Recruiting Class of 2011 – Recap and Random Thoughts

If you look at the national rankings of the recruiting classes of 2011, the Colorado Class of 2011 was mediocre. Colorado’s recruits were rated 60th in the nation by Scout, and were on the south side of the Pac-12 by almost every reporting agency. With only one four-star player (Asiata), the Buffs filled some needs, and landed some players with “potential”, but there was not much excitement generated by the twenty players who have agreed to wear the black-and-gold.

At least outside of the Buff Nation.

This Class will not have the star power of the Class of 2012, but it will help bridge the gap for Colorado between “mediocre” and great. What Embree told this class of recruits is what he plans to tell next year’s class: “I’m bringing in someone next year to beat you out; that’s the object of the game of recruiting,” said Embree. “If they can’t beat them out, then great, that means all the kids in this class are raising their level. All the guys on this team know I’m bringing in someone to beat them out; if they can’t, they’re handling their business. That’s how it has to be.”

A look at the Class of 2011 and how they will fit into the Colorado roster, position-by-position …

Quarterback – 2011 Recruiting need: High

When head coach Jon Embree was hired, the first thing he did with regard to recruits he wished to target was to identify holes in the existing roster. A gaping hole on the eligibility charge existed at the quarterback position. Tyler Hansen returns for his senior year in 2011, but after that, there was only red-shirt freshman Nick Hirschman on scholarship. The Buffs only had a handful of scholarships to offer this year, but it was imperative that Colorado sign not one, but two new quarterbacks. Of the five verbal commitments given to the Dan Hawkins’ regime, two were from quarterbacks, Brock Berglund and Nick Sherry.

Within two weeks of Embree’s hire, the number of verbal commitments from quarterbacks was back down to zero.

Brock Berglund left for a “better situation” at Kansas, while Nick Sherry was told that he should look elsewhere (Sherry ultimately signed with UNLV). In their place, the Colorado recruiting staff signed junior college transfer Brent Burnette, along with Stevie Joe Dorman from Somerset, Texas.

Burnette was 60-0 as a high school starter, but hasn’t done much since. He played for Middle Tennessee State before transferring to Western Arizona Junior College. While with the Matadors of Western Arizona, Burnette played in seven games before being injured. When he returned from injury, he couldn’t force his way back into the starting lineup.

Dorman also had a successful high school career, setting numerous records at Somerset high in Texas. Dorman ranks in the top ten in Texas prep history in career yardage, touchdowns, and completions, no small feat. Plus, Dorman comes to Boulder with a great pedigree, as he is the nephew of Ty and Koy Detmer, and the grandson of his coach, the legendary Sonny Detmer. Still, even with the numbers and the name, Dorman was ranked no higher than the 77th-best quarterback in the nation by Scout, and only the 15th-best quarterback from the state of Texas.

Grade … C+. Burnette and Dorman had successful high school careers, but were somehow not impressive enough to generate BCS offers. Burnette provides insurance to the Buffs in case Tyler Hansen falters or fails to grasp the new offense, or if Nick Hirschman is not ready to take the reins as a starter. Burnette does, after all, at least have collegiate starting experience. Dorman has bucketloada of “potential”, but to date has a star power recognized by only the Colorado coaching staff.

It is hard not to visualize this pair as serving as place holders while the Buff coaching staff scours the nation in search of a top quarterback recruit from the Class of 2012.

Running back – 2011 Recruiting need: Medium/High

The running back depth chart presented a similar problem to Jon Embree’s staff to that of the quarterbacks … seniors and red-shirt freshmen. Rodney Stewart and Brian Lockridge return, but after that, there are only red-shirt freshmen on scholarship – Tony Jones; Trea Jones; and Cordary Allen. As the threesome from the Class of 2010 all sat out last season, they remain an unknown quantity. Both Stewart and Lockridge have been injured during their careers, so additional bodies were needed from the Class of 2011.

Rashad Hall comes to Boulder from Oak Ridge Military Prep as a two-star prospect with four-star potential. Rated as the No. 67 running back prospect in the nation by ESPN, Hall rushed for 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior. “(Hall) is a big back, a physical back,” Embree said. “He is a bit of a long-strider; kind of reminds me of Bobby Purify … Does he have the breakaway speed to go 60 (yards)? It depends on what the play is. Is he going to do it every time? Maybe not, but he’ll do it enough.”

Another two-star prospect signed on Letter-of-Intent day, as Malcolm Creer came to the Buffs from Pacific Palisades, California. Creer rushed for 1,270 yards and 19 touchdowns on only 120 carries (almost ten yards per carry). Still, Creer was rated as no better than the 121st-best running back in the nation (by Scout).

Grade … B. Rodney Stewart was a two-star running back recruit, and was an after-thought Letter-of-Intent day signing on a day when Colorado fans were glued to their televisions, hoping that Darrell Scott would put on a CU hat for a nationwide audience on ESPN. Now Scott is at USF, and Stewart is poised to pass his position coach, Eric Bieniemy, for the all-time rushing lead in Colorado history. Both Creer (5’11”, 200) and Hall (6’0″, 200) are bigger than Speedy. The Buffs added running back depth on signing day, 2011. The jury is still out as to whether Creer and Hall will provide quality depth, or even a surprise star.

Wide Receiver – 2011 Recruiting Need – High

In terms of graduation, the Buffs only significant loss at wide receiver was the loss of record-setter Scotty McKnight. On the roster of returning players at wide receiver, there were plenty of names, with the emphasis on “were“. No fewer than four wide receivers from the 2010 depth chart will not return for 2011, including scholarship seniors Kendrick Celestine and Andre Simmons. Also leaving the team are wide receiver walk-ons Heath Davis and Gabe Castillo.

Colorado was in search of at least two wide receivers from the Class of 2011, but lost out on Signing day on Devin Lucien, who signed with UCLA. The only wide receiver signed was Nelson Spruce from Westlake Village, California. Spruce started both ways in high school, and had 1,292 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns despite not playing in the second half of nine of his team’s 14 games. “Nelson reminds me of John Minardi,” said Jon Embree. “I won’t say Scotty McKnight because I didn’t really get a chance to watch Scotty …. Nelson is one of those kids; he is bigger (6’2″) than you think, he is faster than you think, and is a great route runner.”

Grade … B. This grade is not a reflection on Spruce. I believe that Spruce will be a very good player for Colorado. Still, wide receiver was identified as an area of need, and the Buffs were able to sign only one player. Missing out on Devin Lucien might be a greater Signing Day loss than linebacker Leilon Willingham, at least in terms of need. With two scholarship seniors already lost (Celestine; Simmons), and two more seniors exhausting their eligibility this fall (Toney Clemons; Jason Espinoza), wide receiver will again be a top priority for recruiting for the Class of 2012.

Tight End – 2011 Recruiting Need – Low

Colorado did not lose any tight ends out of the 2010 class other than walk on Luke Walters. Senior Ryan Deehan returns, along with sophomore DaVaughn Thornton, and both saw extensive playing time in 2010. The Buffs also will have three red-shirt freshmen in the lineup this fall: Kyle Slavin; Harold Mobley; and Henley Griffon.

The Buffs will perhaps be in need of a tight end from the 2012 recruiting class, but it was not a priority this cycle.

Offensive Line – 2011 Recruiting Need – Medium

Colorado loses All-American Nate Solder to the first round of the NFL draft, as well as long-time contributor Keenan Stevens. Still, Colorado returns a deep roster along the line, with three senior starters returning for 2011: Ryan Miller; Ethan Adkins; and Mike Iltis. Three other senior contributors also return: Blake Behrens; Shawn Daniels; and Sione Tau, along with other potential starters in underclassmen David Bakhtiari, Bryce Givens, and Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner.

That being said, you can never have enough of the “big uglies”, and Colorado signed four offensive linemen which may provide the foundation for the Buffs for years to come. Alex Lewis did not receive much ink this February, as he was a grey-shirt recruit from the Class of 2010. Lewis was 6’4, 255-pounds, and needed an extra year to grow into his frame. Lewis was a three-star prospect this past season, when he was only 17 years old. Now Lewis is 18, is 6’6 1/2″, 288-pounds, and still has five years to play four.

The star of the Class of 2011 is Paulay Asiata. The four-star prospect was a signing day steal from the Washington Huskies, and brings a 6’5″, 295-pound body to go with an aggressive attitude. Marc Mustoe is 6’7″, 280-pounds, and was one of the top-rated players coming out of the state of Colorado this year. Mustoe was the first recruit to agree to play for Jon Embree, so his choice to “flip” from UCLA to Colorado carried a great deal of weight with the Buff Nation. Rounding out the offensive line group from this class is center prospect Alex Kelley. Rated as the 22nd-best center prospect in the nation, Kelley, at 6’3″, 295-pounds, could become a four-year starter come 2012.

Grade … A. This is a great quartet of players. Even when third-party evaluations are considered, this is a good group. Asiata was sought by any number of BCS programs; Mustoe was a de-commit from UCLA and a top five Colorado prep prospect; Kelley is a top center recruit; and Lewis has taken the past year to grow up 2 1/2 inches and gain 33 pounds. When the large senior class plays its last game this fall, this group of four will be in a position to supplement an already deep roster.

Defensive Line – 2011 Recruiting Need – Medium

Along the defensive front, only Marquez Herrod was lost to graduation this fall.  That being said, the defensive line, like the offensive line, is always in need of fresh talent.

And the Colorado coaching staff came up with a more than able replacements. Juda Parker was a highly sought after defensive end from Honolulu, Hawai’i. A teammate of Paulay Asiata, Parker helped recruit Asiata to Boulder after “falling in love” during his official visit. Parker was rated as the No. 28 defensive end in the nation this past year, and the No. 1 overall prospect out of the state of Hawai’i. “Juda Parker is a heck of a player; played in the Army All-American game (where Parker was a star, with six tackles, two sacks, and a blocked field goal),” said Jon Embree. “I think one of the reasons we got him was because of Malcolm Blacken, our strength coach. They hit it off well. The things we are doing now appeal to him … He is a kid we are excited about, a kid we had to beat out a lot of schools for, a lot of Pac-10 schools. At the end, we were able to keep him from taking a visit to Texas and Nebraska … We were able to convince him to just stay home, where he belonged, and come be a Buff.”

Joining Parker along the defensive line late on Signing day was Stefan Nembot from Van Nuys, California. Nembot had been a verbal commitment to Washington for about a week, and had been a Washington State commit before that. In the United States for only two years, Nembot, at 6’7″, 270-pounds, originally thought his future was in basketball, but Nembot quickly found a home on the football field. Nembot has “potential star” written all over him. How well, and how quickly, Nembot adjusts to the college game remains to be seen. But Nembot will be a fan favorite from his first day in a Buff uniform, and his future looks bright.

Grade … A.  Parker and Nembot could become household names in the Buff Nation in the very near future. Four seniors will play along the defensive line this fall for Colorado: Curtis Cunningham; Eugene Goree; Conrad Obi; and Josh Hartigan, backed by juniors Will Pericak, Nick Kasa, and Forrest West. As a result, 2011 might not be the year for Parker and Nembot to become stars, but their time may come as early as 2012.

Linebackers – 2011 Recruiting Need – Medium/High

Colorado lost two long-time starters at linebacker, with Michael Sipili and B.J. Beatty playing their final games in Buff uniforms this past fall. In addition, there are three seniors in the lineup this fall: Patrick Mahnke; Evan Harrington; and Tyler Ahles. As a result, while the need for additional bodies at linebacker was not yet crucial, filling in the roster with future stars was imperative.

Mission accomplished.

Colorado signed three linebackers on Signing day, each with the potential to become the next linebacker to pass their coach, Brian Cabral, on the all-time tackles chart. Brady Daigh was the first Colorado commit, signing on with the Buffs last summer. Even through the coaching change, Daigh, from Mullen high in Denver, remained determined to wear the black-and-gold. Daigh was ranked as one of the top five prospects out of Colorado this fall, and may turn out to be a great player for Jon Embree. “Sometimes, when you get a player committed, and he has been committed for so long, people forget about him,” said Embree. “The more I watch tape on him and watch how he’ll strike you, and how he’ll finish when he tackles, he wraps up and runs through you.”

K.T. Tuumalo was a long-time Boise State commit, at least until he took an official visit to Boulder. Tuumalo was not a teammate of Parker and Asiata in Honolulu, but he did share one thing in common – Tuumalo was also rated as one of the top players coming out of Hawai’i this fall. As a senior, Tuumalo had 97 tackles, including 18 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Tuumalo has also been a state champion in track, competing in the 200- and 400-meter dash as well as the 4×400-meter relay.

The third new linebacker to join the Buffs may be the least known to CU fans, but that might soon change. Woodson Greer is from Corona, California, and was considered by Scout to be the 48th-best outside linebacker in the nation. Greer was a first-team all-league selection for a team which went 42-2 in his three years on the varsity.

Grade …. B+. Though the big fish, Leilon Willingham, got away (to UCF), the Buffs did land a fine group of linebackers to supplement Brian Cabral’s already deep crew. And, as Jon Embree noted about Brady Daigh, “Daigh had a teammate (Willingham) that received more publicity than him, and a lot of times when that happens, it is the other guy that ends up being a great player,” said Embree. “I am excited about Brady. He is a Buff through and through, and he is going to bring a lot to this program.”

Seconday – 2011 Recruiting Need – High

Along with quarterback, the most readily identifiable need for Colorado going into this recruiting cycle was at cornerback. Two long-time starters, Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith, are preparing for draft day, and there are a number of defensive back seniors-to-be on the roster this fall, including Anthony Perkins, Travis Sandersfeld, Jonathan Hawkins, Anthony Wright, and Arthur Jaffee.

The need for an influx of new talent was clear, and the Buffs signed four defensive backs to try and bridge that gap. One of the best was one of the last to sign, Will Harlos, from Somerset, Texas. A linebacker in high school, Harlos, at 6’4, 200-pounds, might ply his trade at strong safety before growing into an outside linebacker. Harlos was a long-time Wake Forest commit, but decided during the last weekend to become a Buff instead.

Sherrard Harrington, from Washington D.C., impressed his new coach. “This is a special kid. He reminds me a lot of Charles Johnson the receiver,” said Embree. “He is very physical, the kid has great passion. And this kid will be a captain one day, he really will. He loves football, loves life.”

Another versatile player signed by Colorado this year is Kyle Washington from Florence, Arizona. Washington scored 25 touchdowns during his senior year, including 11 rushing, 10 receiving, two punt returns, one kickoff return, and one interception return. What impressed the Colorado coaching staff was that Washington is a physical player. “Some of the things we want our corners to do, he might be a good fit for us at corner, because we’ll be doing some cover two stuff and jamming and re-routing,” said Embree. “He is very well put together. He is a legit 200-pounds, and he might be a touch taller than 6’1″. (Wasington) is a great athlete, runs track, very good basketball player. So needless to say getting him helps.”

Rounding out the new quartet of defensive backs is Gregory Henderson, from Corona, California. While a bit undersized (5’11”, 185-pounds) for a cornerback today, Henderson did have seven interceptions as a senior. Henderson also had three punt returns for touchdowns in his career, so, if he can’t find his way onto the field as a cornerback, Henderson might become a mainstay on special teams.

Grade … B. While the Buffs did pick up a quantity of defensive backs, there is no “lock-down” corner in the group. The Buffs missed out on Stefan McClure (Cal), Marcus Peters (Washington) and Rahad Wadood (Arizona State), so it remains to be seen if the Buffs have been able to identify the next Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown.

Kicking Game – 2011 Recruiting Need – Medium

In theory, despite the loss of Aric Goodman to graduation, the Buffs are set in the kicking game, with highly-rated Zach Grossnickle and Justin Castor only sophomores. However, as the Colorado kicking game has failed to live up to its glorious past in the past few seasons, fresh blood is certainly welcome.

Enter Will Oliver, from Westlake, California. Oliver is considered by kicking guru Chris Sailer to be the 12th-best kicker in the nation this year. “We went to the Chris Sailer camp,” said Jon Embree. “They have four categories that they compete in, and (Oliver) won three out of the four, so that says a lot about the kid. And he knows what the situation is. He is ready to compete. I think the guys we have on our roster now, I got their attention. They are going to be ready to compete because we are going to put the best guys out there.

“Where we are with the program, we are going to have to win some games close, so that means we are going to have to have a good kicker,” said Embree. “Whether it is Will, whether it is Castor, we are going to see who it is. But the best guy is going to be out there, and he is going to have to be ready to win some football games.”

Grade … B-. It would be great to get excited about Will Oliver, but the fact remains that both Zach Grossnickle and Justin Castor were more highly rated coming out of high school, and neither has taken Boulder by storm. If the presence of Oliver, or just a change in coaches, brings out the best in these two kickers, than it is a good move for the Buffs.

 

Overall Grade … B. As I sat down to write up this review, I had to remind myself of the first of my “New Year’s Resolutions for Members of the Buff Nation“, which was: “I resolve not to be concerned about the national ranking of the 2011 recruiting class”. And, for the most part, I am not. Considering where the Colorado coaching staff was in December (five commits, only two of which wound up as members of the recruiting class), Jon Embree and his staff did a remarkable job.

Colorado addressed immediate needs at quarterback and defensive back, and picked up some real quality along both the offensive and defensive line. Still, come February, 2012, the Buff Nation will not be pleased if the Colorado recruiting class is ranked 60th in the nation. The Colorado coaches, who have already made offers to 30 juniors who will be members of the Class of 2012, are aware of the need to take advantage of the large class (25-to-28 scholarships will be available), and bring in a class which will compete for championships in the Pac-12.

“I can’t wait to coach these guys,” said Jon Embree.

And the Buff Nation is anxious to see the results …

4 Replies to “Class of 2011 – Recap and Random Thoughts”

  1. The move to the PAC-12 is a dream come true for me. A game every year in the state that I live (Arizona) plus an easy road trip to LA.

    I can’t believe Hirschman isn’t being talked about more. I don’t know much about him, but it seems like he is exactly what this system is craving. Are there any issues (arm strength, mental toughness) that I don’t know about?

  2. Patience fellow Buffs… I personally couldn’t care less about the W/L record next year. I just want to see the Buffs in every game… no embarrassments. If I see solid effort, individual improvement and a coherent/cohesive approach to game planning… I’ll be more than satisfied. I’m just thrilled about the move to the Pac 12… living here in Bend, OR, I can see more games on TV and actually attend a few.

  3. Whomever is the starting QB, the system will help. Unfortunately, there was no system because no one could recruit the type of player that the “system” wanted to be. A JUCO QB is a good addition for the short term; remember, CU is not a regular in the JUCO world and this shouldn’t become a habit given the history of staffs before.
    The OL needs to be solid no matter the system. Who is not excited about the 4 young’uns, though? A year from now, WOW!
    Is there a capable #1 TE for the immediate future? A must for a pro-style offense to be successful.
    Stuart, good stuff; where’s the Sunday morning chat?
    Bring on the Dawgs!!!!

  4. I am expecting Nick Hirschman to be the starting QB. He seems to be the guy that will fit the O that Jon will install the best. If Dorman is able step up and takes the job as a freshman you know he will be extremely good. CU seems to be snakebit with Juco players so I dunno about Burnett.

    Who will be the starting left tackle? I would love to see MTM finally shake the injury bug and have a great year. He played guard didn’t he? It has been a while.
    I think the O line is one are that will benefit from the coaching change the most.

    Looks like Jefferson returns to WR. The only other ones are Richardson, Canty and Dardon, and I’m not sure the latter 2 have any PT. Better hope one of this year’s athlete recruits can do the job. We will probably see Thornton catch a lot more balls as well.

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