C.J.’s Endpoints: Shaking off Sparta and looking to the Border War

C.J. Onyechi - C.J.'s Endpoints - RamNation.comEach week Colorado State defensive end C.J. Onyechi will share his viewpoints on the team’s performance, as well as the upcoming week.  Learn more here on how to contribute to RamNation’s NIL fund for C.J. and future student athlete partners.

CSU lost 28-16 to San Jose State Saturday night. This one seemed to sting more than other losses because the Rams had a chance to win, but had a lot of self-inflicted wounds. Head coach Jay Norvell seemed unusually dejected after the game, as if he took the loss harder than other losses this season. What made that game tough to swallow?

This game hurt a little more because there was a lot at stake this game. With a win we could have had another conference win and still be on target to reach the goals of conference champion contenders and be bowl-game eligible. With the loss those things may be out of reach. But that doesn’t mean we give up. We have so much to play for still and I think we as a team grasp that.

The defense played pretty darn well all night, but there were two moments that I know you wish the defense could have back.
   1) Allowing SJSU to take the second half kickoff and march 75 yards in nine plays for a touchdown to take its first lead of the game, 14-0. It was the only time all night that the Spartans really moved the ball with ease.
   2) With 2:58 left and trailing 21-16, you had a chance to get off the field and give the ball back to the offense for a potential game-winning drive, but the defense gave up a 37-yard completion on third-and-15, which resulted in a touchdown a play later.
Can you share your viewpoint on these two turning points?

Coach Banks told us how important that first drive of the second half was going to be, and we dropped the ball as a defense. But, we rallied and played fairly well for the rest of the half until the 37-yard play we gave up that basically put the game out of reach. That play definitely hurt; we have to be aware of big moments in games and force ourselves to execute perfectly in those clutch situations.

Coach Norvell said in the post-game interview that he made sure to tell his players he loves you guys, is proud of your effort and for buying in. Effort is something we haven’t had to worry about with this team. It always gives 100% and never quits. How have you and your teammates been able to consistently bring effort, even when things haven’t gone your way?  

That’s all you can do. Effort is the only thing we can control. The leaders on the team have led by example, so our whole team gives effort by default. The big plays and the wins we want will come with more time and understanding of the system, but one thing that doesn’t take time is the effort you give every play.

The Rams committed 13 penalties for 101 yards. The team now averages 8 penalties per game and 70+ yards per game, which ranks 119th out of 131 FBS teams. In your opinion, why has the team not improved in this area nine weeks into the season? Is it lack of focus, lack of discipline? Is this a point of emphasis in practice?

Penalties have plagued us this entire season. Honestly, I believe it is due to some of the young guys who have stepped up and are now playing big roles on our offense and defense. Composure and the ability to stay locked in for a full game is something that comes with time and experience playing college ball. We have been making a huge emphasis on it in practice and I see us getting better. We have to stop killing ourselves if we are going to win the games we want to win.

What was it like playing with no crowd behind you but rather a giant building under construction?

Wasn’t really the focus. Was just trying to stay locked in to the game and do what I could to help us win.

This week the Rams face rival Wyoming in the Border War. For someone from New Jersey who may not truly understand the dislike each of these schools has for each other, what has the coaching staff done to instill the importance of winning this rivalry game?

The coaching staff has reminded us constantly how crazy and tough this game will be. Our linebackers coach (Adam Pilapil) actually played for Wyoming (2015-18) so he’s been instilling in us what it takes to win the Border War game. We even got to hear from legend Coach Sonny Lubick who gave us the tools that made him so successful against Wyoming during his time as coach. Hearing from him made me and my teammates ready for a tough hard week of practice, which we’ve been having. Come Saturday you will see a CSU team ready for war.

Have you envisioned beating the Cowboys, sprinting to their side of the field, grabbing the Bronze Boot, and hoisting it above your head with your teammates?

It’s all I’ve been thinking about this week. The guys explained to me how that feeling felt when they experienced it 2020 season. With the Covid restrictions lifted and a full crowd, I bet that feeling will be 100x better.

With a bowl game now officially eliminated, does this become a bowl game of sorts for the team?

For sure! Me and some of the guys were actually just talking about this. This game is as big as any game, if not the biggest on our schedule, and we should treat it like that. These rivalry games are ones you play college football for and I will do everything in my power to make sure it ends in our favor with the boot in our possession.

Watching film of Wyoming, what can you tell us about them and what are your three keys to beating the Cowboys/winning the Bronze Boot?

  1. Discipline
  2. Stop the Run
  3. Win the Special Teams advantage

They are a tough team who plays hard, but they rely on their opponents making mistakes to take advantage. As long as we don’t kill ourselves, we will play a great game against Wyoming.

About our student athlete

Christian “C.J.” Onyechi is a fifth-year senior from New Jersey who starts at defensive end for the Rams. He is studying Communication & Technology (in the in the Journalism and Media Communications department). You can read all of his “C.J.’s Endpoints” features here

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