BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – As the Colorado Buffaloes prepare for the season opener against CSU, let’s take a look at five players who are primed to make a name for themselves this season.
We’ve excluded players like Sefo Liufau, Nelson Spruce and Greg Henderson because they’ve already proven their worth. These are players who have shown glimpses of becoming impact players and need to emerge this season.
1. Stephane Nembot, junior, OT — Stephane Nembot certainly passes the eye test. At 6-7 and 295 pounds, Nembot looks like an offensive tackle. He’s starting to play like one, too. Originally recruited as a defensive lineman, Nembot was switched to tackle almost immediately. The transition has been slow, but this spring Nembot impressed CU coaches enough to be named the team’s Most Improved Offensive Lineman.
Remember, Nate Solder began his career as a tight end and was switched to tackle. Even Solder, who ultimately became a first-round NFL draft pick, struggled with the transition. After starting seven games as a redshirt freshman and all 12 games last season, now is the time for Nembot to perform as well as he looks. The Buffs need to start holding their own in the trenches in the Pac-12 if they hope to be competitive in this high-powered conference. Improved play by Nembot would go a long way in helping CU in that area.
2. Josh Tupou, junior, DT — Much like Nembot, Josh Tupou is one of the few Buffs who physically looks ready to compete against his Pac-12 competition. At 6-3 and 325 pounds, Tupou showed signs of anchoring the Buffs defensive line last season. He was in on 38 tackles (nine coming in the final game of the year at Utah) while playing at 310 pounds. Tupou has added 15 pounds of the muscle in the offseason and based on his performance in the spring, it’s good weight.
He was voted as the player who displayed outstanding toughness and when it came time to draft the teams for the annual spring game, he was the No. 1 pick. At CU’s media day on Aug. 9, head coach Mike MacIntyre was asked which player he would take with him to a dark alley in a bad part of town. He didn’t hesitate in naming Tupou. The nephew of former Buffs defensive tackle Viliami Maumau appears primed to have a breakout season.
3. Chidobe Awuzie, sophomore, DB — I put this list together before looking up any information on any of these players. So it’s purely a coincidence that the first three all received some kind of recognition during the spring. Chidobe Awuzie was awarded the team’s Hale Irwin Award. No, not for the best golfer but for being the team’s most improved defensive back. That’s saying something considering Awuzie was the team’s sixth leading tackler as a true freshman. Awuzie was somewhat overshadowed by fellow freshman Addison Gillam, but the San Jose, Calif., product impressed with his cover skills and sure-handed tackling.
He was in on 643 snaps, the third most ever by a freshman on defense and had 43 solo tackles, seven of which were considered third-down stops. That is the second-highest total for any freshman in CU history. The one thing missing from Awuzie’s freshman resume: an interception. Here’s betting he gets at least one this year. Defensive back is one of the deepest positions on the entire Colorado roster, and if Awuzie improves on his stellar freshman campaign, there’s a good chance the Buffs will make much-needed improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
4. Derek McCartney, redshirt freshman, DE — Now that Chidera Uzo-Direbe is gone, the Buffs need someone to step up and put pressure on the quarterback. The best bet appears to be redshirt freshman Derek McCartney. In case you don’t know, he is the grandson of former CU coach and college football Hall of Famer Bill McCartney. The Faith Christian high school product impressed in the spring with four quarterback sacks in the four main scrimmages.
The coaches recognized his efforts naming him the most improved defensive lineman during spring football. He was also selected as the team’s Defensive Scout Player of the Year last season. Excelling on the scout team and in the spring is one thing, but transferring that to Saturdays in the fall is another. Defensive end is one of thinnest position on the Buffs roster, so McCartney should get every opportunity to see the field and make impact.
5. Shay Fields, freshman, WR — So who will replace Paul Richardson, the guy who set or tied 29 receiving records at Colorado? The team’s best returning receiver is Nelson Spruce, but while his skill set isn’t similar to P-Rich’s, freshman Shay Fields‘ might be. At 5-11 and 170 pounds, his stature is similar and Fields can fly with a career best 10.77 in the 100 meter dash. (Coming out of high school, Richardson had a career best of 10.62).
As a senior in high school, Fields averaged 19 yards per catch while hauling in 82 passes for more than 16 hundred yards and 18 touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Bryce Bobo has an opportunity to see action in Richardson’s spot, but Fields is the gem of MacIntyre’s latest recruiting class. He’ll get every opportunity to earn playing time as a true freshman.
Too much to ask of a true freshman you think? Considering Fields grew up with nine sisters, I think he’s tough enough to handle it. No one player will replace Richardson, but with few proven veterans at receiver, Fields has a great opportunity to make an impact in his first college season.
– Written by Eric Christensen for CBSDenver.com