Steamboat skier keeps his eye on the pigskin at CU
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS ” University of Colorado ski coach Richard Rokos has taken a sudden interest in football this fall.
Don’t expect him to admit that he enjoys watching the sport’s full-speed collisions or bone-crushing hits ” especially when they involve one of his top recruits, Steamboat Springs skier Joel Adams.
“I go to all of the practices,” Rokos said. “This summer, I went to see just how dangerous it was going to be. I know that football players are prone to injuries, and I wanted to see what the risks were going to be.”
Rokos is at the practices because Adams recently put on the pads to pursue a childhood dream.
Adams, a 2003 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, began working out with the University of Colorado football team last summer. After camp, he became No. 35 on the Buffaloes roster and elected to split his time between the starting line on a slalom course and the line of scrimmage on the football field.
But as the only member of the University of Colorado men’s Alpine ski team to qualify for the NCAA National Championships in 2005, the news was unnerving for Rokos.
Adams will be the first to tell you that the choice between football and skiing has always been a difficult one. In high school, he split his time between Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and the Steamboat Springs High School football program.
Although Adams has struggled to select his sport of choice, there was never a question about which college he wanted to attend.
“He’s always wanted to be a Buffalo. In kindergarten, Joel drew pictures of himself playing football and skiing for CU,” Adams’ mom, Tammy, said. “I kept gently reminding him that he probably couldn’t do both, but what do mothers know?”
After injuring his knee in the second game of his senior year in high school and earning a full ride to ski for the University of Colorado, it seemed like fate had selected a path for Adams.
He focused on becoming a top college ski racer, and he finished 19th at the 2005 NCAA championships.
But after being encouraged by friends, Adams decided to try to earn a spot on the football team as a wide receiver. He was invited to work
out with the team during the summer, where coaches encouraged him to move into the defensive backfield.
By the time fall rolled around, Adams was fighting for a position as a safety. His dream was realized when coaches asked him to hang around and become a part of the team. The news thrilled Adams but came as a shock to his ski coach.
“It was not good at first. It took me a while to adjust to the situation,” Rokos said. “I had to think of all the consequences because he could get hurt very easily. The football team has 95 or 100 guys, but the ski team has four guys. Everybody on this team is a protected commodity for us, and Joel still is.”
But after talking with Adams and his parents, Rokos came to realize that he wasn’t going to change the young skier’s mind. So instead of getting upset, Rokos decided to get informed by going to practices, watching and supporting Adams as he chased his dream.
“It’s not the kind of thing I want to promote, but in dealing with athletes like Joel, I realized that it’s the kind of thing I’m going to have to tolerate,” Rokos said. “I came to realize that for Joel, this is a lifetime achievement and dream.”
It’s a dream that caught some of Adams’ football coaches off guard, as well.
“At first, I kind of had to question the guy’s intelligence,” assistant coach Craig Bray said. “Anytime a guy gives up a full-ride scholarship, you have to wonder where he’s coming from.”
Because of an NCAA rule prohibiting football players from accepting scholarships in other sports, Adams was forced to give up his skiing scholarship to play football. It was a big sacrifice but one that he felt was worth it.
“I wasn’t too psyched about that part of it, but I called my parents and they told me that if I wanted to play football, I shouldn’t worry about that stuff,” Adams said.
The gamble has paid off for Adams, who suited up for the CU-Colorado State game earlier this season and was named defensive scout team player of the week by head coach Gary Barnett.
Chances are that Adams will be redshirted this season, but there is no doubt he plans to keep chasing his dream of skiing and playing football at CU.
He understands that he needs to get faster, bigger and better if he hopes to get on the field during a game. But Adams also knows that if you work hard enough, dreams sometimes come true.
“It didn’t really hit me until I was walking down the tunnel for the CSU game,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘Hey, this is pretty cool.”‘
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