FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — To build up his new program, Colorado State coach Jim McElwain didn’t mind piggybacking on the success of his old one.
Before taking over a reeling Rams squad, McElwain was the architect of the Alabama offense, helping the Crimson Tide capture a national championship last month.
That certainly served him well on the recruiting trail.
“It doesn’t hurt where I came from,” McElwain said Wednesday. “The place where I came from, to be honest, obviously we had a pretty good run at that place.”
And while McElwain’s first class at Colorado State wasn’t nearly as bountiful as that of Alabama’s Nick Saban, who landed one five-star player after another, it’s still a solid start. McElwain emphasized size and athleticism as he brought in two dozen players, including a quarterback who played down the road from campus and a running back that began his career at Texas A&M.
Highlights from McElwain’s news conference in the video below:
“Look, there’s a lot of coaches telling you how great their recruiting classes are,” McElwain said. “I’ll tell you how good they are in about three years. There isn’t one guy I’m going to circle out and put the undue pressure on him being the marquee of the class.”
After taking over at CSU in December, McElwain had to juggle his job at Alabama with his new responsibilities with the Rams until the Crimson Tide defeated LSU in the BCS championship game on Jan. 9.
It’s been a whirlwind adventure for McElwain, who’s logged more than 9,000 air miles visiting with recruits and attending to matters in Fort Collins.
Now, the real work begins. His task is to revamp the Rams, who have had three straight 3-9 seasons.
The first assignment was bulking up the size of his new squad.
“Maybe call it from where I came from, but when I met our team, I was wondering where the linemen were,” McElwain said.
He brought in some beef, including four offensive linemen who are all around 300 pounds. McElwain also signed three tight ends since they typically have the frame — 6-foot-5, 240 pounds — he’s looking for. That way, McElwain can move them around, maybe to defensive end or somewhere else on the field.
“We did feel that we needed to get a little bigger,” said McElwain, who signed a five-year deal with the Rams, worth $1.35 million annually, plus bonuses. “It reminds me that in boxing, lightweights don’t fight heavyweights.”
Another point of emphasis for McElwain was bringing on board what he called “pace setters,” those players who were natural leaders. In his inaugural class, four recruits were members of state championship teams their seniors seasons, and 13 were team captains.
“Guys that understand what it takes to be successful,” he explained. “The guys we put out there will play their tails off. Play with passion and play hard. When they walk off the field, I want the other team we’re playing to say, ‘Boy, I don’t know if I want to play those guys again.'”
The Rams were in the market for another quarterback after losing Pete Thomas, who was granted a release from his scholarship last month.
So in came Craig Leonard, a local product who played eight miles from Fort Collins. Leonard threw for 2,558 yards and 26 TDs for Fossil Ridge High School in 2010. Last season, he polished up his skills at Jireh Prep School in Monroe, N.C., starting seven games and throwing for more than 1,000 yards and 14 TDs.
Leonard enrolled early and will practice with the Rams this spring.
So will Tommey Morris, a 225-pound running back out of famed Permian High School in Odessa, Texas. He averaged 1.2 touchdowns a game.
Morris wasn’t the only tailback the Rams brought in.
Mister Jones redshirted at Texas A&M in 2010 before leaving the Aggies last season. He will have three seasons of eligibility remaining beginning this fall.
Asked if any of his recruits could step in and start right away, McElwain left the door open.
“You earn the right to play.” McElwain said. “When you’re ready, you’ll play.
“To me, any coach that goes in and tells some guy that, ‘Yeah, you’re going to play as a freshman,’ the guy is lying to them. They don’t know. And part of recruiting is honesty.”
Besides lining up recruits, McElwain has been busy assembling his staff. He brought in Dave Baldwin from Utah State to run the offense and has yet to name his defensive coordinator. He is expected to announce the rest of his staff next week.
– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
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