Rodney Stewart doesn`t like to talk about it, but his teammates have no such qualms.

The Colorado backfield is Stewart`s this year. The ball`s in his hands, and it will stay there as long as he wants it. No questions asked.

The junior his teammates call "Speedy" is the running back for the Buffs this year.

Actually, that`s been pretty much the case for the last two seasons. But because Stewart came in as an unheralded freshman in the presence of the much-ballyhooed Darrell Scott, Stewart played in the shadows. While fans waited ... and waited ... and waited ... for Scott to live up to the expectations that accompanied his nationally-televised recruiting decision, Stewart stayed quiet and ran.

Ran for 622 yards -- including 166 yards in a win over nationally ranked West Virginia -- as a freshman before a broken leg cut his season short. Ran for 804 yards last year, giving him 1,426 heading into his junior season. (In case you`re wondering, only one other player in CU history had more yards going into his junior year. That would be Eric Bieniemy with 1,751, putting Stewart in pretty good company.)

And now that Scott has finally put a long run in the books -- running all the way from Boulder to South Florida -- there`s no question about who CU`s No. 1 back should be.

The ball is in Stewart`s hands.

"It`s OK," said Stewart about his status. "This year, every practice I`m going with the 'ones.` I get the reps.


And my teammates, they keep telling me, 'It`s yours.'"

Not that Stewart has ever worried about such things. He came to CU as an undersized back out of Ohio that didn`t get much of a sniff -- if any --from any Midwest major programs, and brought with him an attitude that he`s carried for most of his life:

That of being prepared to prove people wrong.

"I wasn`t that highly recruited," he said. "When I got the chance to come here, it was an opportunity to play against guys a lot of people said I couldn`t play against. When I got here, there wasn`t a lot of attention, which is fine. I just play my game."

That game proved to be one of the few bright spots for CU`s offense last season. Now he`s ready to make sure there are plenty more highlights ahead.

"He`s one of the most powerful guys on our team," CU coach Dan Hawkins said. "He`s one of those guys that has a huge chip on his shoulder and a tremendous amount of desire to do things. He`s had a few more snaps, a few more plays and has a better idea of what we`re trying to do.

"With our offensive line and their development, we start getting into a rhythm and we expect him to be pretty good."

Stewart expects more than "pretty good."

"I`ve gotten a lot smarter about the game," he said. "When you`re a freshman, everything`s spinning. Now I`m watching film, learning more, doing all the things you have to do to get better.

"My confidence is growing. I expect more big games from myself, and more from our team."

But he won`t attach specific numbers to those expectations.

"I expect myself to work hard and my teammates to work hard," he said. "I know this: If we have worked harder than the team we`re playing, we should win."

Stewart knows the general prognostications for the Buffs aren`t good. He knows the Buffs are picked to finish closer to the bottom than the top of the Big 12 North.

"Everybody here knows that," he said. "The coaches, the players, the trainers -- everybody.

"The only thing you can do when that kind of stuff is being said is prove people wrong. You don`t talk about it, you show people by winning games.

"The main goal is to win -- no matter what it takes."