Now that the team touts its undefeated Division II record, football fans can be sure that Head Defense Coordinator, Coach Hunter Hughes, feels the rush of the whirlwind that accompanied the rise to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championship Game. When I spoke with Coach Hughes, he said a lot of the success over the past few weeks is owed to the initial core of this year’s graduating seniors. “They’ve really excelled in bringing the team together and keeping it close-knit,” says Coach Hughes of the four-year football veterans.
This is the first set of four-year football players that the program will see graduate, and Hughes knows that with this change comes an uncertainty about the future of the team, but he combats this by saying, “We’ve got a great group of student athletes that’ll come in and take over the reins.” Coach Hughes shares the vision with so many who support the football program and says that one of the most important aspects of a CSU-Pueblo football team member is that of character. Hughes remarks, “It’s one of the first things that I look for when I recruit. I can teach the plays on the field, but I can’t teach character.” The program has generated an increasing amount of respect over the past few years, and Hughes works to remind the community that “there’s something good going on up here, and it isn’t all just football…it’s only going to get better.”
Director of Athletics, Joe Folda, who’s been with the university for the past twenty-five years, serving eighteen of those years as the Head Coach of the Men’s Basketball team, echoes Coach Hughes’ words of support by stating, “I’m biased to our football staff…I think they do a great job with our kids. I would say that’s something that’s a cut above some of the schools in our region, if not all of them.” Talking with Folda it’s obvious he feels that good sportsmanship is key to the success that the team has increasingly experienced over the past three years, and he says that one of his goals as the team progresses isn’t necessarily a competitive one. What remains important to him, trophies or not, is that the community and the University “continue to see our kids compete as they have…they’ve come out and competed in a first-class way.”
Folda comments that had players probably “wouldn’t have received the tremendous fan support and excitement around the football program had they played elsewhere [in our region].” Folda shares that “sustaining that [momentum] over the next four or five years” will allow CSU-Pueblo to continue to celebrate the already-lofty standards that the team has set for itself. He remarks, “One of our goals was to establish ourselves as one of the top D[ivision] II schools in the country,” and with an undefeated winning streak, the Thunderwolves did just that.
These feelings of pride and support don’t stop with the staff and administration. Freshman Music Education major, Siana Bobst, represents the pride and excitement that backs the team every time they take the field. As a member of the Thunderwolf Marching Band, Bobst states that the members “bleed colors… we bleed the red and the blue.” The band acts as an integral part of the support for the team, playing pep songs like “Rockin’ Robin,” “Hey Baby,” and “Soak Up the Sun” to pump up the patrons and to drive the football players’ spirits throughout the game. Bobst makes “a point to congratulate and thank players both on and off the field. I feel like with [the team] being a dimension of the school’s face, they’ll bring in a lot of incoming freshmen…we’ve won the RMAC, we’re still undefeated…parents and kids are watching that.” Bobst, like many other students, finds a lot of pride in her school. “I’m proud to be a Thunderwolf,” she says with a smile.
The University has transitioned from a largely commuter school to one that now houses a top-of-the-line recreation center and sports arena opened in 2008, three recently-constructed residence halls as of 2010, and a state-of-the-art Library and Academic Resources Center remodeled in 2011. The beautification and improvement of the campus ushered in a spike in enrollment in 2009 – the largest spike that the University had seen in twenty-five years.
With all of this talk of enrollment increase, campus improvement, and enthusiasm over the prospects for the upcoming years at CSU-Pueblo, the Friends of Football took a chance when they saw the possibility for success in a return of the CSU-Pueblo football program that had been absent from the campus for twenty-three years. The booster group that raised $13.6 million dollars to bring football back to the University and to build the existing facilities celebrated with the inaugural home game in the Neta and Eddie DeRose Thunderbowl Stadium on September 6, 2008, and is surely celebrating the great accomplishments of the hometown team today.
This has been a legendary season for the Thunderwolves, who made greater strides than ever before in the history of CSU-Pueblo football. Such an accomplishment makes it a big deal for a football community like Pueblo. Bridging the gap between Pueblo and “the school on the hill” makes a huge impact on the strength of the community and creates an atmosphere of camaraderie and excitement amongst the students and football fans that can’t be found anywhere else other than Pueblo.
In just the short time that the team has returned to campus, the players, fans, coaches, students, and supporters alike have cultivated a sense of support and spirit that had been absent from the campus for too long. The difference being that this year, the spirit has grown stronger and will continue to do so. It is through their hard work, strength, dedication, and perseverance that the coaches, players, and supporters reach the top tier of excellence that is second-to-none in the Southern Colorado region. All that’s left to do is to continue to show Colorado and the nation who the Thunderwolves are. We are the never-fearing Pack!