When Colorado head football coach Mike MacIntyre heard about Sal Aunese, he knew immediately that the Buffaloes' needed something to honor the late quarterback.

When it was determined the Sal Aunese Award would go to an inspirational player, it wasn't difficult to come up with the inaugural winner.

"When we brought it up, every single coach said Wes Christensen," MacIntyre said.

Earlier this month, Christensen, a walk-on receiver from Chico, Calif., earned the Sal Aunese Award, technically given to the "most uncommon player."

Aunese was a quarterback at CU in 1987 and 1988, starting both seasons. Early in 1989, he was diagnosed with inoperable stomach cancer, and he passed away on Sept. 23, 1989 - at 21 years old. A popular player with the Buffs, they leaned on Aunese's memory for inspiration during an undefeated regular season in 1989.

"He was such an inspiration for this program," MacIntyre said.

With the creation of this new award, Aunese's spirit was brought to the current players. CU's director of player development, Darian Hagan, took over as the starting quarterback in 1989 and presented the award to Christensen.

"He told the group how awesome Sal was," Christensen said. "It was really cool and really an honor.

"It means a lot. The honor of getting something with his name on it, he's a special guy and meant a lot to this program."

Christensen means a lot to the current program. He may not have the same impact on game day that Aunese did, but he's very popular among his teammates and serves as an inspiration to them.


"His effort, his intensity every day he comes to practice," MacIntyre said for reasons why Christensen got the award. "He works extremely, extremely hard. We never have an issue with anything he does."

Coming out of high school, Christensen went to Butte College in Oroville, Calif., where he played for two years. He transferred to CU about a year ago and walked on to the football team.

"Just walking in and having the opportunity to be here was amazing," the 5-foot-10 senior said. "It's been a lot of fun, being able to work with talented guys. It's been a phenomenal journey, and I'm taking everything one step at a time. It's been great."

Christensen didn't catch any passes a year ago, and considering the talent at the position this year, he may not get much of an opportunity this fall, either. Regardless, Christensen takes his role on this team very seriously.

"I want to get on the field, but if I don't get on the field, as long as we're winning and I know that I'm contributing by helping out the guys with summer practices and stuff, that's fine with me," he said.

"Trying to be that coach on the field this summer is going to be the main thing, making sure that everybody is working hard. Working hard is how we're going to get better. A lot of guys have talent, but we need to take it to the next level. Just being able to push the guys and then sliding in wherever I can - special teams, receiver.

"It doesn't matter if I'm on the field or not, it's just if we're getting better."

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