Colorado State is a long way from Osceola County. So when former Kissimmee standout Gerard Thomas arrived at Fort Collins, there was a natural period of transition.
"My first few workouts, I was throwing up all over the place," Thomas said. That would be taking home sickness to another level, but such wasn't the case for the cornerback known to teammates as "MoMo."
No, no, Thomas was dealing with routine elevation adjustment of going from the sea-level fields of Central Florida to running sprints 5,000 feet into Continental Divide. The sophomore conquered the altitude long ago. Now, he has a mile-high attitude -- a positive one one, that is -- to match.
"We're trying to get to a BCS game," he said.
Some might accuse Thomas of being on a Rocky Mountain High, but there's no question the Rams are a program on the rise in the Mountain West Conference -- home to two-time BCS party-crasher Utah -- after going 7-6 and beating Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl. Even casual football fans in Florida may want to take note of what's happening at CSU.
That's because it's happening with a number of Florida players.
"Our goal for down there is to sign a handful a year," Colorado State offensive line coach Pat Meyer said.
A scan of the CSU roster shows 11 players from Florida, including five from the Orlando area. [Perspective: UCF shows 14 players from the area for '09.]
"They have identified Central Florida as a main recruiting hub and are attacking it," said Dr. Phillips Coach Dale Salapa, who has one alum on the CSU roster this season and could have several more this time next year. "It is major college football, it is in a beautiful area, their facilities are good and there is a lot of activities they can participate in."
Colorado State already has a pair of verbal commitments from area players -- Lake Highland Prep quarter Bobby Borcky (brother of CSU backup receiver T.J. Borcky) and Cocoa defensive end Rashawde Meyers -- and are very much in the hunt for nine other state prospects; seven of them are from Central Florida.
"We may not be talking about blue-chip, top-20 type players, but they're good good players who can compete in the Mountain West Conference," said Colonial Coach Steve Breitbeil, who sent defensive end C.J. James to Colorado State last winter and my just sent James' younger brother, Josh, a wide receiver, there next signing day. "Give them credit for taking advantage of the fact there are an awful lot of players here."
Breitbeil went a step further.
"There are probably more players in Central Florida and Tampa to recruit than there is in the whole state of Colorado."
Fact: CSU's signing class in February included four players from Florida; one from Colorado.
"Anytime you're doing something different, something new, it's a challenge. There will be unknowns," Meyer said of the Rams' decision to aggressive mine the Sunshine State. "But we had a goal and a vision and we set out to see what can do."
Two thousand miles is a long way from home, especially with so many options in the southern region. But as Meyer and the CSU coaches like to say, "Some of the schools down there are a three-hour drive from home. We're just a three-hour plane ride."
Give or take.
"And it's a great place to come to school," said T.J. Borcky, who is still stunned each time he sees a fox or deer strolling the CSU grounds. "It's an awesome environment."
Borcky, a sophomore who has made the switch from quarterback to wideout, recalled a day his freshman year when he long-boarded across campus in shorts and sandals under sun-drenched 60-degree skies.
Two hours later, it was 30 degrees and snowing.
The climate and environment changes are radical for the Florida players. So is being on the other side of the continent. That's where their roots to the I-4 corridor come into play.
"It warms things up and gives a hometown feel," Salapa said.
There's a natural bond among the Florida guys, dating to their battles under the Friday night lights back in Orlando, Miami and Tampa Bay.
"The other guys in the locker room get sick of hearing about it," Borcky said. "They're like, 'Quit talking about Florida again!' It's funny."
If the Rams get their share of Florida prospects again this year, the locker room chatter will be even louder in the future.
CSU has defensive back Tyrone Bouie and receiver Toby Durham, from reigning Class 6A state champion Sanford Seminole, on its radar, along with a trio of standouts from Dr. Phillips, including Rivals four-star wide receiver Kenny Shaw. Worth noting: Shaw's quarterback at Phillips was Nico Ranieri, now a freshman at CSU.
MoMo Thomas also knows the Rams have done their diligence with some buddies in Osceola.
"And I'm going to be working on them, you better believe it," the former Kowboy said. "There are tons of athletes down there."
Meyer, who attended CSU, made plenty of contacts in Florida during his seven seasons as an assistant at North Carolina State. He spent the 2007 season on the strength/conditioning staff at Florida State. He's plugged in.
The Rams, in fact, like the inroads they've made so much that two more assistants have been assigned two more assistants to work the state.
"There are so many good kids and coaches and players, and lots of spring football," Meyer said. "It's just an easy decision to come down there."
Players' opting to head west and play for the Rams apparently has becoming easier, too. What they accomplished on the field last season _ reversing a 3-9 mark in 2007 and winning a bowl game under first-year Coach Steve Fairchild _ has turned heads on the recruiting trails.
But a BCS game?
"That's our goal," Thomas said. "We need to keep getting the kind of players that can make it happen. There's plenty of good ones down in Florida. We got some now, and we're gonna get more."
Chris Harry can be reached at email@example.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun