Brian Howell
Brian Howell

When Dylan Keeney came to a Colorado football camp last summer, Buffaloes coaches couldn't contain their smiles.

Keeney is a 6-foot-6, 215-pound tight end who, at the time, was getting very little attention from college recruiters.

"He had no offers," CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "We keep recruiting him, we offer him and we're after him. So, he goes to another camp that our coaches went to up in Seattle area. There's another tight end there that's a four-star that's been offered by everybody. They go through all the drills and everybody goes, 'Who in the world is Dylan Keeney?' They completely forgot about the other kid.

"Everybody started coming after him, but we held onto him."

On Wednesday, Keeney, a three-star recruit from Granite Bay, Calif., was one of 22 players signed by the Buffs on National Letter of Intent Day. Several schools offered him a scholarship, but CU was the only one from a power conference to do so.

As MacIntyre builds the CU program, he knows the importance of finding unheralded players like Keeney — and then developing them into good players — if the Buffs are ever going to return to national prominence.

"It's really important," MacIntyre said. "You just have to keep working, keep hunting, keep looking."

Nationally, the Buffs' class isn't viewed as being very special. ranks CU's class as the 64th best in the country, and 10th best in the Pac-12 Conference.


MacIntyre isn't looking for a class that impresses the recruiting services, though. He's looking for a class that helps the Buffaloes win football games.

"Of course you always want the very best and all of that, but at the same time, you've got to look at every side of it," MacIntyre said.

MacIntyre grew up learning from Bill Parcells, who was a master at finding players that fit what he wanted to do. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is another Parcells disciple, and he has kept his team near the top of the NFL for more than a decade by finding players nobody else wanted and making them fit into the system.

"His three wide receivers he had (this year) — really good players, but would they be on anybody's top draft board?" MacIntyre said. "No, but are they really good in his system and do they win? Yeah.

"They do a good job of evaluating what they want and what they're looking for. It's not an exact science, but I do think the work ethic and the character of the kid, as long as he's a good enough athlete, is a lot bigger than just being an unbelievable athlete and you don't have good character. I really truly believe that."

Recruiting has been a problem at Colorado for a number of years, but by following the Parcells/Belichick philosophy, MacIntyre and his staff are working on changing that.

Last year, the CU staff found linebacker Addison Gillam, running back Michael Adkins and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie. None of them were big-time recruits, yet all wound up being among the Buffs' best players as true freshmen.

No CU staff in recent memory has been as diligent on the recruiting trail as this one. They've worked countless hours in a quest for more hidden talent and high-character young men.

"Our guys are working in June; they're not vacationing, and they're out everywhere," MacIntyre said. "That's important for us to do that."

If MacIntyre is able to turn these unheralded classes of recruits into winning football players, the Buffs are bound to eventually start landing four- and five-star recruits. Regardless of whether those big-time recruits come to Boulder or not, MacIntyre is perfectly content building his program with guys like Gillam and Keeney.

A good friend of his, whom he wouldn't name, built up a program doing just that. This friend, MacIntyre said, won a BCS bowl game with those players, and then started getting big-time recruits.

"He's had all kind of problems and his program has dipped," MacIntyre said. "He called me and said, 'We're not doing it anymore. We're going to get our guys that want to be at our school.'

"He told me, 'Recruit to your principles.' If you recruit to your principles then you'll build the guys you want. You're going to get good players."

It worked for Parcells, and it's worked for Belichick. Time will tell if it works for MacIntyre, too, but it appears he's off to a good start.

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