Sports

The journey of a T-Wolf

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The construction of the ThunderBowl. Photo courtesy of colostate-pueblo.edu.
On Nov. 10, 1984, then University of Southern Colorado Indians, lost to Adams State University, 51-25, in the final game of their season.

The Indians, which started the season 2-1, finished the season with a 2-8 record, after a seven game losing streak.

Following the 1984 season, the University of Southern Colorado Indians never played another down of football again due to cuts created by a campus wide reorganization plan.

The college football program became dormant in Pueblo until 2007.

An organization called, “Friends of Football,” established a fund raising effort in 2007, to revive the football, wrestling and woman’s track and field program to the newly renamed Colorado State University-Pueblo, which adopted the ThunderWolf as its mascot in 1995.

Through the fund raising efforts, Friends of Football was able to raise an unparalleled $13 million to assist in building the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl and help pay for start up expenses for the program.

In July of 2007, John Wristen, former quarterback at the University of Southern Colorado, was hired as the head coach for the T-Wolves. Wristen was the special-teams coach with the University of California Los Angeles Bruins the year prior.

In September 2007, to generate support for the revival of the program, the T-Wolves held an open tryout, for anyone who finished their high school eligibility, as well as announced a contest for a fan to design the game day uniform and helmet.

One year later, on Sept. 6, 2008, the T-Wolves made their first appearance at the ThunderBowl, against Oklahoma Panhandle State, in front of nearly 10,000 people.

First T-Wolf game, Sept. 6, 2008. Photo courtesy of colostate-pueblo.edu.

“That was scary. It was nerve racking. That’s the most nervous I’ve been for a game in a long time,” Wristen said. “Lot of people here, big crowd; fireworks going off. That’s the most pressure I’ve felt.”

The T-Wolves won the game 24-13.

“That first game (against Oklahoma Panhandle State) set the standard of what was expected out of you,” Wristen said.

The most suspenseful win of the rebirth season came Oct. 25, 2008, at Western State, when then, freshman kicker Kyle Major, made a 42-yard field goal, with 17 seconds remaining in the game.

The T-Wolves would finish the inaugural football season 4-6, 3-6 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference finishing sixth.

In its second year, the T-Wolves took its first big step when they went into Chadron, Neb., and defeated the No. 15 ranked Chadron State Eagles, 28-17. The win snapped a 28 game RMAC winning streak for the Eagles, which spanned from October 2005 to September 2009.

“I told our team that we needed to dream it, needed to believe it, then we would see it,” Wristen said to a reporter from gothunderwolves.com, after beating Chadron.

The T-Wolves would finish third in the RMAC in 2009 with a 7-4, 6-3 record in the conference. It was the first winning season in the T-Wolf football era.

In 2010, the T-Wolves got off to a 5-0, 3-0 in the RMAC start, following a 33-30 triple-overtime win against the Eagles. The T-Wolves lost the next two games, against the Colorado School of Mines Orediggers and the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers in consecutive weeks.

The T-Wolves would conclude the 2010 season third, again, with a 9-2, 7-2 record in the RMAC, ranking as high as No. 25 in early October.

In 2011, T-Wolf football broke through.

On Sept. 1, 2011, the T-Wolves went into Canyon Texas, and defeated the No. 19 West Texas A&M Buffaloes 26-24, in front of nearly 8,000 fans.

One month later, on Oct. 6, 2011, the T-Wolves defeated the Orediggers, for the first time since 1983, 23-6, in front nearly 9,500 fans and a national television audience.

The very next week, with the RMAC lead at stake, the T-Wolves went into Kearney, Neb., and defeated the No. 4 ranked Lopers, 27-14, in one of the biggest regular season games in either schools history.

The T-Wolves after defeating the No. 4 University of Nebraska Kearney Lopers, Oct. 15, 2011. Photo courtesy of gothunderwolves.com.

The T-Wolves finished the regular season first in the RMAC with an 11-0, 9-0 RMAC record. They were ranked No. 1 overall in the American Football Coaches Association Poll at the end of the regular season.

Following a first round bye in the NCAA Division II Playoffs, the T-Wolves lost to the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs 21-24.

The T-Wolves finished No. 9 in the final AFCA Ranking.

In 2012 the T-Wolves, thus far, after steady improvements the previous four years, are on the verge of its second straight undefeated season, as they are 10-0, 8-0 in the RMAC, entering the final game of the season, Nov. 10, against Western State Colorado University Mountaineers.

T-Wolves celebrating after an overtime victory against the Chadron State College Eagles, Oct. 6, 2012. Photo courtesy of gothunderwolves.com.

“It starts with everyone checking their ego at the door and staying humble and showing up to work everyday,” senior quarterback Ross Dausin said.

On Oct. 16, for the first time in school history, the T-Wolves were named the unanimous No. 1 ranked team in both the AFCA Poll and the D2Football.com Poll.

All of this happening a little more than four years since the program has been resurrected; an even more of an uncommon feat considering that programs typically struggle their first few years in competition.

“It’s just not a one man show, this is not about me. It’s about the players that come in and have taken on the challenge, it’s about my assistant coaches that have embraced this vision that we’ve set out, and it’s part of our administration and this community,” Wristen said about what it took to transform the program to where it is today.

As the standards have changed since the revival of football in Pueblo, so have the expectations.

“Back then it was just looking for people to field positions when the program started. Now you’re demanded to do your position right,” senior cornerback Mark Sterling, who was a part of the first T-Wolf recruiting class, said.

Much has changed since 2008, as the T-Wolves have gone from sixth in the RMAC in its inaugural season, to No. 1 in the country, but it was all part of Wristen’s plan.

“In the reality of it, I saw us being successful,” Wristen said.

However, no change for the T-Wolf football program may be as significant as the change of identity in its fifth season back.

“We want to be compared to the elite teams in the country,” Wristen said. “We want to be compared to the teams that play the hardest on each snap.”