Nelson Spruce has rewritten the record book at Colorado, but his latest accolade had little to do with his receiving acumen.
The senior was anointed the Buffalo Heart Award winner Friday night after the Buffaloes closed their home schedule with a 27-24 loss to Southern California. Spruce is the 18th winner of the annual award, which is voted on by fans and presented to the CU senior who best demonstrates the heart and competitive spirit of a Buff.
"It means a lot," Spruce said. "Something I try to bring every day is that work ethic and toughness, so I am someone my teammates can count on. The fact that the fans can recognize that, it means a lot."
The night didn't pass, naturally, without Spruce finding his way to the top of another CU receiving list. His nine-yard second-quarter touchdown reception from Cade Apsay marked the 22nd of his career, which equals the mark set by Scotty McKnight from 2007-10. He also produced a career-best 45-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. It was the longest punt return by any CU player since 2010.
Spruce will have at least two more games to make the TD record all his own, as well as the opportunity to become the third player in CU history to top the 1,000-yard plateau twice. He ended the night with seven catches for 94 yards in his final home game, bringing his season totals to 74 catches and 822 yards.
"It's tough," Spruce said of playing his last home game. "Every time running onto Folsom is special and it's something I'm going to miss."
The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder from Westlake, Calif., who projects as a mid- to late-round NFL draft pick, already possesses the majority of CU's most significant receiving marks. In last week's loss to Stanford, he became the first Buffs player to top 3,000 career receiving yards. He now has 279 catches for 3,116 yards in his career.
In addition, Spruce's 106 receptions as a junior represent CU's highest total for a single season. He was one 10 semifinalists for the 2014 Fred Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation's finest receiver, and the winner of CU's Zack Jordan Award as the Buffs' most valuable player.
The Buffalo Heart Award was unearthed in 1998 by four friends and longtime Buffaloes fans (Pat Grimes, Craig Augustin, Thaddeus Cernac and Ashley Cernac). The group presented the initial award to former receiver Darrin Chiaverini.
Other former winners include safety Medford Moorer, linebacker Jordon Dizon and running backs Cortlen Johnson and Bobby Purify. Cornerback Greg Henderson won the award last season and safety Parker Orms in 2013. Players are able to take home the trophy representing the Buffalo Heart Award, because founders have assembled it for less than $75, which complies with NCAA rules.
To date, the award has yet to be given to an offensive lineman, kicker or punter.