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New-look Rams feature mix of youth, experience

CSU ready to hit 2022 season in full stride

Colorado State running back A’Jon Vivens, center, takes a handoff from quarterback Clay Millen during the team’s scrimmage Aug. 10 at Canvas Stadium. (Nathan Wright/Loveland Reporter-Herald)
Colorado State running back A’Jon Vivens, center, takes a handoff from quarterback Clay Millen during the team’s scrimmage Aug. 10 at Canvas Stadium. (Nathan Wright/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

After a spring and summer of anticipation following the hiring of new head coach Jay Norvell, the first game day of the season is finally at hand for the Colorado State Rams.

The Rams will open their season Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich., against the Wolverines in a matchup they will be heavy underdogs in, but CSU’s focus is on how they perform on the field. There will be more important games down the road and Norvell wants his team to continue to improve through repetition, which will now come in live games as well as practice.

“Football is about responding to adversity,” Norvell said. “It is about accountability and we’ve always had teams that have improved and gotten better the more they have practiced. That’s a goal that we have. Anywhere we go from here, we have to have a common understanding of how we do things and how we go about our business.”

After a spring in which Norvell and his staff installed entirely new systems and schemes on offense and defense and then a grueling fall camp, here is a look at who made the starting roster going into the first game of the season.


While several Rams will make their first collegiate start Saturday, none are more high-profile than redshirt freshman quarterback Clay Millen.

Millen, who transferred from Nevada when his former head coach took over at CSU, saw action in two games for the Wolf Pack last season. But he spent a whole season learning Norvell’s offense.

He earned the starting quarterback job last spring and was able to spend the summer — both before and during the team’s fall camp — working with receivers and becoming even more familiar with the offense.

“Clay is getting there,” Associate head coach/quarterbacks coach Matt Mumme said. “There’s a lot of things he’s got to learn. He is going to take some bumps in the road and learn some lessons, but if he calls the offense like he is supposed to, it will work for him.”

Redshirt senior A’Jon Vivens has earned the starting running back nod. Vivens emerged from a talented stable of ball carriers the Rams have to their advantage.

Vivens, who moved from slot receiver to running back during his sophomore season in 2020, was third on the team last season with 324 yards rushing, including a career-best 114 against San Jose State.

He is on the 2022 Wuerffel Trophy Watch List.

Vivens will be backed up by junior Avery Morrow, another transfer from Nevada. He has 25 carries for 210 yards in his career, including an 88-yard, one touchdown performance against CSU last season.

That leaves the most experienced Rams running back in Norvell’s back pocket, most likely to be used in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Senior David Bailey started all 11 games for the Rams last season, rushing for 752 yards and nine touchdowns.

“We have a bunch of great running backs,” Bailey said. “I think we are the best running back group in the Mountain West this year. Any guy can start on any team. Avery coming over from Nevada, so he has experience with this offense. Him coming over really helped us a lot. He got us adjusted quick to the new offense, but every guy in our running back room can play.”

Millen won’t have a shortage of receivers to throw to. Junior transfer Tory Horton leads the starting three. Horton, who also came from Nevada to play for Norvell, had 72 receptions for 995 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career. He had four catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns against CSU last season.

Colorado State senior receiver Melquan Stovall, 0, runs upfield during the Rams' scrimmage Aug. 10 at Canvas Stadium. (Nathan Wright/Loveland Reporter-Herald)
Colorado State senior receiver Melquan Stovall, 0, runs upfield during the Rams’ scrimmage Aug. 10 at Canvas Stadium. (Nathan Wright/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Senior transfer Melquan Stovall and senior Ty McCullouch will start at the other two wide receiver positions. Stovall had 643 yards receiving and one touchdown last year for Nevada. Last year for the Rams, McCullouch had 24 catches for 415 yards and a touchdown.

Backups at wide receiver include a pair of freshmen in Louis Brown and Justus Ross-Simmons and senior Dante Wright.

Redshirt freshman Tanner Arkin, the lone CSU representative on the Preseason All-Mountain West team, will start at tight end, replacing Trey McBride, who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals following a record-setting season last year.

Across the offensive line, junior transfer Jacob Gardner will make his first start for CSU on Saturday after starting 21 games and earning honorable mention All-Mountain West honors twice for Nevada.

At left tackle, Poudre High School product redshirt sophomore Brian Crespo-Jaquez will make his first collegiate start against the Wolverines. The rest of the line has plenty of experience. Graduate transfers Dante Bivens at left guard, Gray Davis at right guard and Dontae Keys at right tackle have a combined 61 starts among them.


The CSU defense is loaded with experience and that unit will get a tough first test this weekend.

Up front, the Rams will feature graduate transfer CJ Onyechi and senior Mohamed Kamara at defensive end. Kamara played in all 12 games for the Rams last season and finished with 7.5 sacks. Onyechi had 87 tackles and five sacks in five seasons at Rutgers.

Fifth-year senior Devin Phillips and junior Cam Bariteau will start at the defensive tackle positions. Phillips has started every game he has played in for the Rams since his freshman season (36). Last year, he had 33 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Bariteau will be making his first collegiate start Saturday after seeing action in six games for the Rams a year ago.

“I think we have adjusted pretty well,” Phillips said. “We are just bringing the younger guys along that just got here, getting them to understand their place in the defense. I feel like everything is moving in the right direction. Everybody is coming along great. We’ve just got to execute.

Starting at linebacker will be graduate Dequan Jackson and redshirt freshman Drew Kulick. Jackson is one of the more experienced Rams. He started all 12 games last season and finished with 84 tackles. He was named Honorable Mention All-Mountain West after last season and Second Team All-Mountain West the year before.

Kulick, a redshirt freshman from Regis Jesuit in Aurora, will make his first collegiate start Saturday after walking on to the team last season.

“We’ve been working hard since January,” Jackson said. “It’s not a short road. It’s a journey. Just being able to bond with the guys, it’s a different feeling going into the season. Personally, it’s my last ride but I’m trying not to let that affect me at all. I really want to focus on going out there and performing well and being the leader the team needs me to be.”

All of the team’s defensive backs have starting experience. Graduate transfer Chigozie Anusiem will start at one cornerback position. Anusiem played in 25 games in four seasons at Cal where he had 40 tackles. Opposite him will be redshirt junior transfer Greg Laday. Laday played in 11 games and had 38 tackles last season at Northern Colorado.

Junior transfer Angel King will start at one safety position while Fairview High School product Henry Blackburn. Blackburn played in seven games for the Rams last season and finished with 41 tackles. King played in all 12 games for Nevada last year, totaling 40 tackles and a sack.

The nickel position in defensive coordinator Freddie Banks’ scheme will feature graduate Tywan Francis. Francis started 11 games for the Rams last season and was second on the team with 88 tackles.

Special Teams

The Rams return a school record holder at kicker. Cayden Camper enters his senior season after kicking a school-record 25 field goals last season. He holds the school record for most field goals in a single game with six. He was an Honorable Mention All-Mountain West selection last season.

Replacing a record holder at punter will be Paddy Turner, a redshirt freshman transfer from Nevada. He will take the place of departed Ryan Stonehouse, who has earned the starting job for the Tennessee Titans.

Turner, who has been elected one of the team’s four captains, is from Australia and spent a redshirt season last year under Norvell with the Wolf Pack.