Within minutes of getting the call from the San Francisco 49ers on Friday night, Ahkello Witherspoon's agent went to a mall to stock up on 49ers gear.

Witherspoon may not have been a 49ers fan before Friday, but he sure is now after being one of two former Colorado cornerbacks selected during the NFL draft.

Chidobe Awuzie was selected in the second round (No. 60 overall) by the Dallas Cowboys, while Witherspoon was taken early in the third round (No. 66) by the 49ers.

"It's incredible, man, just having the opportunity," said Witherspoon, who watched the draft with his immediate family at their home in Sacramento. "I'm extremely blessed and I'm just excited to get to go to work and have a home now and a place to help contribute."

Awuzie and Witherspoon became the first CU players drafted since receiver Paul Richardson was a second-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2014.

It was fitting that Awuzie and Witherspoon were the players to snap the drought, because they played such vital roles in the resurgence of the Buffs, helping them to a 10-4 record and Pac-12 South title last season.

Part of the "Money Gang" secondary that ranked among the best in the country, Awuzie and Witherspoon turned heads throughout the season and in pre-draft workouts.

"That's what I came to (Colorado) for was to bring notoriety and recognition to the Buffs program," Witherspoon said. "I'm thankful for what they've done for me physically and mentally as a man and as a player, and I'm just glad that we get to shine some light on the hard work that we put in and where the program is going."


Advertisement

Projected by some as a first-round pick, Awuzie was one of 22 players invited to attend the draft in Philadelphia. It was a bit of a surprise that he fell to the final few picks of the second round, but CU head coach Mike MacIntyre, who spent four years (2003-06) as an assistant with the Cowboys, believes Dallas is a perfect spot for Awuzie.

"I do have heartstrings to Dallas," MacIntyre said in a press release. "A lot of the same people are still there in the front office and player personnel. I'm excited knowing the people he's going to be around."

One of the most versatile defenders at CU in years, the 6-foot, 202-pound Awuzie was a four-year starter who racked up nine sacks and 26 tackles for loss — both CU records for a defensive back — and 273 tackles during his career. He made an immediate impact as a true freshman and started 41 of the 48 games he played at CU, lining up at several positions in the secondary.

Awuzie had 23 pass break-ups in his last two seasons. Last year, he was named the co-MVP of the Buffs (along with quarterback Sefo Liufau), earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors from the Associated Press and second-team honors from coaches.

"No. 1, Chido is just a phenomenal person," MacIntyre said. "He graduated in three and a half years, excellent teammate on and off the field. He's everything that represents a true college student-athlete. For him to have the opportunity to now go play for the Dallas Cowboys is awesome for him. The Dallas Cowboys have a special person and a special player."

Witherspoon played only one season of football at Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento before spending a year at Sacramento City College. It was there that he had a growth spurt and caught the attention of CU, coming to Boulder in the spring of 2014.

By 2015, Witherspoon was a regular in the starting lineup. Last season, he took his game to a new level and found the consistency he was lacking in previous years.

The 6-foot-3, 198-pound Witherspoon became one of the best cornerbacks in the Pac-12 last year. He ranked second in the country with 22 passes defended — one behind teammate Tedric Thompson — and recorded 24 tackles.

"He was a young man who just kept developing," MacIntyre said. "I saw great skills in him and he had a great work ethic and developed those skills. He's a very intelligent young man and I'm very excited for him. In another year he's going to be bigger and stronger and he's going to be an excellent, excellent NFL player."

Going from a virtually unknown junior college player to NFL draft pick in three years is a testament to his work ethic, Witherspoon said.

"This kind of just reminds me of what it took to get here, just working hard non-stop and that's what I'm going to keep taking with me," he said. "Just have that same underdog mindset and continue to grow with it.

"(San Francisco) is a great opportunity for me, a great place for me to grow as a player and as a man."

The opportunity to play close to home wasn't lost on Witherspoon, either. He said his family is excited about having a relatively short drive to watch him play.

"I should have some good turnouts for home games," he said. "That's going to be exciting. Having that support is important to me, as well."

In their history, the Buffs have had 268 players drafted, the 22nd most in the country. With Awuzie and Witherspoon, the Buffs have had 46 defensive backs taken in the common draft era (since 1967), tied for fifth in the country.

Rounds 4-7 of the draft will take place on Saturday, and it's possible the Buffs will add to their draft total. Thompson has been projected by some to go in the fourth or fifth round, while nose tackle Josh Tupou, outside linebacker Jimmie Gilbert and Liufau are hoping to hear their names, as well.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.