Jay Norvell is bringing his luggage with him, too, baby. And it’s Laurich.
As in Andrew Laurich, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound defensive lineman from the Chicago suburb of Yorkville, Ill.
The big lug’s one of at least 20 reported CSU football commitments for the Class of ’23 — which officially takes shape with the opening of the early national signing day period Wednesday — who check in at 6-foot-2 or taller.
“I’m about 6-foot-2-and-a-half,” Norvell told me by phone Tuesday. “When I step through the door, I’m looking up at the recruits. And that’s a good thing. We’re going to be much longer, much more across-the-board athletic.”
While new CU Buffs coach Deion Sanders was filming restaurant reviews, riding Ralphie statues, going to hoops games, filming more restaurant reviews, and getting Jackson State ready for the Celebration Bowl, Norvell and his CSU staff were zig-zagging around the country in relative radio silence. And, ya know, quietly building what 247Sports.com said Tuesday was the No. 1 recruiting class in the Mountain West.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, caveats.
Yes, with 25 commits, a lot of that love was based purely on volume. And sure, the transfer portal, college football’s path to free agency, has made national signing day less about the high-schooler you signed and more about the sophomore you sweet-talked to come aboard. And granted, the exodus from FoCo this fall — roughly two dozen dudes have left CSU since August — necessitated some serious backfill.
“We basically played with 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 backs. And I’m just determined not to do that ever again. We’re going to have a full roster. We’re going to be able to compete and practice the way that we need to.”
All that quantity’s got a layer of quality, too. Three-star tailback Damian Henderson of Los Alamitos, Calif., was weighing offers from Oregon, Washington and Arizona. Kennedy McDowell, a 6-4 edge rusher out of Frisco, Texas, got offered by Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Arizona State and Washington State.
Per 247Sports’ composite talent rankings, the Rams’ finds as of Tuesday averaged an 84.09 on the site’s talent scale. Only the recruits headed to San Diego State (85.12) and Boise State (84.39) rated higher on a per-prospect level, which passes the smell test. And if that score holds, it’s the highest per-prospect talent rating for a CSU class, as judged by the 247Sports wonks, in more than a decade.
“(Michigan was) bringing in second- and third-team defensive ends that we’d have loved to take home with us,” Norvell laughed. “We beat Boise (with Nevada in 2021), and I think they were a very different team physically (in 2022). Just across the board, they were more mature physically … and so that’s the blueprint that our program has to get to.”
Speaking of different blueprints …
“I don’t really have an opinion about it,” Norvell chuckled, knowing that a Coach Prime question was coming. “I really don’t.”
After four long years apart, a stretch exacerbated by 2020’s COVID-19 chaos, the Rams and Buffs are slated to renew the Rocky Mountain Showdown on Sept. 16 in Boulder. And for two football lifers in their 50s, CSU’s and CU’s coaches — Norvell and Neon Deion — haven’t crossed paths a heck of a lot.
Two moments on Tuesday did stick out to Norvell, though — one recent, one dating back to Halloween 1999. With the latter, the CSU coach was an assistant on a Colts team, quarterbacked by Peyton Manning, that rallied to knock off Prime and his Dallas Cowboys 34-24 in Indianapolis back 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 really healthy that game,” Norvell recalled.
More recently, Norvell said he talked to Coach Prime briefly last year on behalf of Brett Bartolone, one of several Jackson State assistants who are coming north to be a part of Sanders’ inaugural staff in Boulder. Bartolone, who’s reportedly CU’s new wide receivers coach, was an offensive analyst and assistant quarterbacks coach under Norvell with Nevada before joining Prime as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator last winter.
Family ties aside, does sharing a state with Deion Sanders change your outlook? Your tactics? Your job?
“No, I think it’s the nature of recruiting that changes our job,” Norvell countered. “And we’ll cross over in recruiting battles and all those things. The transfer portal changes our job. The NIL (Name/Image/Likeness legislation) changes our job.”
CSU’s coach isn’t filming a reality series while he tries to get the Rams up off the mat. He doesn’t have an entourage, nor a multimedia operation cinematizing his every move. While the circus has come to Boulder, sucking up all clicks and oxygen in the room, Norvell’s content to grind away in the shadows until Sept. 16 rolls around.
“We’re going to want to beat CU, whomever the coach is,” he said of Coach Prime. “So it doesn’t really matter to me who’s coaching them. We want to beat them.”