|Posted January 3, 2008|
T-Wolves hit ground running in 2008
By Joe Cervi, Pueblo Chieftain
The pale yellow walls in John Wristen's temporary office - a 5-foot by 5-foot cubicle on the sixth floor of the school library - are nearly bare. There are a few important phone numbers taped to a power pole, and there are boxes of practice jerseys stacked in a corner.
A chair, circa 1971, sits against one wall, and his desk takes up most of another. Wristen works a land line with one hand, a cell phone with the other - all while glancing at e-mail and the Internet on his computer screen.
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Such is the life of a Division II college football coach.
Wristen, the head coach of the new Colorado State University-Pueblo football program, wouldn't have it any other way. That's because he knows his patience - and persistence - will pay off.
"It's been hectic, but it's been kind of cool. And we're getting excited about playing football," Wristen said. "This has been a special job from Day 1 and what we're trying to do has been fun."
Wristen officially has been on the job five months today. In those five months, he has shaken thousands of hands, and answered thousands of e-mails, voice mails and text messages. He has seen thousands of kids play high school football and has helped raise millions of dollars for the program.
"It seems like two weeks," Wristen said. "The time has gone by so quickly. It's kind of hard to measure where we're at because it seems like we're doing all the right things, and things are going OK, and then something else comes up."
Driven by adrenaline, caffeine and the fear of failure, Wristen and his staff have worked non-stop since they were hired.
"I did get some time (off) and took a deep breath during the holidays to reconnect with my family and that was great," he said, sounding like a man who is fighting off a cold. "But there's just so much to be done and not a lot of time. We have no frame of reference on how to do things; we just think by working harder than everyone and doing things the way we know how, that that's the right way."
As for the office, Wristen drives by his new digs every day. His office will be part of the ThunderBowl football stadium and field house, being built right next to campus. If all goes well, he and his staff will go from cramped to cushy later this summer.
"The people on campus have been great to us. We have a space to work and that's all you can ask for," he said.
In exactly 247 days, he will get an up-close smell of the fruits of his labor. That's when the ThunderWolves play host to Panhandle (Okla.) State in the program's first game since 1984.
"There's the realization that you've got 10 legit college games on the schedule in nine months," Wristen said. "We're doing something here no school in the country has ever tried - starting a program and playing a full schedule in a year."
Wristen and his staff (there will be some notable additions announced in the coming days) have turned their attention to Feb. 6 - national signing day. Wristen will formally announce those student-athletes who already have enrolled at CSU-Pueblo with the intent of playing football, as well as many others who sign letters of intent on that day.
"We'll have a list, and we think it's going to be a great list," Wristen said. "I'm not sure of the numbers yet, but that first group is going to be special. This is the really exciting part. I'm more in my comfort zone now, getting ready to get on the field."
The coach's goal is to have at least 100 participate in spring football. At the Division II level, programs are allowed 15 days of practice in the spring.
"We just want it to be the right 100 or so. That's the challenge," he said. "We've had more than 900 inquiries about the program, so the word has gotten out. At the same time, you have to get kids that can play and be competitive and not all of those 900 can play."