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The off season doesn't quite look like this, but that doesn't mean CSU-Pueblo football players are taking a break. Between classes, practice and summer jobs the off season is hardly off. (PULP file)

Pack football: When the season ends, the practices don’t

CSU-Pueblo’s football team won’t play its first game of the season until August, but the long offseason doesn’t mean the game won’t be front and center in the minds of many.

After a disappointing 2016 season, the Thunderwolves are facing an even more important 2017 season. The team finished with an 8–3 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in five years. During this year’s first Eddie DeRose Spring Game, the importance of a successful offseason was ever present.

Coaches yelled with conviction and cheered with optimism as the page turned on last year.

CSU-Pueblo football is important in the lives of many people, but it is simply the life for others. Student-athletes dedicate countless hours to practice before and after classes as well as time studying and working on the playbook. Even though classes end at the beginning of summer, the real work begins for many of CSU-Pueblo’s football players.

Some players take summer jobs to earn money to stay in town, some players focus on summer classes to maintain eligibility, and some have the luxury of focusing solely on next season.

While it may seem normal for college students to have jobs through school, it is almost impossible for student-athletes to find jobs with the availability to schedule around such a busy schedule. Once summer rolls around, it isn’t exactly optional to find a job. Students from out of town or out of state who come to Pueblo for school don’t always go back home for the summer, especially if the summer is spent preparing for the next season.

After talking to a handful of players at this year’s Eddie DeRose Spring Game, the reality of a long summer is sinking in finally. Trying to find balance between a job, football preparation, and any shred of a social life during the summer can be tough.

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Maybe worse than finding work during the summer is spending the next few months deciding what to do after football. As every year brings forth a new class of recruits and transfers, not every player makes the cut for the next season.

Coaches from around the nation scout players at other schools and take the summer as an opportunity to lure them away from their current team. It is no different for CSU-Pueblo, as the team will gain and lose players who transfer to and from different schools. Last year’s transfer class consisted of two of the team’s leading receivers in Osha Washington and Larry Clark. This year, backup receiver Kevin Meadows took the leap and transferred to Division-1 University of Northern Colorado.

The offseason also allows players to learn new positions after a recent position change. Coach John Wristen has a knack for recruiting athletic and versatile players, and his ability to put players in a position to succeed and help the team is unmatched. Before last season, Noor Shongolo was a backup safety and special teams contributor. After moving to linebacker before the 2016 season, he enjoyed a breakout season and was one of the team’s leading tacklers.

Coach Wristen is hoping to recapture the success of moving players around next year with a plethora of moves this offseason. Some notable moves include junior Michael Wristen from tight end to defensive line, junior Zach Young from cornerback to safety, and redshirt freshman Preston Guerra from quarterback to tight end. One player mentioned the moves are made to increase depth and give players a chance to stay with the team if they are willing to learn another spot.

Regardless of how players spend the summer, it is anything but a simple “vacation.” The months between the spring game and the season opener are long and full of hard work on and off the field for CSU-Pueblo’s football team. For the majority of players it will be the stepping stone to building a strong start to next season, but for others it will be a crucial factor in determining their football future.

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