NCAA Football

CSU football coach Jay Norvell on National Signing Day and sharing Colorado with Deion Sanders? “We want to beat CU, whoever the coach is.”

CSU football coach Jay Norvell on National Signing Day and sharing Colorado with Deion Sanders? “We want to beat CU, whoever the coach is.”

Jay Norvell brings his luggage with him too, baby. And this Laurich.

Like Andrew Lorich, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound defensive lineman from the Chicago suburb of Yorkville, Illinois.

At least a big tip 20 announced football commitments to CSU for the ’23 class — which officially takes shape when early national signing day begins Wednesday — who register at 6-foot-2 or taller.

“I’m about 6-foot-2-and-a-half,” Norvell told me over the phone Tuesday. “When I walk in the door, I look at the recruits. And that’s good. We will be much longer, much more athletic.”

While new CU Buffs coach Deion Sanders was filming restaurant reviews, riding on statues of Ralphie, go to hoop games, filming additional restaurant reviews and preparing Jackson State for the Celebration Bowl, Norvell and his CSU staff zigzagged across the country in relative radio silence. And, you know, quietly building on what said Tuesday was the No. 1 recruiting class in the Mountain West.

Yes, yes, yes, caveats. Yes, with 25 commitments, a lot of that love was based purely on volume. And of course the transfer portal, College football’s path to free will, made national signing day less about the senior you signed and more about the sophomore you stole. And it’s true that the exodus from FoCo this fall — roughly two dozen guys have left CSU since August — required some serious backfilling.

“We basically played 59 scholarship players throughout the conference (part of the season),” Norvell said. “And we can play with 85, so we basically played with one hand tied behind our back. And I’m just determined not to do that ever again. We will have a full lineup. We will be able to compete and train as we need to.”

All this quantity also has a layer of quality. Three-star defensive end Damian Henderson of Los Alamitos, Calif., weighed offers from Oregon, Washington and Arizona. Kennedy McDowell, a 6-4 senior from Frisco, Texas, has offers from Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Arizona State and Washington State.

According to 247Sports’ composite talent rankings, the Rams’ prospects averaged 84.09 on the site’s talent scale as of Tuesday. Only the recruits headed to San Diego State (85.12) and Boise State (84.39) were rated higher at the prospect level that passes the smell test. And if that mark holds, it’s the highest talent rating for every prospect in CSU’s class, according to 247Sports, in more than a decade.

“(Michigan) was bringing second and third team defenses that we would have loved to take home with us,” Norvell laughed. “We beat Boise (with Nevada in 2021) and I think physically they were a completely different team (in 2022). Overall, they were more mature physically … and that’s the plan our program has to come up with.”

Speaking of different blueprints…

“I don’t really have an opinion on that,” Norvell smiled, knowing that a Coach Prime was a question. “I really don’t.”

After four long years apart, exacerbated by the chaos of COVID-19 in 2020, the Rams and Buffs plan to resume the Rocky Mountain battle on Sept. 16 in Boulder. And for two football players in their 50s, the CSU and CU coaches — Norvell and Neon Deion — haven’t crossed paths very often.

But two moments Tuesday stood out to Norvell — one from Halloween 1999. Most recently, the CSU coach was an assistant on the Peyton Manning-backed Colts team that rallied to defeat Prime and his Dallas Cowboys 34-24 in Indianapolis on Halloween. Sanders returned a punt 76 yards that day, but also gave up a 40-yard touchdown catch to Marvin Harrison in the fourth quarter.

“I don’t think (Sanders) was very healthy in that game,” Norvell recalled.

Most recently, Norvell said, he briefly played with Coach Prime on behalf of last year Brett Bartalone, one of several Jackson State aides coming north to be part of Sanders’ inaugural staff in Boulder. Bartalone, CU’s new quarterbacks coach, was an offensive analyst and assistant quarterbacks coach under Norvell at Nevada before joining Prime as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator last winter.

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