Yet, here we are on the verge of another signing day and the argument can be made that some of the most talented players in Embree's first full-cycle recruiting class hail from the East Coast. In fact, Embree seems to have established a pipeline to a talent-rich high school in the nation's capitol where he had been working as tight ends coach of the Washington Redskins before taking over at his alma mater.
Colorado signed cornerback Sherrard Harrington from Woodson High School in Washington D.C., last year and is set to sign three more players from the school on national signing day Wednesday.
This is the first time since 1985 the Colorado program has recruited three players from the same high school in the same class. CU coaches almost accomplished the feat twice this year. They landed running back Donta Abron and cornerback Marques Mosley from Upland High School in Upland, Calif. Another member of the Upland team chose to go to UCLA instead of CU.
Four-star cornerback Kenneth Crawley, defensive back John Walker and defensive end De'Jon Wilson all decided to follow Harrington to Boulder after visiting CU in the past two months. Harrington, Crawley and Wilson grew up playing football together in Washington D.C., in both middle school and high school.
"I wanted to get away from all the things that happened to me and I thought if I'd go all the way across the country, I'd eventually start a new life," Harrington said in a recent interview about what first lured him to Boulder. "My past would be forgotten. I would meet new people. That was all part of the reason. I wanted to go far away. Coach Embree, the thing that he sold to me was that he could be like a father figure and I could help try to change the program. That really meant something, especially because I lost my father. I didn't want to go far away to a non-family oriented place. That would be hard without a family. It felt like a family. That was the reason."
Coach Wayne Johnson is in his 20th year coaching at Woodson. He serves as defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator and has helped coach 19 of the school's 29 alums who went on to NFL careers, including players like Byron Leftwich, Orlando Brown and Josh Morgan.
Johnson has seen other programs such as Virginia Tech, Illinois, North Carolina and Georgia establish pipelines from Woodson to their rosters over the years.
In early May each year, the school holds a workout where college coaches from across the nation come to watch players from the program. Johnson said the entire SEC was represented last May and every major conference had multiple programs in attendance. He estimated at least 70 college programs were there.
Johnson said it was serendipity that CU coaches chose to continue to recruit Woodson, despite Embree's original plan, because players there were very familiar with the program and its history before the Buffalo logo walked through the door.
Johnson said he is a longtime admirer of CU defensive coordinator Greg Brown. He said he and Brown teach many of the same things to their defensive backs. In fact, Johnson began using a teaching tape that Brown put together 20 years ago during his first stint in Boulder as secondary coach under Bill McCartney.
The tape features Colorado's Thorpe Award winners from the early 1990s -- Deon Figures and Chris Hudson -- in techniques and coverages against players such as former Buff Michael Westbrook, who spent much of his NFL career with the Redskins.
Johnson said it's not uncommon for his players to leave meetings and practices comparing themselves and each other to the Buff legends.
"What really sealed the deal was coach Embree, coach Brown and coach (Kanavis) McGhee coming here to recruit these guys hard," Johnson said. "They did such a great job of recruiting these guys. I've seen teams back off when they thought they were going to grab a kid. Even though Colorado thought they had a chance, they still came in hard and heavy."
Johnson said CU is getting three players who are academically qualified and capable of contributing on the field immediately next fall. He said most of the SEC schools expressed interest in Crawley, who was originally committed to Tennessee. Wilson decommitted from Kansas to come to CU and Walker is probably the most versatile in the group.
"Kenny is the most ready, but I can actually say De'Jon is a kid who can be an All-American as long as he's doing what he's supposed to do and learning the system and everything the Colorado staff asks of him," he said. "If he's doing that and he's playing fast every play, you all are going to see an animal."
Harrington is not allowed to speak about his former teammates until they have signed national letters of intent. But based on his experience, it's likely the three Woodson players will have a lot to get used to in Boulder.
"Most all of the kids who go to D.C. public schools go through the same things," Harrington said. "Whether their parents was on crack or some type of drugs or whether they've been in and out of prison or had family members in and out of prison. A lot of kids bring guns to school. So it's definitely a culture shock when you come to Colorado. I think it's a good thing for a lot of people in the D.C. area to get away."
Harrrington redshirted last fall after injuring his hip and pelvis during the summer. He did not have surgery and says he is nearly 100 percent recovered now. But that wasn't his most significant challenge in making the transition to his new life in Boulder.
"Basically, doing your homework," he said. "In the D.C. public schools, they didn't give us homework, they didn't teach us how to read. They did a lot of things that made it a disadvantage when I came to Colorado associating myself with different people, communicating with different people. It was definitely a culture shock because the D.C. public schools did not prepare you for these types of things. You sort of have to go about it your own way to learn how to communicate with different people and your studies and stuff like that."
Johnson said CU coaches already have identified younger players from the school they likely will recruit. He said the three they are getting this year are good kids who are taking a big step toward achieving their dreams.
"Playing football for H.C. Woodson, we get you so good and tired, that when we finish practice, all you want to do is go home and close your eyes," Johnson said.