Before he really gets to know his players on the field, Kwahn Drake is making it a priority to know them as people.
Colorado's new defensive line coach believes that his success in helping the Buffaloes begins off the field.
"I just know this here: If players find out you care, they care to find out what you know," Drake said. "That's my biggest thing: showing them I care."
Once the Buffs realize Drake's passion for teaching, coaching and mentoring, they'll find out that he's got a wealth of knowledge. Although just 32, Drake has had an impressive list of mentors in his young career, and he's eager to use his knowledge to help the Buffs.
Hired to replace Jim Jeffcoat, who was with CU for five years, Drake is charged with getting the Buffs on track on the defensive front, and that all starts with the opening of spring drills on Feb. 23.
"We started doing the film thing, just getting a lay of the land and understanding the guys," Drake said of learning about the players he will work with at CU. "As I'm watching them, I'm excited to have the amount of guys coming back and to have some of the older guys who have had experience. Just to see them all together, I've been really excited."
Improvement on the defensive line is essential for CU to rebound from last year's disappointing season, when it went 5-7 and 2-7 in the Pac-12, coming up a win short of a bowl appearance.
CU's defensive front struggled in the Pac-12, but will aim to make big strides this spring.
Although the Buffs lost their most consistent defensive lineman (Leo Jackson III) to graduation, they'll have three experienced seniors on the field this spring: returning starters Javier Edwards and Chris Mulumba and top reserve Jase Franke.
All three seniors played at least 330 snaps last season, while junior Lyle Tuiloma — the main backup to Edwards at nose tackle — played 232 snaps.
In addition to that experience, Drake will have several young players to work with this spring.
Sophomore Terriek Roberts is back for his third year in the program, while sophomore Mustafa Johnson looks to make an impact in his first year after transferring from Modesto (Calif.) Junior College.
Redshirt freshman Terrance Lang will look to make his mark, as well, after turning some heads last fall, and true freshman Jalen Sami enters the fold after grayshirting.
True freshmen Israel Antwine and Tava Finau will arrive in the fall to bolster the group, but Drake said his goal this spring is simply to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the players currently on campus.
"It's really to see what these guys can do on the grass, see how they move, see how they respond to coaching, and really just take where they are and bring them to a new level," he said. "I just want each of the guys to become the best them that they can be."
Drake said he is "extremely technical" in his coaching and believes that can help each of the linemen get better.
"We're going to have a lot of ways (of teaching) and we're going to make sure we're going to attack all the learning styles, to make sure I can teach each guy individually for what they need," he said.
Although he's only been on the job a few weeks, Drake said his main priority — getting to know the players as people — is off to a good start.
"The attitude and willingness to learn and excitement for me to come in and teach them and want to build a relationship (is there)," he said. "Those guys reached out to me early. as soon as they found out it was official. They did a really good job of making me feel welcome."