Throughout his first two seasons with the Colorado football team, safety Afolabi Laguda was impressed with the play of teammates Chidobe Awuzie and Tedric Thompson, who are now in the NFL.
Laguda was even more impressed with how those two performed off the field.
"I saw them work countless hours to be in the positions they are in now to go to the next level," Laguda, a senior, said this past spring.
That example has inspired Laguda, who is now one of the leaders of the defense. While Awuzie (who played cornerback) and Thompson (last year's starter at strong safety) are now gone, Laguda has no doubt that the Buffs can still be very good, especially at safety.
Thompson will be tough to replace, but the Buffs (10-4, 8-1 Pac-12 last year) are stacked with experience and talented veterans at safety.
The group is led by Laguda, who started all 14 games last year at free safety. He's played in all 27 of CU's game since he arrived as a junior college transfer in 2015. He will need to take his game to another level this year, and is putting in the work to do that.
"I've been trying to study football a lot," he said. "I've been trying to learn about the ins and outs of the game. (Awuzie and Thompson) still reach out to me and I appreciate them for it."
Senior Ryan Moeller has 19 career starts under his belt and can play at either safety or Buff back, where he played much of last season.
Juniors Nick Fisher and Evan Worthington will also be vital to CU's success at safety.
Fisher had a good spring at free safety and hopes to take advantage of his first opportunity to start.
Worthington (who was formerly known as Evan White before electing to go by his legal name this offseason) is back this season after being dismissed from the team in January of 2016. He made three starts as a true freshman in 2014, but came back this year better than ever. Worthington had a great spring and could challenge for a starting spot at Buff or safety.
"We definitely have some stars in the making," Laguda said. "We just have to work, just like (Awuzie and Thompson) did."
BuffZone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffaloes. In this installment, we take a look at the safeties.
Returnees: Lucas Cooper (So., 5-10, 180); Nick Fisher (Jr., 6-0, 180); Afolabi Laguda (Sr., 6-1, 205); Ryan Moeller (Sr., 6-1, 215); Jaisen Sanchez (Jr., 6-1, 200); Chase Sanders (Fr., 6-0, 185); Daniel Talley (Jr., 6-2, 210); Kyle Trego (Jr., 6-0, 190).
Additions: Griffin Foulk (Fr., 6-1, 200); Darrell Hubbard (Jr., 6-2, 190); Isaiah Lewis (Fr., 6-0, 195); Evan Worthington (Jr., 6-2, 200).
Losses: Tedric Thompson (graduated).
2016 recap: It's going to be weird watching a Buffs defense without Thompson roaming around in the secondary. A fourth-round draft pick of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks in April, Thompson started 37 games in his career, including each of CU's past 27 games. Thompson was one of the best safeties in the country last season, leading the nation with 23 passes defended (seven interceptions, 16 break-ups) and tied for third in interceptions. Next to him in the starting lineup was Laguda, who became a full-time starter and had a solid - but inconsistent - season. Laguda gave up some plays in the passing game, but did finish second on the team with 80 tackles. Moeller proved to be a key member of the lineup in the Buff back position, doing a nice job of setting the edge and finishing with 44 tackles. Fisher's one real opportunity to shine - coming off the bench against Washington State after Moeller injured and Laguda was ejected for targeting - resulted in him being named the Pac-12 defensive player of the week. Cooper, Talley and Trego got minimal playing time (36 total plays between them) and Sanchez missed the season with a torn ACL.
2017 outlook: Laguda is slated to move into Thompson's spot at boundary safety. While he struggled at times last year, he has the physical and mental tools to take his game to another level this season. Throughout the offseason, he's been a leader for the entire team, and he could be a key to CU's success on defense. If Laguda is at his best and continues being a strong leader, it's going to make the loss of Thompson easier to take. Playing behind NFL-caliber players, Fisher has been waiting for his opportunity and finally has it. He came out of spring atop the depth chart at free safety. As he showed against Wazzu last year, he's got good instincts and can be a play-maker in the back. Moeller and Worthington - who is back after missing the 2016 season - make this group even stronger. Both have the ability to play at Buff back or safety. Moeller sat atop the depth chart at Buff coming out of spring, but Worthington will push for that job. Either way, both will get a lot of playing time. Barring injuries, there likely won't be much playing time for others, but Trego and Sanchez provide some veteran depth. As a true freshman, Lewis could use this year to redshirt and prepare for 2018, when the Buffs will have holes to fill in this area.