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CU at the Game NIL Interview Series: What I Learned – Part II, The Faces behind the Facemasks

We are entering the home stretch of the CU at the Game NIL Podcast Interview series. Interview No. 17, with sophomore cornerback Nikko Reed, went up last Sunday. This Sunday, June 5th, I will be posting my interview with sophomore placekicker Cole Becker. On June 12th, I will be posting my interview with wide receiver Daniel Arias.

Nineteen down – one more to go.

I have had the opportunity to interview at least one member from every unit on the team, and, if projections hold, I have spoken with at least half of the starting lineup on both sides of the ball for the 2022 season.

It has taken a great deal of time and energy, but, on the whole, I feel the project has been worth it. Once again, my sincere thanks to all of you who contributed to the GoFundMe campaign, which raised $10,000 for 20 $500 interviews in less than three days back in February.

So, what did I learn along the way?

Let’s find out …

I’m calling this “The Faces Behind The Facemasks” because the past few months have really been a series of revelations. I objectively understood that, under the uniforms were actual student-athletes, players trying their best to win for their teammates and their school. Still, when you don’t know the individuals  – and have limited means to get to know them – it’s hard not to look at their net results and not the effort. In the new age of NIL, the curtain has been slightly lifted, as fans can now get to know the players a little bit better as individuals.

Here are some notes from the interviews I’ve conducted (offensive side of the ball this weekend; defensive side of the ball next weekend), stories which will make it easier to cheer for these players this fall:

QB Brendon Lewis was candid in his interview, and I felt honest in his assessment of his performance in 2021, and the expectations for the 2022 season. As many Buff fans suspected, Lewis did not have a full green light to improvise last fall, as the CU quarterbacks room was virtually empty. With the quarterbacks room full this fall, Lewis is nonetheless confidence in his abilities, and confident he will be the starter against TCU on September 2nd. It was also fun hearing about his high school career (they should name the stadium after him) and about his favorite two plays of the 2021 season.

Brendon Lewis podcast interview

RB Deion Smith is a player you shouldn’t count out this fall. Healthy in consecutive seasons for the first time in his career, Smith is anxious to show Buff fans that his 20-yard touchdown run in the spring game is just a taste of what is to come this fall. A highly rated recruit out of Houston, with offers from the likes of Notre Dame, UCLA, Utah, Minnesota and TCU, it was position coach Darian Hagan, and the relationship Smith and Hagan developed, which brought Smith to Boulder. The best part of the interview came when I asked Smith about the vanilla offense in the spring game: “You can count on one hand the number of plays we ran that day”.

Deion Smith podcast interview

WR Daniel Arias was born in the Dominican Republic. He moved to Washington State when he was six years old, following his mother, who had moved to the Seattle area a few years earlier to gain citizenship. Daniel grew up knowing next to nothing about football, and was only introduced to the game when he was in junior high. He is the first in his family to graduate from college (receiving his degree in Strategic Communications this May). Not only did Daniel earn his degree, he did it while earning several seasons of accolades, with Arias being named to the Colorado Chapter of the National Football Foundation All-Academic First Team in 2018 and ’20 and honorable mention in 2019 (he was also named to the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll in 2020).

… Coming June 12th …

WR Jaylon Jackson may not be on anyone’s list of most well known receivers on the CU roster, but he remains a factor on the team. Jackson has received recognition as an All-Pac-12 special teams performer, and has been chosen by his teammates to be a team captain. You can also take a little bit of insight from his quote during the interview that he wishes he had a few seasons with the current coaching staff. Considering he was recruited by offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini, and is excited about new staff … you can read into that what you want, but it says to me that Buff fans may have something to look forward to from this offense in 2022.

Jaylon Jackson podcast interview

WR Montana Lemonious-Craig was my first interview in the series, and the only one I would really like to do over. Lemonious-Craig was a fine interview, but I should have gone more in depth about how the wide receiver room has changed, and how felt about the loss of some of his teammates – not to mention his position coach. We did talk at some length about the 2021 season, wherein Lemonious-Craig had ten catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns during his freshman campaign, including a crucial touchdown catch late in the double-overtime win over Oregon State. The story about that late touchdown catch still makes the interview worthy of a listen.

Montana Lemonious-Craig podcast interview

TE Brady Russell has been a part of the program since 2017, and is one of the most popular players on the team, both inside and outside of the locker room. A former walk-on, Russell has worked himself into being the starter as a senior, picking up a Scout Team player-of-the-year award and a Relentless Award along the way. A team captain, Russell was very forthcoming during his interview when talking about the state of the team and his views on NIL and the Transfer Portal. You’ll also enjoy the inside joke in the tight ends room about the “pinkie high five” (apparently, Buff fans are not the only ones who feel the tight end position has been underutilized at CU)

Brady Russell podcast interview

OT Jake Wiley is well aware of the criticism that has been leveled at the offensive line this past season. Though only a sophomore in terms of eligibility, Wiley has already been through three head coaches and as many position coaches. Wiley is optimistic about the current state of the line, both in terms of the personnel and the new offensive line coach, Kyle DeVan.  You have to like what DeVan has to say about Wiley: “You talk about a guy that loves the game, loves the work, loves the development side of it … I’m really excited about him”.

Jake Wiley podcast interview

OT Tommy Brown is a character, and you know that if you have seen some of his NIL promotions. A transfer from Alabama, I was anxious to hear what Brown had to say about life as an Alabama football player compared to what it’s now like to be a Buff. While the facilities in Tuscaloosa are, not surprisingly, superior to those in Boulder, the difference is not as dramatic as Buff fans might think. I also appreciated his story about how Brown appreciated that all of the CU athletes ate in the same cafeteria in the Champions Center, while at Alabama the football team is segregated from the rest of the athletes. Brown also related an amusing story about trying to drive in snow for the first time in his life, needing to call his position coach for advice.

Tommy Brown podcast interview

… Coming next week … Thoughts on the interviews with Buffs on the defensive side of the ball … 

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One Reply to “CUATG Interview Series: What I Learned – Part II”

  1. Thanks Stu for putting these together. It has been very cool to listen to the guys and gain what little insight we can. This team does seem real close and they all seem to be focused on being the best that they can be. Maybe that will be enough? One thing I have come to believe is that the transfers out are not a huge jump in talent. All of them have been replaced with people as talented (or at least they believe they are) just younger. Having watched those players closely for the years they were here I am not surprised they feel this way. What has surprised me a bit is that many of the impactful ones have went to another school grabbed the #1 spot and shined. Now that could bode well for us as perhaps our talent is not as poor as it is lamented on the boards. I would also say none of the talent that left was an actual Dorrell recruit. He had a kid or two transfer out but the impactful guys were not his. Which may mean the guys he is recruiting are coming to CU for his culture which is likely very different from Tuckers. I am still on the fence about Lewis. I really like the guys leadership and athletic ability but his reads last year were so slow…. He showed improvement in the spring game and the offensive design has got to be better so hopefully we he will be more successful.

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