Josh Tupou did a cartwheel Monday at Colorado football practice.

It wasn't part of the celebration of a big play or a dare by a teammate. The 325-pound defensive tackle from Buena Park, California, just let it fly randomly and it didn't come out half bad.

It was hardly the sort of moment expected from a player routinely cited as the team's tough guy. Coach Mike MacIntyre was asked last week during media day which player he would want beside him if he had to go down a dark alley in a shady part of town. Tupou, probably not the cartwheeling version, was the answer.

"It would probably be Josh Tupou because he's big and mean," MacIntyre said.

Tupou and fellow defensive tackle Justin Solis seem to be coming into their own entering their third season in the middle of the CU defensive front at a combined 630 pounds. Tupou's cartwheel Monday was illustrative of how both players are in much better shape now than a year ago at this time and also how they're feeling more confident about what lies ahead.

"Stuff has just slowed down now that I'm a junior, so it's a lot easier to comprehend everything," Tupou said.

Defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat has made a point of talking to his players about setting the tone for the defense. Jeffcoat shows players in his positions group example after example of championship teams with strong defensive fronts. The message has stuck with Tupou and Solis who see themselves as the backbone of the Buffs' defense.


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"If we come out there and play with passion and energy, the rest of the defense will follow," Solis said. "I absolutely feel me and Josh are like the rock of our defense. We really get the defense going."

Tupou and Solis don't always get to line up next to each other in the CU defense. Sometimes they're not even on the field together depending on what defense is called, but they do expect to play beside each other often this fall and they're hoping to contribute to a much-needed improvement on that side of football.

Tupou said he has no personal goals other than helping his team win more games and getting to a bowl game for the first time in his career.

"We have to be good to bring the defense along," Tupou said. "If we're not good, then everything doesn't flow."

MacIntyre was also asked at media day about the depth at defensive tackle. He said he is comfortable with the players on his roster there but within the same answer he also noted how it will be important for the guys at the top of the depth chart to stay healthy.

After Monday's morning practice, MacIntyre said he believes one true freshman will likely earn playing time as a backup to Tupou and Solis this season along with senior Juda Parker and sophomore Clay Norgard.

MacIntyre focused much of his attention during his first offseason in Boulder in 2013 on getting his defensive line into better shape. He hasn't had to worry about that this year with Tupou and Solis achieving new personal bests in terms of strength and fitness.

"They've really improved from last year," MacIntyre said. "They're in better shape. You can tell they don't look like they're dying out here all the time. They're moving and going. They've got energy. They understand it."

Tupou and Solis are not only good together on the field. They're buddies away from football. They first grew close because Solis was roommates with Tupou's cousin Samson Kafovalu, who is taking a semester off from CU and is expected to rejoin the program in January.

Tupou said having a close friend lined up next to him gives him another level of confidence because he knows Solis will "handle his business."

Solis said playing next to your friend brings another level of emotion to a game fueled by it.

"It makes playing out there a lot easier," Solis said. "It's all about trust out there. Me and him being such good friends, I can really trust him to get things done and he can trust me to get things done."

Contact BuffZone.com Writer Kyle Ringo at ringok@dailycamera.com or on Twitter: @kyleringo.