After spending the majority of last season on the sidelines with a bad knee, Colorado's Derek McCartney wasn't asking for much to be able to enjoy his return to the field.
Through two games with the Buffaloes (2-0), the senior outside linebacker hasn't made a bunch of impact plays yet, but he has been on the field a lot and played well.
"Honestly, coming off the injury, I'm just thankful for every play I get," McCartney said. "I go out there and I'm just happy to be out there with my teammates. When we succeed, I'm having a blast. It's been really fun for me."
McCartney was a part of one of the biggest plays of CU's 2016 season, when he scooped up a Michigan fumble and ran 18 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead against the favored Wolverines in the third game of the year. It was only a few minutes later that McCartney went down with a torn ACL in his right knee. He missed the final 11-plus games of CU's 10-4 campaign.
Fully cleared to play this summer, the Buffs intentionally gave him days off in preseason camp to make sure he stayed healthy. So far, it's paying off.
"We had a plan during camp and he didn't practice all the time, but he was doing conditioning," head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "The last couple of weeks, he hit it rolling and has been doing well.
"Derek's played really well. I've been really impressed with Derek. He's played hard. He really doesn't show any signs of having the knee injury."
CU's defense is off to a remarkable start, allowing just six points (two field goals) in the first two games. While several players on the defense have stood out, McCartney has quietly gone about his work setting the edge. He's was in on six tackles in the opener against Colorado State and then recorded a sack against Texas State last Saturday.
In the opener against the Rams, McCartney didn't feel tentative, but said, "I just feel like it was the first game back and I had a little rust from (not) playing a real game. Part of it is that. I trusted my body and I felt pretty good."
He looked more explosive against Texas State.
"Just talking to family and doctors, people are always encouraging me like, 'You're going to get better every week,'" he said. "That's the goal is to keep improving throughout the season.
"It's just going to be going out there and keep playing. I just have to get out there and play my best."
The sack against Texas State gave McCartney 10 ½ for his career, making him the 39th player in CU history to reach double digits. He's not far from making a significant jump on the career chart, as less than 20 have had as many as 13.