The opportunity to grow up as a football player and as a young man was too good to pass up for Dante Sparaco, even if he had to move across the country to do it.

After a semester away, however, Sparaco feels he's more than ready to take on his next challenge at Colorado.

"I'm really excited to try the college experience and finally get to play college football," said Sparaco, who has finished high school early and plans to enroll at CU next week and take part in spring football with the Buffaloes. "Just a new experience and a big part of my life that is coming up."

One of the top in-state recruits for the 2017 class, Sparaco, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound defensive end, was a star at Cherry Creek High School. Last summer, however, he made the decision to spend his final season at the IMG Academy in Florida.

"I'm really glad I did it," he said. "My plan down there was to not only get better as a football player, but get better as a student in a college-like environment, learning how to manage my time.

"I got better on the field, as well as in the classroom, so I don't regret it. I really enjoyed the outcome of me being down there."

Sparaco and friend Jonathan Van Diest, a Cherry Creek linebacker, were the first players to verbally commit to CU for the 2017 class, on Feb. 28.

Since then, they have been great ambassadors for CU when it comes to recruiting. Sparaco said despite disappointment over the Buffs losing defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to Oregon, he's excited to get to Boulder and help the Buffs.


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"One thing I learned in being recruited is you can't commit to a school because of the coaching, because you have no idea who will be there next year or the year after," he said. "You really have to commit based on where the school is and the tradition and things of that nature. I'm content with making my decision based on the area and the education and the facilities."

Sparaco also believes he comes to CU a more polished player than he was a few months ago because at IMG he faced some of the best competition in the country — even in practice.

"I really learned a lot and I got better in my technique and the speed of the game," he said. "In the classroom I learned how to balance my schedule, because we missed so much time traveling across the nation to play football games. It really gave me a head start on what I need to do to be successful in college."

He's hoping that by enrolling early, he will get even further ahead. Unlike the majority of CU's freshman class, he'll get the opportunity to participate in spring practices.

"It's every kid's dream to play as a freshman and I would love the opportunity to play as a freshman," he said. "(Spring ball is) going to give me really good experience (playing with) guys who have experience in Pac-12 play and big games. It'll get me used to the speed of the game, and I'll probably figure out the defense a little bit and give me the best shot to be able to contribute to the team as a freshman."

Where he actually plays is not known, but Sparaco believes he fits best as an outside linebacker in CU's 3-4 defense.

"I would probably prefer to be out in space," said Sparaco, who dropped his body fat from 21 percent to 15 percent during his time at IMG. "I'm pretty athletic for my size, and I feel like that would be a good position for me to play."

Regardless of what position he plays, Sparaco knows that by this time next week, he'll be enrolled in college classes and preparing to take part in his first college workouts.

"I'm really excited to get up there," he said.

Brian Howell: howellb@dailycamera.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.