is also highly respected by his teammates, who unanimously believed he would be the starter this season before the competition with junior Grant Stucker began last spring.
“I can’t stop now,” said Farris the morning of being named the starting quarterback. “Just because you get named something doesn’t mean you quit doing what you’re doing. If you do that, you’ll just give it back up. I was expecting to get (the starting job) the whole time, but it means a lot to have my teammates behind me. I think that’s what makes a team, everybody has to be behind everybody.”
Farris made three appearances in 2007, completing nine passes for 91 yards.
Running Backs: Gartrell Johnson III and Kyle Bell
This season at running back, the Rams will run a tandem of two seniors in Kyle Bell and Gartrell Johnson III.
Bell started five games last season in his first year back from an ACL tear during fall drills in 2006 (just four days prior to the season opener against CU-Boulder). He rushed for 691 yards in 2007 with four touchdowns.
While his knee was fully healed a year ago, he didn’t have the explosiveness he did as a sophomore in 2005, when he rushed for 1,288 yards and 10 touchdowns. Bell believes he is back to his “sophomore form,” with the advantage of two more years of experience.
“Last year there were a lot of things that played a part in my play. I kind of got roughed up right off the start with a lot of carries early,” Bell said. “I’ve definitely made great strides compared to where I was last year. This summer everything was good and here in the fall I’m really pleased with where I am at.”
Johnson is a back who had a rough welcome as a Ram, but has since become one of the faces of the program. When Bell’s ACL tear in 2006 forced the CSU coaching staff to give the nod elsewhere for the starting running back position, Johnson was their man, but did not perform to the high expectations. As a sophomore that season, he led the team with only 305 yards on the ground six touchdowns.
In 2007, Johnson was reborn in the eyes of Ram faithful when he averaged 5.3 yards per carry with 957 yards and six touchdowns. He also had 103 yards receiving out of the backfield with two touchdowns.
“It’s great having a guy like Kyle (Bell) right next to me in the backfield. It pushes and motivates me,” Johnson said of the two back system. “If I didn’t have anyone to challenge me, I may say ‘Oh, I’m a starter, so I’m just set and can do whatever, but having Kyle here means we have to come out with our lunch pails every day.”
Senior Mike Myers and sophomore John Mosure will also get quality playing time at running back.
Tight Ends and Receivers: Kory Sperry and Dion Morton
The tight end and receiving corps are anchored by two headline names – senior Kory Sperry and junior Dion Morton.
Sperry was one of the Rams’ few bright spots heading into the 2007 season. In the season opening 28-31 overtime loss to CU-Boulder, Sperry caught 3 passes for 103 yards and three touchdowns, but his season was cut short the very next week in the second quarter against UC-Berkeley when he tore his ACL. Although he was a senior at the time, the NCAA granted his petition for a medical hardship waiver.
This year, Sperry is on the John Mackey Award watch list, an honor given annually to the best tight end in college football.
“I’m 100 percent,” Sperry said when asked about the condition of his knee. “I’m actually more healthy than I was before I got hurt. Our trainers and strength coordinators have all been doing a good job getting me in there and rehabbing every day. I’m healthy and I’m still strengthening it-you can’t over-strengthen anything.”
Morton looks to be CSU’s top receiver this season as well as the primary kick returner.
The 5-foot-10 junior is the twin brother of former Ram receiver Damon Morton, who led CSU with 774 receiving yards in 2007 (Dion both greyshirted and redshirted his first two seasons of eligibility).
Last year as a sophomore he had 20 receptions for 183 yards and a touchdown as well as 455 yards on kickoff returns.
Sports writer Matt Stephens can be reached at email@example.com.