Gap left by Sapp may be easy to fill

Cecil Sapp ran for 17 touchdowns and a school-best 1,673 yards last year for the Rams. He was exclusively responsible for CSU being second in the Mountain West (only behind Air Force) in total rushing yardage, average per carry, attempts and touchdowns. Now the Rams have to fill the gap Sapp left behind after graduating on to the NFL. Fortunately, it may not be as tough a task as one may think.

Waiting to make his mark is senior-to-be Rahsaan Sanders, the team's third leading rusher a year ago behind Sapp and quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt. Thus far in spring practices, which culminate April 26 in the annual Green and Gold game, the starting running back spot appears to be Sanders' to lose.

"We've got tremendous numbers this spring," running backs coach Mick Delaney said. "We've got 10 kids out and the competition is really big time. But from an experience standpoint, from what happened in the past, obviously, Rahsaan Sanders comes in as the No. 1 guy. He did some really fine things for us last fall. He's the frontrunner at this point."

What he did last fall was run for 311 yards, mostly in relief of Sapp. And that was the least productive of his years at CSU.

In 11 games as a true freshman in 1999, Sanders ran off 468 yards, fourth most by a true freshman. In the third game of the year, he made his first start in place of the injured Kevin McDougal. As a sophomore, he shared time with Sapp, finishing with 524 yards behind Sapp's 841.

Sanders' junior year was to be similar to the year before, sharing time with Sapp. And after Sapp went down for the year with a benign tumor in his right heel, Sanders was set to be the featured back.

But then he went down. A severe hamstring injury ended his year.

Then came last season. Sapp looked better than ever from the get-go, and Sanders was relegated to play second fiddle once again.

Whereas Sapp never received a medical redshirt, Sanders did. And now it's his turn to shine.

"I played behind Kevin McDougal my freshman year, and I split time with Sapp my sophomore year," Sanders said. "Then I was behind Sapp last year, so I just want the chance to be the man."

If Sanders continues what he's doing, he'll be just that. And with the ever-agile Van Pelt taking the snaps, Sanders figures to get a hefty share of option pitches as the No. 1 guy.

But should he fumble, there's a healthy stable of able backs to run with Van Pelt. The No. 2 man in this mix looks to be redshirt freshman Tristan Walker.

There's also sophomore Uldis Jaunarajs, junior Chris Lingham, and a few walk-ons. Oh, and should the NCAA accept an appeal for eligibility from this Marcus Houston guy , things could really get complicated.

For now, though, Sanders looks to have earned his starting spot.

"He's like all the seniors we've been blessed with here at Colorado State the past 10 years," Delaney said. "He's a guy that you could probably say, ‘OK, you understand it all, you've done it, you've done it, you've done it.' Yet he's been the hardest worker of every guy we've got out there. That's been a sign of what Cecil was when he was a senior, and Kevin McDougal, and Damon (Washington)."

Well, there you go. Sanders mentioned in the same sentence as all the most recent outstanding senior running backs at CSU, all of whom went on the NFL.

They all had their chance, and Sanders looks poised to use his to the max.

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