As one of the first players to commit to Colorado in the 2017 recruiting class, and one of the first to arrive on campus, Dante Sparaco had hoped to be one of the first to make a big impact on the field.
Instead, Sparaco goes into this offseason looking to turn some adversity into a positive as he prepares for next year.
A 6-foot-5, 245-pound outside linebacker, Sparaco played a bit early in the season before being limited to special teams. Then, a hand injury sidelined him for several games. He didn't play in the last five games.
"It was disappointing, especially coming in here in the spring," said Sparaco, who played at Cherry Creek High School before transferring to IMG Academy in Florida for his senior season. "I thought I performed pretty well in the spring and thought I had a pretty good shot to play. That's just football for you. You never know what's going to happen."
Sparaco actually did turn a strong offseason into some early playing time. He played eight snaps in a season-opening 17-3 win against Colorado State and teamed with junior Rick Gamboa for a sack on the last play of the first half.
After playing 30 defensive snaps in three nonconference games, however, Sparaco played just two in the conference opener against Washington and didn't see the field on defense the rest of the year.
Although he displayed the ability to physically match up, a hand injury limited his ability to help on defense.
"I'm using my hands all the time, and it's tough to be in there," he said. "It was sore and throbbing. It's not fun to have."
Despite not playing as much as he would have liked, Sparaco took a positive approach to the season.
"I still feel like it was a great year for me, mentally and physically, just getting ready," he said. "I think that I got some really good experience just traveling with the team and running a lot of reps with the twos and even sometimes with the ones. I got mentally prepared more than anything to put myself in that position next year to be a big player for this team."
CU loses senior Derek McCartney to graduation, but will still have several players battling for playing time at outside linebacker.
Terran Hasselbach and Michael Mathewes, who will both be seniors, were key backups this season. Jacob Callier, who was a true freshman, made his mark as a pass-rush specialist.
Junior Shamar Hamilton will return from a knee injury that cost him this past season, while sophomore Sam Bennion will be in the mix, as well. In addition, freshmen Chase Newman and Carson Wells will battle for playing time. The Buffs are expecting to add true freshman Joshka Gustav next year, as well.
The competition for playing time will be tough, but Sparaco hopes that the ups and downs of his first year at CU will make him better prepared. And, he hasn't lost the confidence that has taken him this far.
"I'm definitely excited for the beginning of next season," he said.