This one was for the seniors.
Colorado State wrapped up the 2022 season with a 17-0 win over New Mexico on Friday.
While the 3-9 finish was not exactly what Ram fans were hoping for in the first season under Jay Norvell, the 12th consecutive victory over UNM was an encouraging way to finish the year, much like the way CSU concluded the 2011 campaign with a 24-20 win over the Lobos in his first season under Jim McElwain. CSU went 4-8 that year, but just like 2022, the Rams were much more competitive at the end of the season than they were at the beginning.
Norvell talked about CSU’s growth during the postgame press conference, explaining that after starting the season chaotically, this Rams team really came together and were a pleasure for him to coach.
“You know, I didn’t trust my football team the first month,” Norvell said. “I didn’t trust them. And I told them after the Wyoming game, I said, I don’t feel that way anymore. I really think we have a group of kids that are committed to one another, that are willing to sacrifice, and they’re fun to be around every day.”
After losing a significant amount of scholarship players throughout the season — CSU finished 2022 with 59 on the roster — most teams would have crumbled. Particularly after the way CSU started in the non-conference slate, the frustration could have very easily reached a boiling point and essentially resulted in a wasted year. To the credit of this team though, the Rams actually showed more fight with less numbers on the roster. Had a few things gone differently, maybe a few less injuries, CSU could have realistically finished .500 and snuck into a bowl.
One of the main reasons CSU was able to play competitive football in seven of the final eight games of the season despite playing four different quarterbacks behind a litany of combos of offensive linemen was the leadership provided by a couple of key veteran players.
Without a doubt, Dequan Jackson was one of those players. The fifth-year linebacker put together the best season of his career, finishing with 100 total tackles and a couple of forced fumbles. Whether it was shooting the gap to blow up someone in the hole, chasing down a back trying to reach the edge, or hitting a tight end in the open field to disrupt a pass attempt, Jackson was a major part of what made the defense so impressive this fall. It felt like wherever the ball was, Jackson was always close behind.
As impactful of a player as Jackson was in terms of his production though, his role as a leader in the locker room was arguably even more important for a team that had to rely on a ton of experienced individuals.
“I think those kids respect Dequan, and he’s earned that,” Norvell said. “And the rest of our seniors, I think the way that they conducted themselves, especially these last two months, has had an effect on the younger players, and it’s got their attention.”
Norvell continued, explaining that he emphasized to the locker room throughout the week that the younger players on the team had a responsibility to prepare and compete the right way, so that the seniors would get to go out on top.
Tory Horton, CSU’s most productive player this fall and a future NFL receiver, echoed that message as well. “This game was about the seniors. This game wasn’t about next year or about the young guys, this game was strictly about the seniors.”
Jackson, though he did say the win is not really about him, did admit that it felt great to go out with the first shutout of his career. Jackson said that before the game even started, he told the locker room that they were going to lay it all on the line for the seniors. And after seeing them do so, he now hopes that mentality will carry over into next season.
While the younger players might not have been thinking about the big picture — Horton made it clear he just wanted to win for the veterans — Jackson explained that he believes it can be positive momentum that gets carried into 2023, and he really hopes it does.
“They can go forward knowing that they got that in them,” Jackson said. “And that’s something we’ve always had in us. So that’s what I’m most excited about. The way we finished the day was great, but I want it to bleed over for them into the next season.”
One of the players that the Rams really need to carry over his progress from this fall is Chase Wilson. The redshirt sophomore linebacker from Arvada, Colo. was able to work his way onto the field more and more as the year went on. And he ultimately finished with his best game of the season, recording seven total tackles and two and a half sacks in the win over UNM.
When asked about the breakout performance, Jackson, with a massive smile on his face, proclaimed that Wilson balled out all year. He also said that the young linebacker was emotional before the game and told the veterans he was going to give his all for them in the finale.
“He went and did it,” Jackson said. “You got to respect a thing like that. And I think Chase is going to be great moving forward. I’ve watched him come in since he was a freshman. I was around him a lot on his visit. And he’s always looked up to me, but today, I was proud of him.”
Jackson and his running mate, Cam’Ron Carter, leave behind big shoes to fill for guys like Wilson, Drew Kulick, etc. The duo combined for over 600 tackles over the last half decade, so it’s going to take a big jump in production for the guys on the field next fall.
While their collegiate careers may be over, their legacies will not be soon forgotten. In a year where the fans saw many beloved individuals choose to finish at different institutions, Jackson and Carter stayed true to the school that gave them their shot in the first place. And after five years, three coaches and a whole lot of ups and downs, the two got to go out the way they deserved.
“We’ve been talking for years about this moment,” Jackson said. “That’s one of the reasons that we stuck around.”
Jackson leaves CSU after 50 games played for the Rams. He recorded 322 total tackles (143 solo) and 27 tackles for loss in his impressive career. Carter finishes with 302 total tackles (105 solo), 24 tackles for loss and nine sacks in what was a really nice collegiate career as well.
“I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else,” Jackson said of Carter, before explaining that while they occasionally butted heads as competitors, at the end of the day their relationship was all love.
“That’s just the way it’s got to be if both guys are going to be alphas, and both guys are going to be leaders in that room,” Jackson said. “I love that guy to death. He’ll probably be in my wedding one day. So I’m just glad that I was able to meet him and that we stayed together this whole time. We came in and played together as freshmen and here we are, fifth-year seniors, hanging out together. I’m thankful for him.”