Veterans, youth bonding for CU Buffs

Through the first week of Colorado’s preseason camp, no player has received more praise than true freshman receiver Jordyn Tyson.

Safety Dylan Dixson, tackle Travis Gray, running back Anthony Hankerson, cornerbacks Jason Oliver and Joshua Wiggins are among the other class of 2022 recruits that have turned heads so far.

“I’ve been really excited and really just impressed with our freshmen,” head coach Karl Dorrell said Saturday. “We have a really good freshman class that came in here … and there’s a number of those guys that are making very, very strong impressions on this football team.”

The 2021 class is loaded with potential impact players, as well, at receiver, cornerback, defensive line and special teams.

For the CU football team to defy the low expectations of those outside of the program, it will need those youngsters to step up. The Buffaloes (4-8, 3-6 Pac-12 in 2021) will also need a strong group of seniors to lead them and that, to this point, might be one of the most positive developments of the offseason.

“I like how the leadership of this team has embraced that and our culture is getting stronger about taking care of one another and bringing guys along,” Dorrell said.

Dorrell said he gave the seniors a challenge to take care of the freshmen and he credits the veterans for fully embracing that challenge.

“They know that we need this depth,” Dorrell said. “Just like a year ago when we had those freshmen that played for us and how successful they were in giving us great depth, and I feel the team understands that process. They want to play with our best potential out there and sometimes our best potential might be having a freshman behind that senior or junior. They understand that bringing those guys along quickly is going to help us to have a successful season.”

Senior running back Alex Fontenot is one of many veterans doing their part. He is the leader of a backfield that has only five players on scholarship. Two of them are true freshmen.

“They come in, they’re all flustered, they don’t really get how certain stuff works,” Fontenot said. “So I have to pull them to the side and explain to them, ‘No, you do this, this and that.’ They’re understanding and I just gotta keep them on the right track.”

Fontenot and safety Isaiah Lewis are both in their sixth seasons with the Buffaloes and both said the leadership is better than they’ve seen in their time in Boulder.

“It’s critical,” Lewis said. “That’s been the missing component here for the past couple of years is we’ve not really had a significant leader on the team. We’ve had a lot of guys who give their ‘rah-rah’ and we trust what they say, but there hasn’t been a set group of guys who the young guys or even the less experienced guys can count on and that’s the biggest difference is we’ve got those guys now.”

In some areas of the team, the Buffs have players who are four or five years apart in age and experience. That could cause some division, but Lewis said the cohesion between veterans and youth is strong.

“Tremendous difference (from the past),” Lewis said. “Those freshmen are relying on the seniors to give them that information and so are the coaches, because they’re not with them like we are all day. The seniors taking on that leadership role has been something that’s been working out for us.”

Most of the seniors, such as Fontenot and Lewis and tight end Brady Russell, are secure in their roles on the team but have also recognized the importance of getting freshmen ready to play.

“Everybody I’ve seen has been putting the freshmen under their wing and just tried to lead them in the right direction,” Fontenot said. “You can tell that we’ve just taken that next step into leadership because people actually mean what they say and they’re showing it and they’re backing it up now. And then that feeds off to the freshmen and makes them feel like they have to fall in line, which is what you want.”

With seniors leading the way, CU’s young and inexperienced players have earned quite a bit of praise through spring, summer and fall workouts. Of course, the true test for the youth is how they perform when the lights come on Sept. 2 when the Buffs open the season against TCU, but Dorrell said he’s not too concerned.

“(Game day) is a telltale sign, but you also have indicators that lead you to believe that they’re ready for those things,” he said. “For instance, today was practice No. 5; guys are starting to get sore. … Usually practice starts to taper off as you go and usually at that third of the way or this 20% of the way of camp, you start to get some true reflection about, Is your team ready to battle? Are they battle-tested? Are they ready to put it into work? Are they ready to meet the standards and the expectations of that day? I came out today we had an outstanding practice; it might have been our best practice.

“I felt like today, it was a strong statement saying that this is not a team that is going to wilt under pressure. … I think this team is ready to take the challenge of meeting every expectation that’s in front of us.”

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