A few weeks ago, CSU Rams Football put on their annual Green and Gold Game at Canvas Stadium.

During that game, there were around 75 active players, a far cry from the 100-plus in normal years. That meant running back Vann Schield, who will likely mostly contribute on special teams, scored three times. Similarly, star wide receiver Tory Horton was out, which led to Justus Ross-Simmons and Louis Brown stealing the show on the receiving end of Clay Millen’s passes.

But without the Rams best players, and without so many newcomers–who are set to join this summer–how difficult was it to evaluate the team?

“We evaluate the guys we have,” head coach Jay Norvell told me after the Green and Gold Game. “And when we add more guys to them, we’ll see what we got.”

The 15-practice spring is the time college teams regroup after the offseason and investigate what they have as a team moving forward. And although the CSU Rams are a bit hamstrung by the 50-ish players arriving this summer, Norvell feels confident in the team he fielded during spring ball.

“You pretty much plan on going and winning with what you have in the spring,” he explained. “When you get guys in the summer, they can add depth and there might be a surprise or two. But you’ve got to be prepared to go to war with what you have in the spring.”

On one hand, Norvell’s statement makes sense. Those returning players are the ones who are used to the system, the playbook and they’re familiar with each other as well as staff. On the other, Colorado State will simply have to rely on some of those new players to provide an instant impact. 4-star running back Damian Henderson is one name that comes to mind as he is the expected starter at the position.

And Henderson likely won’t be the only one, with nine JuCo and/or DI transfers joining this summer, too.

Uncharted waters in recruiting

Only a few years ago, the standard recruiting class hovered around 25 players. This year, Novell’s CSU Rams will basically bring in two classes at once, with 43 confirmed players and the head coach saying another half-dozen could join too.

“It’s kind of an unusual time in football,” Norvell continued about recruiting. “I’ve never had this many recruits coming in. We could have close to 50 new players this summer which is basically two years of recruiting, what we’ve been used to [in the past]. 

“So, it’s kind of uncharted waters. We’re doing a lot of things the last two years we’ve never done before in coaching. We’ve recruited every weekend in the last month and a half. Getting recruits on campus. That’s just never happened before.”

Colorado State is already a young team. Millen, the team’s starting quarterback, is a redshirt sophomore and previously mentioned wideouts Ross-Simmons and Brown are only sophomores as well. Tight end Jordan Williams, another sophomore, could make an impact this year as well.

Defensively, CSU is a bit more seasoned. Safety Jack Howell is entering his senior season after leading CSU Football with 108 total tackles and 3 interceptions. Howell was named a Freshman All-American in 2020 and named All-Mountain West Conference last year. Fellow defensive back Henry Blackburn will also be a senior this year and enjoyed a strong season last year with 53 tackles, 1 interception and 8 pass breakups.

But back to Norvell’s side of the ball, the offense.

Last season, the Rams were disastrously bad offensively. Their 13.2 points per game were 129th of 131 teams in DI. The good news is, Colorado State got a lot of growing pains out of the way last year with their young players and that could mean a step forward this season. Not just in terms of scoring, but in winning games, too.

And in a longer-term look, a small step this year could set Norvell’s Rams up for a bigger step in 2024.

As for 2023, no one knows for sure what the CSU Rams will look like. Yes, most of the players Norvell will go to battle with were in town for the Green and Gold Game. But with so many newcomers on the way, Colorado State has to hope more than a few can do some damage immediately.

Keep in mind, with two recruiting classes worth of players coming in this summer, the Rams will likely experience more growing pains early in the season and will hopefully find their footing as the year goes on.