A Spring Forward

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A Spring Forward

Below is a unit-by-unit preview of the 2014 Spring practices, with rosters and projected position battles.

 

Special Teams

Spring roster (note: class designations are for this fall – bold represents returning starter):

KickersWill Oliver (Sr.); Diego Gonzalez (So.); Chris Graham (R-Fr. – walk-on)

Punters –  Darragh O’Neill (Sr.)

Long-snappers – Wyatt Tucker Smith (Jr.); Blake Allen (R-Fr. – walk-on)

Kick and punt returnersNelson Spruce (Jr.); Ryan Severson (So.); Devin Ross (So.)

Oliver and O’Neill – one last chance

Seniors Will Oliver and Darragh O’Neill have their names sprinkled throughout the CU record books.

But not necessarily for the right reasons.

O’Neill did set some positive records in 2013. His ten punts inside the opponents 10-yard line broke the single season record of nine set by Mark Mariscal in 2002. O’Neill also possesses the career records for most punts inside the 10-yard line (25) and inside the 20-yard line (66).

But O’Neill also is tied for an ignoble record … most punts in a season, with 76 in 2012. Barring injury, this September Darragh O’Neill, who has been a three-year starter at the position, will become the career leader at Colorado in both punts and punting yardage.

Yet, for all of his cumulative numbers, O’Neill is no better than ninth in career punting average, and was out-kicked by almost two yards per punt by CU’s opponents last year (40.50 per kick for O’Neill; 42.63 for CU’s opponents).

Will Oliver, like O’Neill a three-year starter, has also posted strong career numbers. With 189 career points, Oliver is eighth in career scoring, fourth in kick scoring, and fourth in field goals made (34).

Not bad, but not great.

Last season, Oliver connected on 17-of-24 field goals (70.8%), with only one miss coming from inside of 40 yards. CU’s opponents, however, were good on 16-of-18 (88.9%) of their field goal attempts. Oliver also trailed his opposite number in 2011 (68.8%  of field goal attempts made vs. 72.2% for opponents) and in 2012 (75.0% v. 83.3%).

Oliver and O’Neill will be saluted on Senior Day, 2014, as Colorado plays Utah on November 29th. Both players have been four year starters. Both players have set records.

But, unless 2014 produces some magical moments, both will end their careers at Colorado as symbols of the program’s struggles over the past four years.

Viva … Gonzalez?

When you are at the bottom of the conference, and are trying to claw your way back up to respectability, you resort to unconventional means.

Enter Diego Gonzalez, import kicker extraordinaire.

The final recruit of the first Mike MacIntyre recruiting class at Colorado, Gonzalez signed with the Buffs last July 23rd. Starting this fall, Gonzalez will have three years to play three in terms of eligibility. Gonzalez sat out the 2013 season as he was required to spend a year in residence in the United States. Gonzalez  was officially deemed a transfer since he participated in football at a college in Mexico (Monterrey Tech, the English translation for Tecnológico de Monterrey).

In theory, Gonzalez is in line not only to become CU’s next kicker, but also to immediately resolve CU’s kickoff issues. Last season, Colorado was 98th in the nation in kickoff return defense, giving up 23.3 yards per return … and that was actually a vast improvement over 2012, when the Buffs were 120th – dead last in the nation – in kick return defense.

Reportedly, Gonzalez has no issue with booming kickoffs out of the back of the endzone. True, a touchback does give the opposition the ball at the 25 yard line to start its drive, but, as any casual observer of Colorado football can tell you, that would be a vast improvement over previous seasons.

Long-snapper U

Colorado has a long history of long-term long-snappers. Jake Jones, Greg Pace and Justin Drescher are just a few of the names of Buff long-snappers who held the job for multiple seasons.

And Ryan Iverson may have been the best of the bunch.

Iverson, a four-year starter who graduated in December, set Colorado career records for the most forced fair catches (25) and most tackles by a long-snapper (16).

Last spring, Colorado auditioned four walk-ons in anticipation of Iverson’s graduation, but only one – Blake Allen - is still with the team. Not satisfied with what they had, the CU coaching staff went out and recruited one Wyatt Tucker Smith, a junior college transfer from Mississippi. Smith becomes the first Buff from the state of Mississippi since 1989, and will have two years of eligibility remaining.

While a good human-interest story, the best hope for Buff fans is that Wyatt Tucker Smith is a name heard only once or twice this spring … and never during a game this fall (except if Smith can follow Iverson’s lead and have a penchant for tackling punt returners).

Can anyone return a kick?

It’s been a long time since Colorado fans had much to be excited about in the kick or punt return game.

Last season, Nelson Spruce was the primary punt returner … with all of nine returns (for all of 45 yards)

Last season, Ryan Severson was the primary kick returner … and he is a linebacker by trade.

Severson did a respectable job on kick returns (CU was 43rd nationally in kick returns), while a fair catch was still a positive result in the punt return game (CU was 103rd nationally in punt returns).

For what seems like an eternity, Buff fans have entered the new season hearing about how the fresh batch of defensive backs and wide receivers will produce multiple options for Colorado at the kick and punt return positions.

Then each fall, a “possession receiver” (translation: good hands, but no breakaway speed) goes back to field punts, and the CU kick return game remains, well, an adventure.

In Year Two of the Mike MacIntyre era, Buff fans will again be looking for the CU kick and punt return units to become a strength instead of a weakness.

We’ll see …

—–

 

Defensive Backs

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall -bold represents returning starter):

CornerbacksGreg Henderson (Sr.); Josh Moten (Sr.); Harrison Hunter (Sr. – walk-on); Kenneth Crawley (Jr.); Jeffrey Hall (Jr. – suspended); Brandon Brisco (Jr. – walk-on); Chidobe Awuzie (So.); John Walker (So.); Yuri Wright (So.); Ahkello Witherspoon (So.); Gavin Andrews (So. – walk-on)

Incoming this fall: Jaisen Sanchez

SafetiesJered Bell (Sr.); Terrel Smith (Sr.); Marques Mosley (Jr.); Richard Yates (Jr. – walk-on); Tedric Thompson (So.); Austin Woodard (R-Fr. – walk-on)

Incoming this fall: Evan White

Buff defensive backs are getting … old?

A pattern has developed with Colorado defensive backs the past few seasons … and it’s a pattern that Buff fans are hoping will be broken.

In 2011, Greg Henderson set a school-record for the most plays by a true freshman defensive player, taking the field for 823 plays that fall.

In 2012, Kenneth Crawley moved into second place on the CU all-time list for plays by a true freshman defensive player, being on the field for 642 snaps. Fellow freshman Marques Mosley moved into fourth place on the all-time list, with 524 plays on the field.

In 2013, it was Chidobe Awuzie’s turn. The true freshman defensive back passed both Mosley and Crawley, taking the field for 643 defensive plays. That number would have been good enough for second place on the all-time list – behind only Greg Henderson – if not for linebacker Addison Gillam setting the new standard for freshmen at the University of Colorado.

Three seasons … four defensive backs hitting the record books for number of plays by a freshman.

Fortunately, that string of years of throwing true freshmen to the wolves is coming to an end. While incoming freshmen Jaisen Sanchez and Evan White (along with sophomore transfer Ahkello Witherspoon) will certainly be given the opportunity to see playing time this fall, the Buffs appear to be – finally – deep in experience in the defensive backfield.

Four of the five starting positions have a good chance of being filled by returning starters. Senior Greg Henderson leads the entire team in regards to experience, with 33 career starts. At the other corner, Kenneth Crawley had ten starts last fall, and has been in the starting lineup 20 times overall. At the free safety position, Jered Bell was in the starting lineup for all but one start in 2013, while nickel back Chidobe Awuzie earned five starts as a true freshman. The foursome accounted for nine interceptions in 2013, a year after the entire Colorado defense came up with only three all year.

Don’t you … forget about me

One Buff who was on the field in the defensive secondary last season will not be around this spring – and perhaps much longer. Junior Jeffrey Hall was arrested in February on several charges, including assault and resisting arrest, and has been suspended from the team indefinitely.

In his place, though, are several players missing in action last year who will be available in 2014.

Senior safety Terrel Smith missed all of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery last September. Smith, listed as “probable” for spring practices, has been on the field for 31 games in his career, including 19 starts. Smith will likely be the early favorite to replace Parker Orms at the strong safety position (though Tedric Thompson may have something to say about that).

Another Buff who was MIA in 2013 is cornerback Josh Moten. The senior suffered an Achilles injury last May, re-injuring it in late July. Moten sat out the fall, and is listed as probable for spring ball.

A third Buff whose name is familiar to Buff fans – but who was not on the field last fall – is sophomore cornerback Yuri Wright. One of the heralded recruits from the Class of 2012, Wright played in eight games as a true freshman in 2012, starting six. Opponents took advantage of Wright’s youth, however, hurting Wright’s psyche and hurting the Buffs’ defense. Wright and the incoming coaching staff agreed that sitting out a redshirt season was in the best interests of Wright and the team, with the sophomore returning this year with three years of eligibility remaining.

… The Colorado defensive backfield has been a liability for the past few seasons, as inexperienced players were forced into the fray. Opposing quarterbacks took advantage of the Buffs’ youth and inexperience, setting scoring records along the way.

Now the CU secondary is full of not only talented players, but talented players with plenty of game experience.

This fall, we will see if the struggles of the past few seasons will have proven worth the “growing pains”.

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Linebackers

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall – bold represents returning starter):

Inside Linebackers – Brady Daigh, (Sr.); Thor Eaton, (Jr. – walk-on); Addison Gillam, (So.); Kenneth Olugbode, (So.); Ryan Severson (So.); Clay Norgard (So.); Tim McLaughlin (So. – walk-on)

Incoming this fall:  Grant Watanabe and Rick Gamboa

Outside LinebackersWoodson Greer, (Sr.); K.T. Tu’umalo, (Sr.); Hunter Shaw, (Jr. – walk-on); Deaysean Rippy, (So.); John Genova (So. – walk-on); Garrett Gregory (R-Fr. – walk-on)

Incoming this fall: Christian Shaver

Whatever happened to “Linebacker U”?

There was a time, in the not too distant past, when Buff fans considered the University of Colorado “Linebacker U”, or, at least “Linebacker U – West”.

Lately, not so much.

CU All-Conference linebackers – 1984-1993:

Barry Remington (1986); Eric McCarty (1987); Kanavis McGhee (1988, 1989, 1990); Alfred Williams^ (1989*, 1990#); Greg Biekert (1991, 1992); Chad Brown (1991, 1992); Ron Woolfork (1992, 1993) …. *consensus All-American … #unanimous All-American … ^Butkus Award winner

CU All-Conference linebackers – 1994-2003:

Ted Johnson (1994); Matt Russell^ (1995, 1996*); Jashon Sykes (1999) … *consensus All-American … ^Butkus Award winner

CU All-Conference linebackers – 2004-2013:

Jordon Dizon (2007*) … * consensus All-American

Will Addison Gillam become the first All-Conference linebacker for the Buffs since 2007, and only the second in the past 15 years?

The argument could be made that Gillam, as a true freshman, deserved All-Conference honors in 2013 (he received honorable mention). This past fall Gillam not only became the first freshman in CU history to lead the team in tackles, his 119 total tackles smashed the old record set by Matt Russell in 1993 (85). Gillam’s achievement was even more impressive when you take into account that only five sophomores have ever led the team in tackles, with the last to do so being Jashon Sykes in 1999.

So, much will be expected of Gillam this spring … and this fall.

Will Deaysean Rippy prove to be a steal for the Buffs?

Allow me to introduce … or reintroduce … Deaysean Rippy.

Rippy was a four-star – yes, four-star – prospect out of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, as part of the Recruiting Class of 2012. Rippy had offers from all over the nation, from schools like Alabama, Michigan, USC, Nebraska, Florida and Auburn. Rippy was rated by Rivals to be the No. 21 outside linebacker in the nation, while Scout rated him as the No. 18 outside linebacker in the country. He took official visits to Arizona, Colorado, West Virginia and Pittsburgh, ultimately deciding to stay in-state and become a Pittsburgh Panther.

When Rippy decided to leave Pittsburgh, he cited his youth as a reason for deciding on Pittsburgh the last week before Signing Day, 2012. “I was kind of overwhelmed,” said Rippy of the recruiting process. “I was an 18-year-old kid at the time. That’s a lot of pressure.”

Now Rippy, cousin of former Buff linebacker Doug Rippy, is Colorado Buffalo. After sitting out a transfer season, Rippy, a sophomore, still has three years to play three. This spring will be his first opportunity to compete for playing time since he was a senior in high school in the fall of 2012.

Rest assured, many eyes will be upon him this spring.

Who else will step up?

The Buffs lose their second-leading tackler from last fall in linebacker Derrick Webb. Webb posted 99 tackles in 2013, starting every game of the season – and 27 games in his career.

Next in line to fill Webb’s position in the lineup is senior Woodson Greer, who finished third amongst linebackers in tackles in 2013, with 34. Greer suffered a stinger in practice back on November 5th, causing him to miss the final four games of the season (Greer is listed as “probable” for spring practices).

Also on the short list of upper-classmen at the linebacker position is Brady Daigh, also a senior. Like Greer, Daigh saw action in eight games in 2013, posting 16 tackles and earning one start (Greer had five starts last fall).

If not one of the seniors, perhaps one of the other sophomores besides Gillam and Rippy will earn significant playing time. Kenneth Olugbode saw action in five games last fall, while Ryan Severson became known to CU fans as the Buffs’ primary kickoff returner. Another sophomore who will be vying for playing time will be Clay Norgard, the former fullback who has moved over to linebacker full time.

…. Yes, it has been a long time since Colorado had a full stable of dominant linebackers – almost as long as it has been since Colorado was consistently competitive.

But the future looks bright for the CU linebacker corps. Gillam is a proven commodity, and Rippy will take to the practice fields this spring with even better credentials. If one of the seniors – Greer or Daigh - can meet or beat expectations, or one of the other sophomores can prove their worth, the drought for Colorado in producing All-Conference linebackers may finally be coming to an end.

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Defensive Line

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall – bold represents returning starter):

Defensive tacklesJosh Tupou, (Jr.); Justin Solis, (Jr.); Samson Kafovalu, (Jr.); Tyler Henington, (Jr.); Josh Tuso (Jr. – walk-on)

Incoming this fall: Eddy Lopez and Jase Franke (Sam Bennion will become a Buff after a two-year Mormon mission)

Defensive endsJuda Parker, (Sr.); Kirk Poston, (Sr.); Andre Nichols, (Sr. – walk-on); De’Jon Wilson, (So.); Jimmie Gilbert (So.); Derek McCartney (R-Fr.); Markeis Reed, (R-Fr.); Timothy Coleman, (R-Fr.)

Incoming this fall: Terran Hasselback and Michael Mathewes

There isn’t much there … there.

Last season, Colorado was not very good along the defensive line.

In 2013, the Buffs gave up over 200 yards rushing per game (208.5 yards per game, to be exact), ranked 101st in the nation. Opposing teams ran for almost five yards per carry (4.94), and posted 31 rushing touchdowns (CU’s rushing numbers, by comparison: 120.8 yards rushing yards per game; a 3.44 yards per carry average; ten rushing touchdowns).

When it came time to rush the passer, the Buffs were equally ill-equipped, catching up to opposing quarterbacks only 18 times, good enough for a national ranking of No. 99 (tied with 1-11 California).

And now the Buffs will be without their best defensive lineman from 2013, Chidera Uzo-Diribe, who had more tackles (46), tackles for loss (seven) and sacks (four) than any other lineman.

So, the Buffs were already lousy along the defensive line, and will head into spring practices without their best player from 2013.

Sigh.

What is there to build upon for this fall?

For starters, let’s look at the returning starters. Senior Juda Parker and juniors Josh Tupou and Justin Solis had a combined 28 starts last fall, and were each responsible for between 28 and 39 tackles. All three will be counted upon to see significant playing time in 2014. Junior Samson Kafovalu, who started the last two games last season, will likely see an increased role come September.

Aside from the established players in the lineup, there is a great deal of optimism in the Buff Nation about sophomore Jimmie Gilbert. The only one of four freshman defensive lineman last year to tear off their red-shirt, Gilbert played in every game in 2013, earning one start. The 6’4″, 220-pounder, though, is questionable for spring ball. Gilbert underwent off-season shoulder surgery to mend what has been labeled as a “chronic issue”, and his participation in spring drills will be limited.

Gilbert’s absence could be an opportunity for fellow sophomore De’Jon Wilson to make a name for himself. Though less heralded than Gilbert, Wilson posted as many tackles last fall as did Gilbert, while being on the field for almost 100 fewer plays (176 to 261).

What about the new guys?

Or, better stated, the old new guys.

While senior Kirk Poston (three career starts) and junior Tyler Henington (two) will be looked upon to contribute depth and experience come September, the hope for the future is that one or more of the red-shirt freshmen will blossom into a star.

Allow me to re-introduce three Buffs who sat out last fall … Markeis Reed is 6’4″, 230-pounds, and was a three-star prospect out of Napa, California. Timothy Coleman, meanwhile checks in at 6’2″, 240-pounds, and can run a 4.78 in the 40.

And then there is Derek McCartney.

Bill McCartney’s grandson has been away from the spotlight for some time. A 6’3, 235-pound defensive end from Westminster, McCartney was a gray-shirt out of the Recruiting Class of 2012. McCartney sat out the fall of 2012, enrolling at CU last January. McCartney then red-shirted last fall. This spring, McCartney, who still has four years of eligibility remaining will – finally – be on the practice fields with playing time in the offing.

… Colorado does not have a defensive line which is going to make any top ten lists nationally (and perhaps not even in the Pac-12), but Year Two in the Mike MacIntyre / Jim Jeffcoat system should result in better statistics than those posted in 2013.

How much better will go a long way in determining whether Colorado goes bowling next December …

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Offensive Line

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall – bold represents returning starter):

Daniel Munyer (Sr.); Kaiwi Crabb (Sr.); Stephane Nembot (Jr.); Brad Cotner (Jr.); Marc Mustoe (Jr); Sully Wiefels (Jr. – transfer); James Carr (Jr. – walk-on); Jeromy Irwin (So.); Alex Kelley (So.); Ed Caldwell (So. – walk-on); Vincent Ariva (So. – walk-on); Gerrad Kough (R-Fr.); Jonathan Huckins (R-Fr.); Sam Kronshage (R-Fr.); Colin Sutton (R-Fr.); Connor Darby (R-Fr. – walk-on); John Lisella (Fr.)

Incoming this fall: Isaac Miller and Josh Kaiser

The 2013 CU offensive statistics speak for themselves:

- 120.8 rushing yards per game, 108th in the nation in 2013;

- 369.9 total yards per game, 87th in the nation;

- 233 offensive first downs, 94th in the nation;

- .337 conversion percentage on third downs, 107th in the nation;

- 25.4 points per game, 86th in the nation.

Even with Paul Richardson, the Colorado offense in 2013 was mired at or near the bottom nationally in most offensive statistics. This spring, while Buff fans can be excited about the growth of Sefo Liufau at quarterback, can have optimism about all of the running backs returning, and have hope for the incoming wide receivers …

… But none of the above will matter unless the play of the offensive line improves.

True, the 2013 offensive statistics were an improvement over the dreadful numbers posted in 2012, but that is not saying much. The Buffs were actually lucky in 2013 when it came to the offensive line, as Colorado went the entire season with the same starting lineup. Perilously thin in the depth chart, Colorado fielded the same starting lineup 12 times last fall: Jack Harris, left tackle; Kaiwi Crabb, left guard; Gus Handler, center; Daniel Munyer, right guard; and Stephane Nembot, right tackle.

The relative stability along the offensive line allowed the Colorado coaching staff to redshirt four true freshmen last fall: Gerrad Kough; Jonathan Huckins; Sam Kronshage; and Colin Sutton. All four, along with grayshirt John Lisella, will have their first opportunities to compete for playing time this spring. The fact that the Buffs were able to hold back five players, allowing them to gain strength and maturity, is in and of itself a victory for the new coaching staff.

So, the math for the spring when it comes to the offensive line seems relatively simple … Harris and Handler graduated, leaving three returning starters and two spots along the offensive line to fill.

In reality, though, the entire offensive line will be subject to review this spring.

Let’s work inside out along the line:

- Center – Fifth-year senior Kaiwi Crabb started every game last fall at left guard. Crabb was, however, also the primary backup on the depth chart at center behind the graduated Gus Handler, and may be the odds-on favorite to become the new starting center. Junior Brad Cotner was third on the depth chart last fall at center, but this may be a position where one of the freshman held out last season will get their first shot at playing time. Jonathan Huckins, all 6’3″, 290-pounds of him, is a good candidate. Right guard Daniel Munyer also has experience at center, and may be moved over if required.

- Guards – This could have been a pair of jobs already spoken for, as Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer started every game at the guard positions last fall, and both return. However, as noted, Crabb is likely to be given first crack at the center position, with Munyer also a possibility. So, at least one of the guard positions will be given to another player. Sophomore Jeromy Irwin was a possibility, but he will not be available this spring (Irwin red-shirted last fall after breaking a bone in his foot last summer. He has continued to have problems, with a second fracture in the same foot requiring a second surgery. CU is hoping Irwin will be a “full-go” for the fall). Sophomore Alex Kelley was in for 97 snaps last fall, and may be the top candidate to move into a starting role. Guard will be another position where the five newly available Buffs will compete for position in the depth chart.

- Tackles – Junior Stephane Nembot is the only returning starter at this position, but having Nembot back is not cause for celebration in some quarters of the Buff Nation. Colorado gave up 17 sacks to the opposition as a team last fall, and Nembot was responsible for 7 1/2 of them (no other player gave up more than three). At 6’7″, 305-pounds, Nembot is a physical specimen. He was also ranked highly coming out of high school … as a defensive lineman. Nembot’s education as an offensive lineman has come along slowly – too slowly for some. Still, with 19 career starts at tackle under his belt (and no other returning Buff offensive tackle with so much as one), it would be hard to conceive of a depth chart without Nembot listed as a starter.

As to the other tackle position, this spring could be a battle between two players, junior Marc Mustoe and junior college transfer Sully Wiefels. There is an axiom in college football that you don’t bring in a junior college player to sit on the bench, so the 6’4″, 305-pound Wiefels will be given every opportunity to prove himself this spring. Mustoe, conversely, has had some playing time (27 snaps in 2013), but suffered a fractured fibula in the Charleston Southern game, and was lost for the remainder of the season. Mustoe is listed as “probable” for spring practices, though his participation may be limited. Finding starters and reliable depth at the tackle position will be one of the biggest issues for Colorado this spring.

… The Colorado football program is only two years removed from not being able to play more than a “spring scrimmage” to conclude spring practices, owing to a lack of enough healthy offensive linemen to play a normal spring game. Colorado does now have enough bodies along the offensive line to field two units and play a spring game.

The question remains, however, if the new coaching staff has enough talent in the roster to compete against the defenses of the Pac-12.

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Tight Ends

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall – bold represents returning starter):

Kyle Slavin (Sr.); Sean Irwin (So.); Connor Center (R-Fr.); Chris Hill (R-Fr. – walk-on); Brian Boatman (R-Fr.- walk-on)

Incoming this fall: Dylan Keeney and Hayden Jones

What to make of the tight end position in a Mike MacIntyre / Brian Lindgren offense at Colorado?

In 2012, the San Jose State Spartans, coached by Mike MacIntyre, had a tight end by the name of Ryan Otten. The senior was second on the team in receptions, with 47, going for 742 yards and four touchdowns (after collecting 52 catches for 739 yards and five touchdowns his junior year).

In 2013, the Colorado Buffaloes, coached by Mike Macintyre, had a tight ends by the names of Scott Fernandez and Kyle Slavin. Fernandez had nine catches all season, going for 97 yards and a touchdown. Slavin, meanwhile, also had nine catches in 2013, going for 68 yards and a touchdown.

Quite the disparity.

So, is the lack of production from the tight end position at Colorado a question of offensive priorities … or talent?

With the signing of two tight ends in the Class of 2014, it appears that the CU coaching staff is not about to give up on the tight end position. However, it remains an open question as to whether much production can be expected from the current tight ends on the roster this spring.

A roll call of returning players does not take long … Senior Kyle Slavin and sophomore Sean Irwin. As noted, Slavin had nine catches last season, playing in all 12 games and starting in most of them. Slavin’s nine catches last year were down from the 14 catches for 109 yards he had as a junior in 2012.

Irwin’s resume is even shorter. As a red-shirt freshman last fall, Irwin did play in all 12 games, even earning a start in the game against Cal in November. Irwin had only one catch on the year, however, a seven-yarder against Oregon.

Not exactly preseason All-Pac-12 resumes.

Competing with Slavin and Irwin this spring will be a newcomer … in every sense of the word. If you remember the recruitment of Connor Center last spring, pat yourself on the back.

You can be forgiven if you don’t remember Center. He was a prospect added to the CU Class of 2013 … in June.

Center never played high school football, he was a high school pitcher.

Center’s story, as told to the CuseNation.com … . “I was a pretty good pitcher, but I wasn’t MLB good. There’s quite a few reasons why I made the switch. Some deeper than others. The main reason was I got drawn away from baseball. I couldn’t tell you how. My heart just wasn’t in it. I just felt like I needed to use my talents elsewhere. So I started to get away from baseball. I met up with a best friend of mine, Kyle Buss, he’s at Milford Academy. He’s a great football player. He kind of introduced me to a whole group of kids that worked out at a local facility. They were doing 7-on-7, they were working out everyday, running their 40s. I got in there and I loved it. I started working out and the deeper I got going with it, the more I loved it.

”I realized I was really good at it and I wanted to try to do something with it. A lady that specializes in recruiting and a conditioning coach, she got on board with me. She pushed me into the recruiting process. As I pushed these videos out, I started getting schools interested in me. That’s when the offers started coming and stuff. Before I made the switch over to football, I always loved to lift weights to get stronger and better. My love for lifting and working out, brought me into football too. Working out with Kyle and his brother and stuff. Pitchers don’t always go into the weight room all the time. So football was a perfect fit for me”.

So, after a year of weight training and conditioning, Center will have his first opportunity this spring to have an impact upon the Colorado depth chart.

Or … Center will be a good human interest story for the next month or two, with the Buff Nation waiting to see what 2014 recruits Dylan Kennedy and Hayden Jones can do for the tight end position when they get to Boulder.

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Wide Receivers

Spring Roster – (note: class designations are for this fall – bold represents returning starter):

D.D. Goodson (Sr.); Tyler McCulloch (Sr.); Keenan Canty (Sr.); Nelson Spruce (Jr.); Wesley Christensen (Jr. – walk-on); Cheldon West (Jr. – walk-on); Devin Grimes (Jr. – walk-on); Devin Ross (So.); Lee Walker (Fr.); Bryce Bobo (R-Fr.); Elijah Dunston (R-Fr.); Robert Orban (R-Fr. – walk-on); Joseph Hall (R-Fr. – walk-on)

Incoming this fall: Shay Fields; Jay MacIntyre … who may play other positions

The first question for the wide receiver corps this spring:

Who will replace Paul Richardson?

Okay, make that the second, third and fourth question as well.

While Richardson is working towards improving his draft status this March and April, the University of Colorado will be working towards replacing his 79 receptions for 1,289 yards (both CU single-season records) and his 10 touchdowns (one short of Derek McCoy’s 2003 record 11).

Which of the returners will step up?

While Richardson is gone, the Buffs’ No. 2, 3 and 4 wide receivers from the 2013 season do return. Junior Nelson Spruce was second on the team in receiving last year. Last fall, Spruce collected 55 catches for 650 yards and three touchdowns, after leading the team in 2012 (when Richardson was injured) with 44 catches for 446 yards and three more scores. Spruce is a safe bet to be a primary target come September.

Seniors D.D. Goodson and Tyler McCulloch will have one last chance to make an impression upon the Buff Nation. Goodson was third on the team last fall with 22 catches for 306 yards and a score, while McCulloch went from 34 catches (for 436 yards) in 2012 to just 14 catches for 138 yards in 2013. Goodson was an effective first-down producer last season - his team-leading 11 third- or fourth-down receptions in 2013 all went for first downs or touchdowns … but he has yet to become the second-coming of Paul Richardson.

Will a young returning Buff pick up the slack?

Devin Ross was the only true freshman wide receiver to see action last fall. Ross was on the field for ten games, collecting six catches for 24 yards (Ross also contributed on special teams, returning five kickoffs for 107 yards). Two other scholarship wide receivers did sit out the 2013 season, Elijah Dunston and Byrce Bobo, and this spring the pair will have their first opportunity to make an impression.

To reintroduce the trio … Ross is 5’9″, 170-pounds, and was a three-star recruit out of Mission Hills, California. Rivals rated him as the No. 78 wide receiver in the nation out of the Class of 2013, and the No. 62 player out of the state of California overall … Dunston is 6’0″, 185-pounds, and was a three-star recruit out of West Hills, California. Rivals rated Dunston as the No. 97 prospect out of the state of California overall … Bobo is 6’2″, 190-pounds, and was a three-star prospect out of Covina, California (and probably has generated the most buzz out of the three amongst the Buff faithful).

And what of the newest Buffs?

The highest-rated member of the CU Recruiting Class of 2014 was wide receiver Shay Fields. The former USC commit, the four-star wideout from Bellflower, California, will be counted on to become the next Paul Richardson if none of the above candidates fit the bill.

But don’t forget Lee Walker. Originally a member of the recruiting Class of 2013, the former three-star prospect did not make the grades to enroll at Arizona last summer. Instead of going the junior college route, Walker chose to wait and enroll this January, electing to become a Buff instead of a Wildcat. Walker, a 6’0″, 160-pound speed merchant, is already on campus taking classes, and will be running routes for CU quarterbacks this spring.

…. Paul Richardson is a once in a generation talent, which he demonstrated in his re-writing of the CU record books. There is no one Buff on the roster likely to replace Richardson by himself. It is going to take the contributions of several players to pick up the slack.

Fortunately, the Buffs are not lacking for candidates this spring …

——-

 

Running Backs

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall – bold represents returning starter):

Tony Jones (Sr.); Josh Ford (Sr. – petitioning NCAA for sixth year of eligibility); Malcolm Creer (Sr.); Christian Powell (Jr.); Donta Abron (Jr.); Michael Adkins (So.); Terrence Crowder (So.); Phillip Lindsay (R-Fr.); Ryan Moeller (R-Fr. – walk-on)

Incoming this fall: Donovan Lee … who may play other positions

Fullbacks

Spring roster (note: class designations are for this fall):

Jordan Murphy (Jr. – walk-on); Clay Jones (Jr. – walk-on); Jesse Hiss (So. – walk-on); George Frazier (R-Fr.)

Incoming this fall: None

What you see is what you get.

Colorado did not lose any running backs from the 2013 roster to graduation … but did not pick up any true running backs on Signing Day.

On February 5th, Colorado did lose two running back recruits from the Recruiting Class of 2014 to other Pac-12 schools. It does not appear that Kalen Ballage (Arizona State) ever seriously considered becoming a Buff, but Jomon Dotson (Washington) was a CU commit for several months before opting to follow former Boise State coach Chris Petersen to Seattle.

So, unless Phillip Lindsay, who sat out a red-shirt season last fall, or Donovan Lee, the multi-position recruit from this year’s Class, can have an immediate impact on the depth chart come August, the running backs who were on the field for the Buffs in 2013 will, for the most part, be the Buffs who will be on the field in 2014.

Is that a positive or a negative?

Well, for starters, Colorado ranked 108th in the nation in rushing last season, averaging only 120.8 yards per game on the ground. While that total was a slight improvement over the disastrous 2012 campaign (110.3 yards per game), the touchdown production actually fell (with only ten rushing touchdowns, down from 15 in 2012).

Not all of the failings can be attributed to the backs themselves (we’ll discuss the offensive line in due course), the reality is that Colorado was not effective at running the ball in the first year of the Mike MacIntyre era … and that was with Paul Richardson commanding double coverage from opposing defenses all season.

Which leaves questions about the running backs which need to be addressed this spring:

Will Josh Ford be back this fall?

Ford, a contributor in the backfield in 2011 (22 carries, 128 yards, one touchdown) and in 2012 (27 carries, 127 yards, one touchdown) was in the mix to be a contributor again in 2013, his senior year. Instead, Ford suffered a high ankle sprain on August 11th. The injury was severe enough that surgery was required, and Ford was lost for the season.

CU has petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility for Ford. With spring practices opening in early March, word should come soon as to whether 5’9″, 205-pound former walk-on will be able to play for the Buffs this fall.

Adkins or Powell? Powell or Adkins?

As a true freshman in 2012, Christian Powell led the team in rushing, going for 691 yards and seven touchdowns. This past year, Powell again led the team in rushing, posting 562 yards and three touchdowns.

As a true freshman in 2013, Michael Adkins went for 535 yards rushing, scoring six of CU’s ten rushing touchdowns. Had Adkins not missed three games last fall, he likely would have led the team in rushing.

So, who will the Buffs rely on to carry the ball in 2014? Powell is the bigger back (6’0″, 235-pounds, to Adkins’ 5’10″, 200-pounds), but Adkins scored twice as many touchdowns as did Powell, and had a significantly better rushing average (5.19 yards per carry, to 3.82 for Powell).

There is certainly no requirement that running backs coach Klayton Adams feature one back in CU’s offense, but it will be interesting to see if there is any separation between the two this spring, when both backs will be going through spring practices together for the first time.

Will anyone else step up this spring and command playing time?

Time is up for Tony Jones, who will be a senior this fall. A contributor in each of the three previous seasons (297 yards, two touchdowns in 2011; 320 yards and three touchdowns in 2012; 249 yards and one touchdown last season), Jones may – very quietly – become the 51st back in school history with over 1,000 yards rushing (866 to date). This spring may determine if Jones will be on the field for enough carries this fall to accomplish that feat.

Other backs who have been on the CU roster have not been able to muster even the moderate success of Tony Jones. Senior Malcolm Creer (22 career carries), junior Donta Abron (72 career carries), and sophomore Terrence Crowder (no carries last season) have work to do to earn playing time in 2014.

Phillip Lindsay, meanwhile, will be given his first opportunity to make a case for being in the backfield this fall. Lindsay, a three-star recruit from the Class of 2013, sat out last season. Lindsay, at 5’8″, 165-pounds, was rated the No. 5 prospect out of the state of Colorado (Denver South) a year ago, and will be participating in his first set of spring drills this March.

Does/Will Colorado have any fullbacks?

A linebacker recruit from the Class of 2013, George Frazier sat out last season. He was moved from linebacker to fullback halfway into fall practices, and spent the fall learning that position. At 6’2″, 260-pounds, Frazier has the size to be a significant blocker out of the fullback position, but is not likely to earn many carries from that position.

The remaining fullbacks on the roster are all walk-ons, and the Buffs did not recruit or sign a fullback in February. On the CU depth chart last fall, Christian Powell was listed as the primary fullback, but did not line up in that position all that often.

The fullback position has not been removed from the Colorado offense, but it is safe to say that it is not considered to be a primary offensive weapon.

——

 

Quarterbacks

Spring Roster (note: class designations are for this fall – bold represents returning starter):

Sefo Liufau (So.); Jordan Gehrke (So.); Trent Sessions (So. – walk-on)

Incoming this fall: Cade Apsay (Fr.), Jaleel Awini* (Jr. – will likely have to sit out a transfer year) … *may play other positions

What a difference a year makes.

Last February, the “Spring Forward” quarterback write-up had the following cast of characters: Jordan Webb (Sr.); Nick Hirschman (Jr.); Connor Wood (Jr.); Stevie Joe Dorman (So.); John Schrock (So. – walk-on); and Shane Dillon (R-Fr.). New CU head coach Mike MacIntyre opened spring practices with a six-way competition for starting quarterback.

A year later, all six – all six! – are gone.

This spring, the concern is not so much as to whether a starter will emerge as whether the Buffs can keep those who are available upright long enough to conduct a full camp.

Still, there are questions to be answered between now and the Spring Game on April 12th.

Can Sefo Liufau continue to improve?

Incoming true freshman Sefo Liufau was supposed to red-shirt last fall. After all, true freshmen don’t normally fare well at the quarterback position, and the Buffs were already (presumably) crowded at quarterback. Instead, Liufau was in the lineup before mid-season, going on to start the final seven games of the 2013 campaign. Liufau completed 149-of-251 passes for 1,779 yards last season – all true freshman records at Colorado. Along the way, Liufau passed for 12 touchdowns with eight interceptions.

Liufau did not hit Boulder until last summer, so this will be his first set of spring practices. Can Liufau, who missed out on the extra 15 practices afforded teams who qualify for bowl games, be able to build upon was a promising freshman season? Or did the 2013 season represent Liufau’s ceiling?

Can Jordan Gehrke compete for the starting job?

Hearing Jordan Gehrke’s name mentioned last May was a cautionary tale for the Buff Nation. Colorado started spring ball with six quarterbacks, settled on two – Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman – with the latter backing out and transferring when he didn’t get the starting gig outright.

A full qualifier out of the Class of 2012, Gehrke did not receive any significant scholarship offers. Gehrke reported receiving attention from Boise State, Oregon State, and the Arizona schools … but no offers. Instead, Gehrke played for Scottsdale Community College in the fall of 2012, completing 52% of his passes for 2,388 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Fighting Artichokes. Gehrke then transferred to Ventura College in California in January of 2013, but was there only for the spring semester before the University of Colorado came calling with a scholarship offer.

“He has a very efficient release, he gets the ball out and he is a very accurate passer,” offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren told BuffStampede.com last August. “Unfortunately we weren’t able to get him reps in the spring so we’re just trying to bring him along. He has all the tools it is just a matter of him getting familiar with what we’re doing. He is athletic enough (6’2″, 190″, 4.75 in the 40) in the pocket to make people miss and scramble and make some plays when things break down and that excites us about Jordan”.

And Trent Sessions is …

… Not Rudy. Sessions is a former high school quarterback that was on the equipment staff last fall. A 6-foot-2, 195-pound sophomore from the San Diego area, Sessions completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 1,958 yards and 17 touchdowns with just four interceptions during his senior season at Rancho Bernardo.

“He’ll be able to help us get through practices”, coach Mike MacIntyre told the media of Sessions’ involvement this spring. “I don’t want to wear out the arms of the other two guys. I told coach Brian Lindgren when it happened that he better start warming his arm up because he’s going to be throwing more. But Trent is going to be able to do a good job at it. It’s exciting because it  rejuvenates some of the other guys and some of the walk-ons. That’s the exciting part of it and it’s always fun to see that with the kids.”

Translation: Sessions is an interesting human interest story, but just a placeholder in the CU program until Cade Apsay hits Boulder in June.

… These are just my opinions – I’d like to hear what you have to say! … Don’t forget to post your comments! …

17 Responses to “A Spring Forward”

  1. Stuart,

    I think it is perfectly reasonable to expect great things from Gillam again this year. It’s also ok that he was only honorable mention all pac-12 last year, because the conference had some of the very best linebackers in the whole country.

    I am hoping Rippy comes in and makes Buff Nation proud… but the guy has not seen any game action since he was a senior in high school. Wondering if he will be all-conference seems a little premature. Remember also that 2012 Buffs featured two 4-star cornerbacks, neither of which is anywhere close to being all conference. Heck, they are not even the best defensive backs on our TEAM.

    I really like the guys that MacIntyre is bringing in. I would not be surprised at all if Watanabe and Gamboa make significant contributions this year. Even if they redshirt, they will make our scout team defense MUCH better than it has been in years. If they do get on the field, I think they will be absolute beasts on special teams. Same goes for a bunch of the guys who red-shirted last year.

    Lastly, the quality of walk-ons that Mac is getting is phenomenal. Last year it was Ryan Moeller and this year it is the quarterback Ty Gangi. How these guys EVER got assigned only 2 stars by anybody is a mystery for the ages. Gangi is physically good enough to be All-CIF and mentally good enough to be recruited by Harvard and Yale,

    Maybe I am biased because I went to high school in Southern California, but All-CIF is a huge deal. This is where CU and most of the Pac-12 get the majority of their players.

    Gagni will make the scout team this fall a true test for our defense.

    Bring on Spring practices. Go Buffs!

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

  2. ep

    I have my eyes on Grant Watanabe. I don’t want to jinx him but I think he will see considerable playing time as a freshman this year

  3. Yo Stuart,

    I think you are being a little harsh on the defensive line. Yes, they gave up 4.94 yards per rush in 2013, but that was a massive improvement over the 5.92 per rush in 2012. Uzo-Diribe has better individual stats in 2012 than 2013, but the overall performance of the unit was much better last year than 2012.

    Another massive improvement came in the long scores by CU opponents. In 2012, CU gave up 24 touchdowns of over 20 yards. That number dropped to 14 last year. By the same token, CU scored only 7 TD’s over 20 yards in 2012, and that jumped all the way to 17 last year.

    I expect the Buffs to be much stronger in the trenches this year than last, and they should be much better at understanding what Baer and Jeffcoat are teaching them this year.

    If the Buffs continue to improve this year as much as they did last year, when they went from 1 win to 4 wins, CU should be back in a bowl for the first time in way too long.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

  4. Earl T

    Things will be intriguing on the “D” line! Time for the big boys to show how Forman has re-shaped their bodies and improved their lower body strength for a balanced, more symmetrical body (Or not; Forman can only offer guidance and coaching, the drive and motor is still internal!). But, his program worked wonders at SJSU, no reason it can’t do the same in Boulder. Confidence and maturity should give rise to some good hopes here.

    As for DE, we know what Gilbert can do and we have an inkling of the potential of Reid and McCartney, how far those two continue to develop this spring will be one of the better stories going.

  5. NavyBuff

    Stuart,

    I would nominate you for the Buffalo Heart award except it goes to a player. I am always impressed by the way you devote so much time and effort to give us a pretty objective few of our beloved Buffaloes.

    I have enjoyed readding all of the position breakdowns so far. While I agree there are some positions that we are a little thinner at, I believe this staff will get the maximum out of each player. Some of it comes from believing. When you line up against that great Stanford defense or Oregon offense you have to believe you can beat them. Not so easily done when you watch film of them but, if you don’t believe it you certainly have no chance of achieving it.

    Are you coming down for Spring practices? I am looking at the dates to see if I might be able to spend a couple of days up there to see the team first hand. Any tips on how to do this would be helpful.

    NavyBuff

    • Stuart

      NB,
      Thanks for the kind words about the website. It’s great to know there are other Buffs out there, keeping the faith!

      It’s not likely that I will be down for spring practices, but below is the schedule. If the practices go the same as last year, they will be in the morning, and open to the public. There will be more information posted by the CU media relations office once we get a little closer to the start of practice, and I’ll be sure to get that posted.

      “Spring practice will begin Friday, March 7, and end with one practice after the spring game on Monday, April 14; the spring game has been set for Saturday, April 12 at Noon MDT (it will be televised live by the Pac-12 Networks, with KOA (Mark Johnson, Larry Zimmer) in Denver to come on the air with a pregame show and then a live broadcast of the game). The tentative dates are as follows: March 7-10-12-14-17-19-21-31 and April 2-4-5-7-9-11-12-14. The team is allowed 15 practices over 29 days; this is the fourth straight year drills will start prior to spring break (March 24-28) and will complete spring ball when the players return. How the practice sessions will break down, per NCAA rules: three in shorts (no contact), four in pads (no tackling), four in pads (tackling allowed 50 percent or less of the time), four in pads (tackling allowed throughout). The last practice, for the second straight year, will be after the spring game, as MacIntyre likes to do some clean-up from the spring game and teach the players how to run the summer workouts on their own”.

  6. Yo Stuart,

    The offensive line for the Buffs will indeed be the key to whether CU makes a major move to becoming bowl eligible this season. I expect them to be MUCH stronger physically, and that should help a lot.

    I am interested to see what MacIntyre does this year as far as moving guys. He has a reputation for doing so, but last year they were just getting by with as few people as possible in order to get all those red-shirts in.

    Everyone knows that strength and great athletic ability come in handy if you want to be a top player in any sport. However, just because someone has great athletic ability does not necessarily mean that they can be a dominant player at any position or sport. (Case in point — Michael Jordan was a DOMINANT NBA player, but only a promising minor league position baseball player, and a completely inadequate batter).

    Nembot is a great athlete, and probably the strongest guy on the Buffs… but after two full years playing tackle, it is painfully obvious that it is not a position that he will ever be a dominant player. Right now, the best it seems we can hope for is that he becomes a mediocre offensive tackle.

    I think he could be a DOMINANT defensive lineman, which is also a need for the Buffs. I also think he could be a great lead blocker from the fullback position in goal line situations. The one great thing he has done from the O-line is have pancake blocks (unfortunately, if the Buffs want to pass, EVERY Pac-12 team knows they guy can’t pass block).

    We’ll see come Spring practice what happens. Nembot has the size, strength and athletic ability to be an elite NFL player someday, but it will not be at offensive tackle. It’s up to him and his coaches at CU to figure out the best way to use his natural talents. Otherwise, he’s just like Michael Jordan out there whiffing at curve balls.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

    • Another sign that the Buffs are improving up front is in the “tackles for loss” category. In 2012, the Buffs got tackled behind the line of scrimmage 96 times. In 2013, that number dropped all the way down to 53.

  7. Earl T

    Staurt, What happened to Robert Orban, the invited W/O TE from Regis? Kid was showing well last fall in practice and on scout teams, but obviously needed more weight for his size–6’6″. Is he gone? Or did you just forget him?

    • Stuart

      He’s listed on the roster of players, but he’s got seven scholarship players to beat out to make an impact. We’ll see if Orban can impress the coaches this spring.

  8. Yo Stuart,

    Nice write-up. You forgot to mention that Powell had a very severe deep thigh bruise that really hindered his strength and explosiveness much of last season. That really makes a difference when your first step is just a tad slower and the pain from the injury makes it easier to bring you down. Powell was SO much harder to bring down his freshman year than last. I am looking forward to a return to that type of running this year.

    The most important part of whether the running game improves will be how much stronger the hogs are up front. CU has been manhandled in the trenches for quite a few years now. Fortunately, with Forman running the show in the weight room and determining the running schedule for more than a year now, the Buffs should be much stonger physically and have a load more stamina than they have had in years.

    By 2015 we should be as strong as any team in the Pac-12, and that will make the Buffs as strong as any team in the country. MacIntyre and Forman did that at San Jose State, and they will do it again here.

    If CU can move into the top-60 in the country in rushing, it will be a vast improvement. We have plenty of young running backs already, so not having a recruit this year should not matter. I don’t think Dotson is going to make anyone forget about Adrian Peterson or Herschel Walker.

    The real testament to the conditioning and strength for the Buffs will be the guys who redshirted last year, both on the line and in the backfield. That’s why I am so eager for spring camp. It should be fun to watch how the players have responded to a staff who knows how to develop them into FBS level players instead of relying on the misguided star ratings of 16-17 year old high school kids.

    Let the games begin! Go Buffs!

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

  9. Michael

    Neither Gehrke or Sessions are as big but I wonder how they compare to our last successful JUCO or walk on QB’s – Robert Hodges, Bobby Pesavento and Joel Klatt. Hodges was a smallish dude but Pesavento and Klatt were both big dudes physically but lightly recruited in HS. Klatt of course was a minor league baseball player first so he was figuratively more advanced his maturity level.

    • WarBuff

      Having listened to CJ and Klatt on the radio,, I’m not sure I can agree with Klatt being mature, although their chemistry made for some fun times listening to their banter.

  10. Buffaloboy

    And with Awini able to execute the “option,” 2015 sounds like a really good competition for QB. Sefo still has a large amount of improvement available to go forward, but it would be interesting as Awini has the tools to do well with Coach Mac’s style of offense and I’m still anxious to see Gerke in action as I liked what he did on the recruiting video and am looking forward to the arrival of Apsay’s talent.

    Wish all the QB’s well and much success.

  11. Earl T

    Human interest story or not, I’m not inclined to meekly write off Sessions quite so quickly….sometimes physical maturity and mental capability do not arrive all at the same time in the same guy and sometimes they never arrive, ala CW, who could never get over his deer-in-the-headlights complex,(something even HE recognized). Unless Sessions has a physical limitation, say, very small hands, I’ll give him benefit of the doubt, just like someone gave bagger Kurt Warner benefit of the doubt—all the way to the Super Bowl!

    • Buffaloboy

      Earl, I’m with you… according to what I think needs to be evaluated, Sessions may be far ahead of what talent he displayed in HS…. and, he definitely can throw the ball, plus he has been around the program enough to absorb a lot of teaching while observing the other QB’s.

      Go Trent!!! You may be the diamond in the rough we need for our program. You have a valuable role to play nevertheless and the Buff faithful will be grateful.

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