Colorado offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren said CU football coaches were shocked earlier this month when quarterback Connor Wood told them he was forfeiting his senior season next fall in order to graduate this summer and move on with his life.
Wood was the starting quarterback at CU for the first five games last season and the backup to freshman Sefo Liufau for the remainder of the season. CU coaches felt good about having both back in 2014 in addition to sophomore Jordan Gehrke, who redshirted in 2013.
"It was a surprise to me," said Lindgren, who is also the team's quarterbacks coach. "He was one of the leaders on the team and did some good things for us early in the year. I just think he was a big part of the team this year even when he wasn't playing, from a leadership standpoint. I think he had a lot invested in the program. It was surprising and disappointing on our end. I really wish that he would have seen his last year out. I think he would have helped us."
Wood's departure, along with Stevie Joe Dorman's decision in December to transfer to a smaller school near his home in Texas, leaves CU with just two quarterbacks on the roster for spring football, which begins March 7 and ends with the spring game April 12.
Wood and Dorman were the last to leave from a group of six quarterbacks who were on the CU roster at this time a year ago. Nick Hirschman transferred to Akron and played his junior season there last fall. Shane Dillon gave up football to become a basketball player at Cuyamaca College. John Schrock gave up the sport but remained a CU student and Jordan Webb completed his eligibility with the Buffs in November.
Lindgren said he has never had just two quarterbacks on a roster before in his time as a coach. He said he has gone through springs in the past with just three available and then another quarterback or two always joined the competition in the summer.
An obvious concern with only two quarterbacks is keeping both players healthy and not wearing out their arms. CU coaches like to get as many reps as possible in practice, which makes arm fatigue not just a possibility for Liufau and Gehrke, but a probability this spring.
Lindgren said it's possible the coaching staff could find a potential walk-on who played quarterback in high school and is already a CU student to join the team this spring and take some of the workload off Liufau and Gehrke. Another possibility is asking a current member of the team who has played quarterback in the past to switch positions.
Lindgren, a former college quarterback at Idaho and graduate assistant T.C. McCartney, a former quarterback at Fairview High School and Louisiana State, also will likely do some throwing in drills but not scrimmage or 7-on-7 situations.
"Those are the options we'll explore to make sure we get the reps that the team needs." Lindgren said.
Beyond this spring, Lindgren doesn't envision further shortages at the position. CU has a commitment from Cade Apsay, a product of Canyon Country, Calif., whom coaches believe will come in and immediately compete with Liufau and Gehrke.
CU also is talking with former Air Force quarterback Jaleel Awini about joining the program this summer. Awini, a former standout at Rangeview High School in Aurora, was kicked off the Air Force team for undisclosed reasons last September. He was the Falcons' starting quarterback at the time because of an injury to the opening day starter.
Lindgren said CU plans to bring in at least one walk-on quarterback this summer as well.
But for now, the program is challenged to get value out of spring for the entire offense likely with just two quarterbacks taking all the snaps. Lindgren said one positive is that all those reps should be a tremendous help to Liufau and Gehrke.
"It's going to be huge," Lindgren said. "As a quarterback that's how you get better I think is by playing 11-on-11 and getting team reps. That's a big part of our philosophy is as a quarterback seeing those guys coming at you, even though you're not getting hit, having to see the coverage and react to the play. Those are huge reps and those guys are going to get a ton of reps and that's going to help them."
It will be particularly big for Gehrke who spent last season on the scout team and not necessarily competing with Liufau and Wood on a daily basis. He was always running the opponent's offense.
"I think it's going to be a huge spring for Jordan as far as getting back to our system," Lindgren said. "I think he's got a lot of talent and he's looking forward to showing people what he can do."