Mychal Sisson leads the nation in career tackles for loss and is the undisputed leader of the CSU football team.
â€œIf we had 22 Myke Sissons,â€ said coach Steve Fairchild earlier this week, â€œweâ€™d win the national championship every year.â€
But after suffering a broken ankle in a win against Northern Colorado, CSU finds itself looking for someone to fill the void left by the teamâ€™s MVP.
And the label of leader of the defense might fall to Mike Orakpo, the man who coaches refer to as a veteran, even though heâ€™s just a sophomore.
â€œTalking to (linebackers) coach Clark he pretty much told me that I have to step up,â€ Orakpo said. â€œIâ€™ve got to go out there and just take that role on. Itâ€™s coming earlier than I thought it would. But itâ€™s there and itâ€™s what Iâ€™ve got to do.â€
Orakpo has stepped into a starting role this year and already has almost half as many tackles (18) as he had all of last season (37).
And while he will be expected to step up his game, someone will have to fill the starting position vacated by Sisson at outside linebacker opposite Orakpo.
Practices have been closed to the media all week in advance of the game against CU-Boulder, so itâ€™s hard to guess who has been lining up where.
But there are a couple of options.
Shaquil Barrett started at middle linebacker last weekend as normal starter James Skelton was suspended.
Barrett has experience playing on the outside, but comments from defensive coordinator Larry Kerr infer that the coaches may want to keep Barrett at middle, the position he has been getting accustomed to all fall.
â€œHeâ€™s the newest guy to our defense,â€ Kerr said. â€œHeâ€™s still learning the thing. The less stress you can put on him the better.â€
If he remains in the middle, the most likely possibility would be that Skelton would start on the outside.
But the Rams have many options since all the linebackers are coached on how to play all three positions, allowing them to move around as necessary.
If it isnâ€™t Skelton or Barrett, the duty would fall to one of two freshmen.
Redshirt freshman Max Morgan caused a safety last week and has seen action in both games this season. True freshman Aaron Davis earned his first action of his career following Sissonâ€™s injury.
Kerr isnâ€™t concerned about throwing the freshman into the frenzied atmosphere that is the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
â€œI think that theyâ€™re going to go play,â€ he said. â€œThey will be excited that theyâ€™re playing in that atmosphere against a very good football team.â€
Whoever starts wonâ€™t be expected to produce like Sisson, but Fairchild is confident that the team has the depth to cope with his injury. Itâ€™s now time for the next in line to so step up.
â€œInjuries occur, not just on our team but on other teams,â€ Fairchild said. â€œYou have to deal with them and deal with them in a positive way and Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll do that.â€
_Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at email@example.com. _