There was a moment in time when it was assumed Michael Adkins was destined for greatness.
In 2013 Adkins put together one of the best seasons by a freshman running back in the long history of the Colorado football program. Tough, shifty, and smart, it was easy to picture Adkins steadily climbing the Buffaloes' all-time rushing list as his career unfolded.
That never happened, as injuries forever altered Adkins' story.
As Adkins begins his fifth and final season as a Colorado running back, the senior from San Diego can say confidently he has experienced just about every high and low the game of football has to offer. Finally healthy and enjoying a productive preseason camp, Adkins hopes at least a few more big moments await before his CU career ends.
"My mindset going in is to just take it day by day," Adkins said. "That's what I've been doing and that's really the approach. I've learned a lot as a player, a person. It helped me grow. There's something about going through that type of stuff, having adversity and things of that nature, that puts you on a different level. I'm appreciative of everything I've been through because I think I can grasp and really take in what happens this season."
There were growing pains aplenty for the team during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, the Buffs' first two years under coach Mike MacIntyre, as CU went 6-18 overall and 1-17 in the Pac-12 Conference. Adkins, though, looked like one of the players that would eventually help the Buffs turn the corner. His 535 rushing yards was the fifth-best total by a true freshman in CU history, and he led the team with six rushing touchdowns (seven total). Adkins did all that damage in just nine games.
Adkins carried the ball 103 times as a freshman but saw that total drop to 81 carries in 10 games in 2014, in part because of a more crowded backfield with the addition of then-freshman Phillip Lindsay. Adkins still finished with 398 rushing yards and three TDs.
Despite a knee injury late in the 2014 season that required arthroscopic surgery, Adkins still was expected to remain a vital cog in the offense in 2015 until injuries continued to get in the way. He started the season as the primary running back, carrying the ball 41 times for 209 yards through the first two games. But in the Rocky Mountain Showdown against Colorado State, Adkins suffered a hamstring injury severe enough to keep him sidelined the rest of the year.
He was granted a redshirt following that season, but by then Lindsay had solidified his position as the go-to guy in the Buffs' backfield. Three years after that breakout freshman season, and two years after sloughing through a two-win campaign, Adkins watched the Buffs' 2016 resurgence mostly from the sideline, netting a total of 10 carries as the Buffs went 10-4.
It perhaps was not what Adkins envisioned early in his CU career. Yet to his credit, Adkins' mental and emotional approach never wavered.
"Especially going into your senior year, when you've had football all your life and you get to college and you have some ups and downs, you have some successes and you see your roommate have a breakout year like Phil had last year, for his last go-around he's come into camp really focused," running backs coach Darian Hagan said. "If he stays healthy, that's a great one-two punch."
Hagan and head coach Mike MacIntyre agree Adkins' strong camp so far can mostly be credited to the senior finally being fully healthy. If it stays that way, Adkins should have a good chance of ending his career with the sort of production more akin to his first two seasons than the past two.
"Last year he got healthy near the end, but Phillip was on fire," MacIntyre said. "But Michael has had a great camp and I expect great things out of Michael. I've always told him that. I just keep praying that he'll stay healthy. And I mean that literally. Because he's a really good player and a phenomenal kid. I hope he has a great senior year."