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CU at the Game NIL Interview Series: What I Learned – Part I

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 …

First, a very significant disclaimer.

I, as has been the case with many of you, have had very little contact with active players over the years. Other than the occasional chance meeting, with a “Nice to meet you” and “Good luck this weekend/season”, I haven’t had many conversations with players while they were still donning the black-and-gold.

And that was the way it was supposed to be.

As is the case with many of you, I am classified by the NCAA as a “booster”. I check many of the boxes, from being a season ticket holder, to being a Buff Club member, to making donations for the Dal Ward Center and then the Champions Center. As a booster, I wasn’t supposed to be interacting with players on a regular basis – and never with recruits. I, like my University, have tried to play by the rules – unlike many boosters and schools which you can easily name.

Under the new NIL rules, however, I was able to gain permission to interact with current players. It wasn’t automatic, though. I had to go through a screening process to gain access, and only then could I contact student-athletes through a portal known as INFLCR.

Which is a long way of saying that, any conclusions I may draw below about the players and their responses, be it about their teammates who left through the Transfer Portal, the current attitude of the team towards its coaching staff, or projections for the season, have to be taken in context. I don’t have a history of talking with players, so I can’t really know if this team is more or less excited about their teammates and coaches than say, the 2016 team was before its unexpected rise to a ten-win season.

Still, there have been some common themes throughout the interviews – and some good stories.

The NFL dream dies hard

The dream of playing in the NFL is alive and well in the Champions Center.

I have to say, that, initially, the pervasiveness of this belief surprised me, but in retrospect, it’s understandable.

CU didn’t have any players taken in the 2022 NFL Draft in April. Even Buffs with All-Pac-12 resumes, like Nate Landman and Carson Wells, have been left to try and make an NFL roster via free agency. The 2022 draft represented the eighth draft in the past 13 years in which Colorado had fewer than two players selected, including four seasons (2010, 2015, 2016 and 2022) in which no Buffs were taken. The last time CU won a conference championship, most of the players on the current roster were not yet born.

And yet, when I talked with players on the current roster, the dream of the NFL has not been diminished.

Even players who are just now earning starting roles on arguably one of the weakest Power Five rosters in the nation still see the NFL in their future. Time spent on special teams? Time well spent, they believe, as if you want to make it in the big leagues, you have to be willing to play – and excel in  – special teams.

From a recent history perspective, and a pure numbers perspective, the goal for most Buffs of making it to the NFL is unrealistic.

And yet it’s there.

Now, from a different point of view, it makes sense. There are around 1,200 possible Power Five scholarships available in any given year, but there are hundreds of thousands of young men playing high school football. In order to earn a Power Five scholarship offer, you have to be the best of the best in high school. These players have been considered elite since they were playing youth football.

Why should that dream be diminished now?

Ask any 20-year old Power Five football player where they expect to be in five years. First, you’ll get a blank stare. Then you will get a smile and a discussion about how they will be taking “The League” by storm.

Good for them.

The new coaching staff is the best they’ve had in Boulder

Now, this one was easy to predict – whether it’s true or not.

Every player I spoke with had accolades for their position coach, their coordinator, and their head coach.

You would expect nothing less, even if it is just the party line, with the players just reciting what they have been coached to say in interviews.

And still, there were two underlying currents I picked up on over the past few months.

First, that these players really do believe that this is the best coaching staff they have had during their tenure in Boulder.

The sting of the loss of cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin was probably the most open wound, with the firing of offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue receiving the fewest tears. Sure, it could be just a conditioned response, as these young men have had to adapt to new coaches, often on a yearly basis, since they were in junior high. Every year there are new assistants and schemes to learn.

But the players I spoke with do seem to have an underlying confidence that the right mix of coaches is now in place, and this team is well positioned to surprise some of its skeptics this fall.

Secondly, however, I also did get the sense that the team is tired of the turnover. Many on the team are on their third head coach since they have come to Boulder. Some, like defensive lineman Jalen Sami, are on their sixth position coach.

While learning from different coaches can be of some benefit, some continuity certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Buff fans don’t know how short Karl Dorrell’s leash is this fall. We don’t know what another poor showing on the field and in the standings might mean for the 2023 season.

We can safely say, however, that another off-season with wholesale changes will be met with frustration (and perhaps more defections) from the players on the roster.

There are mixed reactions when it comes to the Transfer Portal

The party line was consistent … We were sorry to see some of our brothers leave, but they had to do what they thought was best for them.

That was the standard statement I received when I got into discussions about the number of players – starters – CU lost through the Transfer Portal this past off-season.

They weren’t begrudging, at least publicly, what some of their teammates had done in leaving the program.

But there were also underlying tones.

One underlying tone was that of resentment.

The phrase, “the players who are here are the ones who want to be here” was uttered by a number of my interviewees. Their focus was on the current locker room, and how the team had circled the wagons.  There was some bitterness about the players who had left, and their motivations for doing so.

Was it because they were upset that their former brothers in arms had abandoned them … or that they didn’t get the same offers themselves?

Hard to say.

The second underlying tone was that they players didn’t seem to think that the CU administration, and the Buff Nation, were doing enough to keep CU competitive in the new marketplace.

Players told me that they had been told “to make their own NIL opportunities”, that CU was providing the forum through INFLCR to make money off of NIL, but that it was their job, not the job of CU, to make these money-making opportunities a reality. Players told me about how former high school teammates, now at other Power Five programs, only had to pick up their phone to receive NIL offers, but at CU, student-athletes were left to their own devices.

Players were also pretty open about wondering why CU fans haven’t put together a collective to help recruit – and retain – the best players. Again, Buff players are not isolated from the rest of the college football world. They see what is going on at other schools, and are scratching their heads wondering why the CU fan base hasn’t been willing to enter the fray.

Those I interviewed were quick to note that they understood that performance on the field would lead to more money making offers off of the field.

But they are having a hard time understanding why the CU administration – and fan base – do not seem interested in doing what it takes in the new world of NIL and the Transfer Portal to keep Colorado competitive.

Hope springs eternal

Do CU players read preseason magazines? Do the Buffs understand how little is thought of their chances to have a winning season in 2022?

To hear them tell it, the Buffs are tuning out all of the noise, and focusing on what they can do each day to get better.

And yet, they are human, and they do know what is being said about them and their chances of success.

But they don’t care.

Again, this may have to do more with how athletes are conditioned, and how they are talked to by their coaches during the offseason.

But I also feel that there is a bit of underlying confidence that we outside the ropes haven’t been able to witness.

Maybe its the “circle the wagons” feel from having lost some of its more prominent players.

Maybe its the influx of new assistant coaches, and the optimism which comes about when you are trying new schemes.

Maybe its Karl Dorrell finally getting his coaches and his players on the roster, and the quiet confidence which comes with knowing something others don’t know.

But these players are anxious to get back on the field. They are excited to “shock the world”, and show everyone that this team is not to be underestimated.

Guess we’ll have to wait, and find out for ourselves on September 2nd.

Coming next Sunday … CU at the Game NIL Interview Series: What I Learned – Part II (My Favorite Player Stories) … 

CU at the Game 2022 NIL Interviews … Football 

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

  1. Morning
    First off, thanks very much for doing these interviews. It was indeed a window in to the players that was unique and fun. I realized this when I heard some of BLew’s comments during spring practices and how much more interesting I found them after listening to the CUATTG interview, as though I kind of knew him or at least his excitement for the game…
    I realize it took a lot of time, perhaps you/we can sponsor someone else to do the interviews in the future if that became an issue…
    Anyways well done all around !

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