With turmoil swirling around the program after three players were suspended for an alleged assault, the rest of the CSU football team is still in the middle of a critical period as it tries to learn a new system and improve off of three straight 3-9 seasons.
On Saturday, coach Jim McElwain suspended junior defensive end Nordly Capi, junior linebacker Mike Orakpo and junior defensive end Colton Paulhus for a violation of team rules after they were reportedly involved in a fight last Friday night that sent four freshmen to the hospital for serious injuries.
â€œIâ€™m responsible for this program, I took this job,â€ McElwain said on Monday about the suspensions. â€œThese players that are here, I know we didnâ€™t recruit them, and yet at the same time understand this, Iâ€™m responsible. Iâ€™m here to lead them in the direction we need to go.â€
While the legal process plays out, his team must work through the distractions.
Wednesday marked the 10th of 15 allowed practices during spring practice. The Rams are undergoing a total transformation under McElwain. They will have a new offensive system, their starting quarterback will have, at most, three career starts. Defensively, CSU is shifting to a 3-4 defense.
And with public perception of the team at the lowest point in years and possible legal trouble looming over a couple of CSUâ€™s best players, there is a strong possibility that focus could wane on the field. But McElwain said that hasnâ€™t happen.
â€œOne of the things that theyâ€™ve done is theyâ€™ve re-centered and realized that you canâ€™t let things affect what youâ€™re trying to accomplish as a team out here,â€ McElwain said. â€œIâ€™m really proud of what theyâ€™ve done with focus in meetings, zeroed in with what weâ€™re trying to do.â€
In fact, players all said that there is no worry about the distractions negatively affecting the team. For them the easy part is when they get out to practice.
â€œThe field is kind of our get away,â€ quarterback Garrett Grayson said. â€œWe get out there and everything thatâ€™s been going on, the off-field distractions and all that, itâ€™s done. We donâ€™t worry about it. When weâ€™re on the field we worry about football.â€
Grayson said that once they get off the field the players can worry about their teammates and supporting them how they can, but that they have to allow the process to play out and there is nothing they can do about it. In the meantime, all they can do is try and improve as a team.
â€œOn the field itâ€™s all business and getting our work done and trying to make coach Mac happy,â€ Grayson said.
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.