A year ago, Jordan Carrell was the new guy on campus, just trying to get used to his new surroundings and enjoying life as a Colorado student.
"I was just getting into that D-I feeling, and I know I had a little fun," said Carrell, who transferred to Colorado in January 2015 after two seasons at American River College.
Carrell, who turned 21 last June, didn't let that fun get in the way of his game, as he was the Buffaloes' most dependable defensive lineman. But looking ahead to his second and final season with the Buffs, he is much more focused on the on-field fun than he was a year ago.
"There's going to be times for fun, but I feel like this offseason the approach has been way more towards building this great defensive line," Carrell said.
Carrell has spearheaded weekend workouts with his teammates because he's determined to make this next season a better one for the Buffs (4-9, 1-8 Pac-12 last season).
"People are taking it way more seriously and the purpose is much more focused," Carrell said.
Last season, Carrell played 82.6 percent of the defensive snaps (Leo Jackson III was second among defensive lineman, at 61.7 percent). Only five CU defensive linemen in the last 22 years have played a higher percentage of snaps.
"I will say that (head coach Mike MacIntyre) is a man of his word," Carrell said. "He did tell me when he recruited me that he was going to play me a lot and they were going to be expecting me to come in and contribute right away."
Carrell earned that playing time because of his talent and football IQ.
"He understands the game and he's very intelligent," defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat said. "As the season progressed, he understood how people were trying to attack him and what they were doing to nullify him and to make him less effective and he adjusted to it quicker and quicker as the season progressed."
Carrell also recognized a major weakness in his game. He struggled at times to finish off tackles. In particular, he was in position to make several plays in the backfield against Oregon State on Oct. 24 but failed to wrap up and finish the plays.
Watching film bothered Carrell and he vowed to be better. The next week, he had a season-high two tackles for loss, including his first career sack, which led to a fumble that teammate Samson Kafovalu scooped up and returned for a touchdown in a loss to UCLA. Carrell added a season-high 10 tackles — two for loss — in the finale at Utah.
With spring football starting on Wednesday, Carrell wants to prove he can be a reliable tackler.
"In the game of football, the art of tackling has been going downhill," he said. "You see it all the time, guys missing tackles. If I can master the art of tackling, I'll stand myself out."
In an effort to master that art, Carrell has spent countless hours in the weight room, and he's stronger than he was last year.
"I'm really proud of the things he's done in the offseason so far," Jeffcoat said.
Carrell isn't the only one Jeffcoat is relying on, however. In fact, it would actually be a good thing for the Buffs if Carrell played fewer snaps this coming season. That would mean CU's line rotation has improved its depth and talent.
"For us to be effective we have to play better up front," Jeffcoat said. "I want them to be more aggressive. I want them to attack the line of scrimmage and set a new line of scrimmage. I think that'll help us."
The Buffs are banking on the return of Josh Tupou from a one-year suspension. He was CU's best lineman in 2014. They're also hoping Jackson, Kafovalu and Jase Franke continue to improve, as they did a year ago, and they're eager to see how three redshirt freshmen — Brett Tonz, Lyle Tuiloma and Frank Umu — will fit into the mix.
It all starts with Carrell, though, and he's embracing the responsibility.
"I'm a senior and I'm going to be held more accountable and the coaches are going to expect more out of me this year," he said. "I've stepped into more of a leadership role so far, knowing it's my last year and knowing I want to go out on top in the Pac-12."
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.