College football in Colorado has always been about the showdown each year between Colorado State and CU-Boulder.
Kids from all around the state grow up passionate about one side or the other, pretending to score the winning touchdown with their buddies in the backyard.
Eventually some of these kids get the chance of a lifetime: the opportunity to play on the big stage as a Ram or a Buffalo.
This fantasy has become a reality for senior fullback Zac Pauga, a native of Lakewood.
â€œItâ€™s a dream come true,â€ Pauga said. â€œI watched this game every year when I was growing up. I was never really a Ram or a Buff fan as a kid, but now itâ€™s awesome being able to play in it.â€
Ty Whittier, a senior defensive tackle, is a Fort Collins product from Poudre High School and unquestionably supported the Rams year-in and year-out.
â€œI was a Rams fan,â€ Whittier said. â€œI just like our program. Thereâ€™s stuff about our program that I donâ€™t like about theirs, and I always have.â€
Players from showdowns past left their mark on the kids who have now become the men charged with the task of defending their schoolâ€™s honor, one they do not take lightly.
â€œThis is definitely the biggest game of the year for me,â€ Pauga said. â€œBeing from Colorado, I want to beat these guys. I know a lot of the guys on their team, and I want to be able to talk trash for the rest of the year to them.â€
Linebacker Ricky Brewer grew up in Denver loving the game itself more than one school or the other. When it came time to finally select which side he would pick, the decision was obvious.
â€œFortunately I had the opportunity to look at both schools, and Colorado State was the absolute choice for me,â€ Brewer said.
Brewer remembers racing home from peewee football games to soak in the zealous nature of the two competing teams and knew one day he would have to be a part of it.
Senior wide receiver Tyson Liggett came to be a Ram as a walk-on from Limon, a place where Buffaloes roam.
â€œIâ€™ll admit I was always on the other side,â€ Liggett said. â€œOnce I got here, it just switched, and Iâ€™m totally on this side now.â€
Liggett earned his right to a scholarship and a chance to shine before the thousands of screaming fans through perseverance.
â€œIâ€™ve put in a lot of hard work getting to where I am now,â€ Liggett said. â€œTo be able to play in a big rivalry game that a lot of Colorado people see, itâ€™s a big accomplishment for me.â€
Perhaps nobody else can understand what the Rocky Mountain Showdown truly means to football fans throughout Colorado quite like its homegrown players.
â€œThis is a house divided to be honest,â€ Brewer said. â€œA lot of people are Colorado fans, and a lot of people are Colorado State fans. Hopefully those who are rooting for the good Green and Gold wonâ€™t be disappointed this Saturday.â€
Out-of-state players may not have grown up in the â€œhouse divided,â€ but Brewer and the others are positive, no matter where they are from, they understand the importance to the state.
â€œI think if youâ€™re a member of the Colorado State family, regardless of where youâ€™re from â€“â€“ you could be from Alaska, you could be from TexasÂ â€“â€“ you understand that when you suit up against the University of Colorado itâ€™s time to go,â€ Brewer said.
Football Beat Reporter Cris Tiller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org._