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Returning Rams, former Nevada wideouts meshing within CSU’s receiver corps

Despite mix of returners and transfers, CSU receivers attaining cohesion during spring ball

Colorado State junior receiver Tory Horton corrals a pass during spring practice outside Canvas Stadium on March 29, 2022.
Colorado State junior receiver Tory Horton corrals a pass during spring practice outside Canvas Stadium on March 29, 2022.
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FORT COLLINS –– It’s reasonable to assume things felt a bit unnatural for assistant coach Chad Savage amid his initial days on Colorado State’s staff.

After all, first-year head coach Jay Norvell hired Savage to do one thing, coach tight ends, before quickly expecting him to do another –– serving as CSU’s receivers coach in light of Timmy Chang’s abrupt departure to be Hawaii’s head coach.

Perhaps wideouts Tory Horton and Melquan Stovall felt similarly awkward, as both also first came to CSU to do one thing before shifting their ambitions the next time around.

As members of Nevada’s 2021 squad, the receivers visited Steve Addazio’s reeling team on Nov. 27 en route to helping the Wolf Pack deliver a 52-10 beatdown of the Rams. But just three weeks later, the pass-catching tandem transferred over to wear the same green and gold uniform as the team they recently stomped.

“I guess it was a little weird at first, coming in,” Horton chuckled. “But that’s in the past. It’s a new culture. We all live under the same roof trying to meet one goal.”

Experiencing at least a modest sense of awkwardness when entering the locker room of a former conference foe proved inevitable. Nevertheless, it didn’t take long to shed.

And for Savage, regarding his unanticipated role change, Nevada’s 2021 tight ends coach took the switch in stride –– considering his prior experience.

“I’m familiar with the position,” Savage said. “I coached receivers at San Diego (in 2020). So it wasn’t anything too crazy. And things have gone well with the group. There’s obviously a mix of guys that were here and Nevada guys. But we all want to pull the rope in the same direction.”

Speaking of that rope, though obviously located in Fort Collins, it was Horton and Stovall –– rather than key returners like Dante Wright and Ty McCullouch –– who took the first tug for fellow receivers to follow.

While technically the new guys in town, Horton and Stovall weren’t the ones who felt like foreigners on the field, given their expansive knowledge of the Air Raid offense.

“It’s nice having Tory and Melquan because they can help these guys learn the scheme, say some different coaching points and learn the same terminology,” Savage said. “Especially during that first half of winter training when us coaches couldn’t be out there, (returning) guys looked to them. Those guys were really the coaches on the field.”

Colorado State junior receiver Tory Horton (right) chats with fellow wideout E.J. Scott during spring practice outside Canvas Stadium on March 29, 2022. (Eddie Herz/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Upon operating as Nevada’s No. 2 and No. 3 wideouts last season, Horton (a junior) and Stovall (a senior) each amassed more than 50 grabs and 600 receiving yards within Nevada’s Mountain West-leading passing attack.

Since then, from showing players how to approach plays, to issuing general advice, they’ve taken the objective of enabling Rams’ wideouts to thrive inside the Air Raid at Canvas Stadium –– like Horton did when accruing 113 yards and two touchdowns at CSU last year.

“The funny thing is we’ll be watching film and (the Nevada game) will pop up, and we’ll just laugh,” McCullouch said. “Them coming in was a little weird at first. But at the end of the day, we want to win, and those guys are gonna help us win. And those guys that came over, Tory and Melquan, they’ve been really helpful in learning the offense. Just helping us maneuver certain things and just getting it down to a ‘T’.”

Considering the simplicity of CSU’s new offense, McCullouch, Wright and company have already begun finding a rhythm within the Air Raid.

In fact, Horton even mentioned how returning Rams have lent a helping hand for him when necessary at practice.

“We all help each other out,” Horton said. “There’s even some plays where I mess up, and they get on me. We all like to pick up each other’s slack. And we’re developing quick. So it’s a great feeling. Everyone’s got a smile on their face out there.”

Even during particularly intense practices, it would appear plain odd if returning pass-catchers didn’t operate with a smile on their faces.

After all, the Rams transition from Addazio’s ground-and-pound oriented offense to a throw-happy scheme that attempted 44 passes per game last year –– 11 more than CSU.

Looking promising in spring camp since, McCullouch still managed to post a career year in 2021 despite CSU’s run-heavy intentions, notching 43 receptions for 540 yards. Though injured for four games, Wright still frequently flashed his dynamic expertise down the stretch.

Hence, the wideouts who stuck around post-Addazio have reason to feel like the sky’s the limit under Norvell and offensive coordinator Matt Mumme. And CSU’s staff feels similarly.

“There is a difference now.” McCullouch said. “These guys love to throw. As receivers, we love that. So we have no complaints. The energy is always up. Everybody wants to come out here and show what they can do. And we feel like we can do a lot in this offense. Me and Dante are just trying to fill in where they have holes and get the job done. It’s been going great.”

“We’re really excited about Ty and what he can do,” Savage added. “And Dante, he’s a guy that can run, take the top off. He’s got fluid, natural hands. We’ll definitely utilize him in this offense.”

Colorado State senior receiver Dante Wright hauls in a pass during spring practice outside Canvas Stadium on March 29, 2022. (Eddie Herz/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

While praising the seemingly deep wideout corps’ potential, also including graduate E.J. Scott and several touted freshmen, Savage stressed how the group still represents far from a game-ready product –– per typical during the spring stage of preseason.

Currently, the coach’s point of emphasis concerns wideouts focusing on the “alignment, assignment and technique” within their roles as CSU’s staff continues implementing the finer details of its scheme.

CSU’s upcoming scrimmage on Saturday will indicate how much progress the wideouts have truly made through three weeks of spring ball. In light of how they’ve approached their business thus far, Savage is optimistic about what the Rams’ first spring scrimmage.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Savage said. “But there’s definitely potential. For the entire group, there’s really a renewed energy. So we’ve just got to keep building that, keep doing things the right away. I tell these guys every day that if we do things the right way, we’re disciplined, we take care of our business, then we’ll have fun with it.”

Colorado State senior receiver Dante Wright reaches for a deep grab during spring practice outside Canvas Stadium on March 29, 2022. (Eddie Herz/Loveland Reporter-Herald)

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