Monday afternoon before the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
It’s an exciting, tense and nervous time in Fort Collins, Colorado, as the Colorado State Rams football team prepares to kick off their 115th season of collegiate competition.
Jim McElwain greeted the media at his first week presser with his usual calm, cool and charismatic approach.
He came in and told us right away that the team is “still a long ways away, today” from being ready, but they are continuing to “WIN” or follow Coach Mac’s “What’s Important Now” technique.
“We have to focus on what we have to do to be successful, in all three phases of the game and not get caught up in the excitement, but do get caught up in the now,” McElwain said. “Get caught up in the ‘what do I need to do right now, in this rep, in this practice, so I’m prepared to go out and play my best, play fast, play with tempo and not apprehension as we move forward in the game.’
“It’s how you deal with the adversity, it’s how you deal with the momentum swings. And the best way to do that is focus on ‘what I can do to win this play’ and not worry about whatever else happens.”
It’s the philosophy of never looking into the future or into the past, but to focus on what each individual player can do right now—as in, the current play or even practice snap—to improve and become better each and every day.
His philosophy is working, it’s evident in the improved play of sophomores John Froland (DE), Alex Tucci (DT), and freshmen Cory James (SLB) and Trent Matthews (SS), who all start in front of juniors and seniors this Saturday.
“His motto is worry about the now, so we take each practice with baby steps, working to get better and better. I’m just focusing on the now,” explained redshirt freshman safety Matthews Monday. “I just really take every day as a day. I just take step by step.”
That step-by-step approach helps these young players keep everything in perspective and understand that if they dedicated themselves and put in the work, they can earn a starting spot.
They know Coach Mac is setting them up for success. They see themselves getting bigger, stronger and even faster through the intense offseason workout regimen, and they can feel themselves seeing things more clearly due to the mental training they’ve undergone as well.
The change in culture hasn’t stopped there, each and every player talks about the family, the brotherhood of the Rams, as they’ve grown together this offseason and continue to strengthen those bonds.
“I’m on the field with my brothers,” Matthews said. “Everybody’s putting in 100 percent in practice.”
Yes, McElwain’s a compelling, energetic and lively leader—he’s a breath of fresh air in Fort Collins that has rejuvenated the spirits and invigorated the players’ passions for the game they love.
He’s reminded them it takes an entire team to win football games, that they must be able to rely on one another, supporting the man next to them in the huddle and on the gridiron.
His culture change will be seen this Saturday in another way also, as each player on the team is required to wear a suit on gameday under McElwain.
In his less than nine months in charge, McElwain has changed nearly each and every thing the Rams do—from closing practices, to increasing work loads, emphasizing team first and expecting more character-wise from players—it’s remarkable.
All indications show CSU is headed in the right direction, steering away from their devastatingly bad last three seasons and looking to climb back to the top of the Mountain West.
And while McElwain said his team was a long ways away from being where he’d like to see them for this first game, he knows they’ve improved greatly in the short period of time he’s been in Fort Collins and the first-year head coach made it clear he’ll be around for a long time.
“I’m really looking forward to the long haul of making this a relevant rivalry,” McElwain said. Making it where both teams—and I’ve said it before, I think this is really important for the state of Colorado, for sports in general in Colorado. I think this will help, as both teams get better. I just think it’s something that’s important to the state and I look forward to making it relevant as time moves forward.”
Coach Mac is building a winner at Colorado State, one he hopes will be competitive for years to come.
The Rocky Mountain Showdown kicks off Saturday at 2 p.m. MT and will be played at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium.
Want more on the Rocky Mountain Showdown?
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Opinion: What is a successful first season for Jim McElwain in “Bold New Era”?
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist. Follow Rich on facebook, twitter or by clicking “follow” below.