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Implementing the Air Raid, bringing back Wide Receiver U has reinvigorated everyone around the Colorado State Football program
FORT COLLINS — ‘Wide Receiver U’ is back.
With the arrival of the Air Raid offense, the excitement from the fans has returned and so has the potential of producing elite pass-catchers all over the field.
During the tenures of Jim McElwain and Mike Bobo, Colorado State developed the nickname WRU for consistently developing elite wide receivers that ultimately went on to play at the next level.
For seven consecutive seasons — 2013-2019 — the Rams had at least one wide receiver record 800 or more yards each year. In 2013, the only season they didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver, running back Kapri Bibbs went for 1,741 yards on the ground.
Colorado State receivers over the years:
2019 | Warren Jackson (1,119), Dante Wright (805)
2018 | Preston Williams (1,345)
2017 | Michael Gallup (1,418)
2016 | Michael Gallup (1,272)
2015 | Rashard Higgins (1,061)
2014 | Rashard Higgins (1,750)
2013 | Rashard Higgins (837)
During the Steve Addazio era the focus shifted to a ground-and-pound approach, which naturally led to less targets for the guys on the outside. Trey McBride obviously was able to be extremely productive for the Green & Gold. But considering Dante Wright and Ty McCullouch were on the on the roster — two receivers that have been widely praised by the current staff — it was frustrating that the old regime didn’t scheme up more ways to get them consistently involved.
Fortunately, for the players on the roster, the Ram Faithful, and really just anyone that will be watching CSU Football this upcoming season, no longer will the receivers solely be used as decoys or blockers. Instead they’ll be used to attack defenses all game long.
In a recent media session wide receivers coach Chad Savage talked about the benefits of the Air Raid and how the approach creates a far better product for the folks paying the price of admission.
“From a fan’s standpoint, you want to go to a game and you want to see the ball thrown, to take those deep shots and to put six on the board,” Savage said “You don’t want to go see a team run inside-zone for 50 plays a game, right? It’s exciting when there’s touchdowns (being scored) and balls thrown for 40 yards.”
Savage also emphasized how the aggressive mindset has led to a renewed energy inside the CSU locker room as a whole but especially inside the wide receiver room. After two years of not doing much other than blocking in practice, the wide-outs are now getting to do a whole lot more of what they came to CSU to do, and that of course, is catch the football.
“Those guys are having fun out there,” Savage said.
Savage, who serves as CSU’s recruiting coordinator in addition to leading the receivers, also gave some insight into the recruiting benefits of playing with a system that is aggressive and exciting. He explained that it’s pretty simple — play-makers want the chance to showcase their abilities — they want the ball in their hands. And in the Air Raid offense, they get exactly that.
“They enjoy running four verts and the quick-game drop-back, so it’s a good selling point,” Savage said. But he also added that beyond the flashy offense, at the end of day it’s really about the relationships established between the recruits and the coaches.
“Coach Norvell, coach Mumme, coach Best, coach Finley, coach Moses, all of us do a great job in the process.”
Relationships are a big reason why wide receivers Tory Horton and Melquan Stovall followed the staff from Nevada to CSU. Horton in particular could have gone anywhere in the country, the guy is a future NFL star, but he wanted to stay with his people.
“We have some great coaches, so the decision wasn’t that difficult,” Horton said of the decision to follow Jay Norvell and Co. to CSU.
Horton has 10 touchdowns in just 17 career games. And Ram fans already watched him go for 113 yards and a pair of scores against CSU in 2021, so expectations for him couldn’t be much higher.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound receiver is well aware of those expectations, though. He’s familiar with CSU’s history of developing elite receivers as well, and he’s excited to help bring back the tradition and create some excitement with his running mates.
“It feels great,” Horton said. “Those previous receivers that all went on to the league, great receivers, we all imitate what they did. We watch film on what they did. And you know, we’re all just going out there and trying to compete.”
Horton explained how he first became aware of WRU on Twitter, when excited Ram fans posted about how he could be the next star in a long line of legends.
“We’ve got the fan base behind us,” Horton said. “It always feels great to know the city’s behind your back.”
What’s been great to see, though, is that while Horton is clearly confident in the system as well as his own abilities, he has shown no signs of selfishness. In fact, Horton and Stovall have taken it upon themselves to serve as extra coaches on the field, assisting the other receivers on a daily basis and demonstrating tremendous leadership skills.
“It gives us a little advantage to help out the players that have been here and the players that are brand new to the system,” Horton said. “The players here ask a lot of questions and it feels great to help out… There’s even some plays where I kind of mess up and they get on me. We all like to pick up each other’s slack.”
Horton has been impressed with how quickly some of the older Rams have been able to pick up the new system. Associate HC/QB coach Matt Mumme has also been pleasantly surprised. And Savage has liked what he’s seen from them as well.
“I’m actually really impressed with the receiver room so far,” Savage said on Mar. 29. “We definitely have a long way to go, but guys like Ty, Dante, they’re definitely making a name for themselves. I knew they had ability coming into this spring, but we’ve just got to keep getting them reps and keep feeding them the rock.”
Considering we’re still months away from the 2022 opener at Michigan, Ram Nation has plenty of time to fantasize about the possibility of what’s to come this fall. There will likely be some lumps for a squad in Year 1 under Norvell — that’s just how the process works — the one thing that we can basically guarantee, though, even in April, is that CSU is going to be infinitely more interesting.
The modern game is all about slinging the rock and taking advantage of rules that currently favor offensive aggressiveness. For the last two years we had to watch a coach that was too wrapped up in his own ego to do this — even after seeing the offense move the ball better when the Rams were forced to operate out of the spread in situations where they went down big.
I don’t know how many games the Rams are actually going to win this fall. The talent out there has me convinced that a bowl game is within the realm of possibility, but again, it’s just far too early to try and predict with any type of confidence.
Having said that, though, while it is too early for most predictions, with receivers like Wright, McCullouch, Horton, etc., in a system that will properly use their skills, I’m guessing it’s safe to say that the CSU wide-outs will produce more than the four combined touchdowns that the group combined for last fall. It should be a lot of fun watching them in action.