Anyone who watched Will Pericak clear space in the lane for Boulder High's basketball team like he was Paul Bunyan felling trees knew he had a bright future ahead of him on the football field.
But playing defensive tackle? That wasn't even on the BHS tight end/linebacker's radar back then. He planned on catching passes for the Colorado Buffaloes.
It didn't take Pericak long to realize once he got on CU's campus, though, that his future lied elsewhere.
"I weighed 260 by the time I was done with my first summer here," Pericak said Wednesday. "That was about the heaviest tight end we had, and I was just a freshman coming in. It wasn't hard to see that I wasn't going to be a tight end or, if I was, it was going to be a blocking tight end."
Three days into his first fall camp he moved to defensive line, and three years later the 6-foot-4, 285-pound redshirt junior is helping anchor a front four that is shaping up as one of the Buffs' strengths.
Along with its offensive counterpart, the defensive line was the crew mentioned by coach Jon Embree when asked Wednesday which position group he was most pleased with so far in training camp.
"Our D-line has been maligned, and I'm excited to see them play," the first-year head coach said.
The front four is one that, at least in the first two weeks of camp, has appeared to be two or three players strong at almost every spot, with a healthy dose of upperclassmen. Both defensive end Josh Hartigan (second team) and Pericak (honorable mention) were Associated Press All Big 12 performers a year ago.
Such a luxury is one the Buffs haven't always had in recent years, which is in part how Pericak got his start.
The Buffs were short on bodies up front in 2009 when Pericak broke into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman. But he proved he belonged, becoming the first CU defensive tackle ever to start every game as a freshman.
He tallied 36 tackles and three sacks in 2009 and 45 tackles and three sacks in 2010.
"There was a need numbers-wise, but Will is a highly intelligent guy," said defensive coordinator Greg Brown, who was the Buffs' defensive backs coach in 2009.
You can add athletic and coachable to his list of attributes as well. All of those days at BHS of starring at tight end and on the basketball court helped turn Pericak into an agile player who isn't just good in the trenches but can scrape down the line and make tackles on the perimeter when needed as well.
"Especially with offenses spread out more ... this is a different era of football, and you've got to be able to move," Brown said. "And this guy can move and think on his feet."
Pericak, who was the Defensive Scout Team Award winner during his true freshman year in 2008, kept his starting streak alive last season as the defensive line increased its production over the year before.
Despite allowing more yards overall in 2010, the Buffs got tougher against the run and the defensive line doubled its sack output from 11 to 22.
Most of that sack production returns this season with Hartigan (seven) leading the way, and Pericak said the group has continued to improve in camp thanks in large part to a new coaching staff that includes Brown and defensive line coaches Mike Tuiasosopo and former Buff Kanavis McGhee.
"They're really hammering the technique and fundamentals, which is good," Pericak said. "I've seen the improvement from spring to now. Every day with these coaches we're getting better.
"We're definitely deeper."
Senior Curtis Cunningham (6-1, 285), who has started every game the last two years next to Pericak, also returns at tackle, though he was supplanted atop the post-spring depth chart by senior Conrad Obi (6-3, 310). Sophomore Nate Bonsu (6-1, 295) also got experience inside two years ago before redshirting last year with an injury.
On the outside, sophomore Chidera Uzo-Diribe (6-3, 240) figures to start opposite of Hartigan. But others, including junior Nick Kasa (6-6, 275), senior David Goldberg (6-1, 250), and true freshman Juda Parker (6-3, 250) have gotten reps in camp.
"As a unit, I feel like we're doing a lot better than we have (in the past)," Pericak said. "Everything starts up front with the front four. We kind of set the tone, and I think we're going to be able to show we can do it."