Bill McCartney, as he did with dozens upon dozens of young men during his prolific tenure at the University of Colorado, gave Steve Rosga a chance.
Pretty much from the last day Rosga donned the black and gold for the Buffaloes, he has been trying to pay that opportunity forward.
The former safety with a knack for making big plays returned to his native Minnesota once his playing days were over and has forged a fulfilling career training young athletes. Rosga, a key part of the 1995 CU team that defied expectations 25 years ago by going 10-2 with a Cotton Bowl rout of Oregon, has trained pro athletes to aspiring Olympians over the past two decades.
These days he serves as the strength and conditioning coach at St. Thomas Academy, an all-boys private school near the Twin Cities.
“I call it championing boys to men,” Rosga said. “Because really, that’s what this country needs, and not just with the athletes. Obviously I have a sweet spot with the athletes because I have multiple-sport experience and I’ve trained for 20 years overall between the Timberwolves and Vikings cheerleaders and college and Olympic athletes. But this being a specific group of kids that I get to see and have an effect on every day, it reinvigorates me and makes me feel like a kid.”
Twenty-five years ago this past week — on Sept. 2, 1995 — the Buffs made their season debut at Wisconsin as a program that had undergone dramatic changes following the rise to national prominence over the previous decade.
Most notable was the departure of McCartney, leaving Rick Neuheisel and a revamped coaching staff to keep the machine rolling. The Buffs also lost 10 NFL draft picks, including Kordell Stewart, Rashaan Salaam, Michael Westbrook, Christian Fauria, and Ted Johnson, from a 1994 team that was a loss at Nebraska away from competing for a second national championship in five seasons.
The Buffs showed it would be a smooth transition by thrashing Wisconsin 43-7 in a top-25 battle on the road. While the Badgers didn’t live up to expectations that season, finishing 4-5-2, the Buffs used the big night in Madison as the springboard to another memorable year.
“It was not so much about having a chip on our shoulder. It was answering the question, ‘What’s going to happen to CU?’” recalled Rosga. “Mac, being the legacy that he had already created there, going into ’95 we had guys that went out early and all the other draft picks. There were a lot of guys who would have been fifth-year seniors that were already gone. No one really knew if there was going to be a drop-off.”
The thrashing of Wisconsin also provided another personal highlight for Rosga, who attended several Wisconsin games while growing up. With dozens of friends and family members in the stands, Rosga stripped his high school teammate, Wisconsin running back Carl McCullough, and raced 75 yards for an icing-on-the-cake touchdown in the waning stages of the fourth quarter.
“I think Carl got rolled up a little on the back end because he ended up rolling his ankle and he kind of lost his grip. I could feel it, so I just took it and spun,” Rosga said. “Just as funny is that I was the holder. I got in the end zone and I was so full of adrenaline I was looking around thinking I needed a sub for the extra point. Bobby Hauck, our special teams coach, just looked at me and said, ‘You can stay out there.’
“It was one of those things that it was very surreal that it went the way that it did. And I had my first college interception against Wisconsin the year before, so it was all a very nice piece for me.”