Two years ago, the Colorado football team had to replace its all-time leading receiver, Nelson Spruce, and the Buffaloes actually got better at the position.

This year, the Buffs have to replace three of the top eight receivers in program history, and once again they may actually get better.

Although Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross — who combined for 480 catches for 5,811 yards and 40 touchdowns in their careers — are now training for a shot in the NFL, there is a great deal of excitement about what the Buffs have coming back at receiver as they open spring practices on Friday.

"We've done a good job the last couple of years of definitely increasing the talent level in that room," co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini said.

Colorado receiver KD Nixon could get the ball not only as a receiver, but in the run game.
Colorado receiver KD Nixon could get the ball not only as a receiver, but in the run game. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

Consider this: As good as the Fields/Bobo/Ross trio was, the players viewed as the best receivers in the last two fall camps are still here.

"Juwann Winfree, two years ago when I first got here was our best receiver in fall camp and then he tore his ACL," Chiaverini said.

After missing the 2016 season, Winfree played a backup role last year, but flashed his brilliance at times, with 21 catches for 325 yards and two touchdowns. Both touchdowns came in a Nov. 11 loss to Southern Cal, when he caught five passes for 163 yards and had no trouble beating Trojans' cornerbacks on deep passes.

Then there's Kabion Ento, who, Chiaverini said, "was probably one of our better receivers last year in fall camp and in spring football."


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Because of the veteran talent on the roster, however, the Buffs elected to use Ento's redshirt year.

Now, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Ento and the 6-3, 210-pound Winfree are seniors with dynamic play-making abilities.

"They have waited their turn and now they're really taking the leadership role," Chiaverini said. "Watching them in workouts, it's their turn to take it over."

Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault caught seven passes for 168 yards last season.
Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault caught seven passes for 168 yards last season. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

Senior Jay MacIntyre can't be overlooked, either. He's got 18 career starts from the slot position, racking up 66 catches for 870 yards and four scores. Of his 28 catches last year, 19 went for either a first down or touchdown.

That trio alone would be enough to make CU's quarterbacks happy, but they may not even be the three best receivers on the team.

True sophomores KD Nixon and Laviska Shenault — who were teammates at DeSoto (Texas) High School — are good enough to push the seniors for starting jobs in their first spring in Boulder.

Shenault was targeted just 10 times last year, but caught seven passes for 168 yards — a 24.0 average that was, by far, the best on the team.

"Physically he's one of the strongest guys on our team, period," Chiaverini said. "He can lift with the offensive linemen, but he runs a 4.3 (40-yard dash). He is a freak of nature. You just don't see kids built like that."

Nixon is explosive out of the slot and could get the ball not only as a receiver, but in the run game.

Junior Tony Brown, a transfer from Texas Tech, is entering his first spring at CU, as well. He was a four-star prospect coming out of high school and was recruited to Texas Tech by Chiaverini. At 6-1, 190 pounds, Brown is another big, talented receiver who impressed teammates on the scout team last year.

Add in redshirt freshmen Maurice Bell and Jaylon Jackson and the Buffs will have plenty of competition and talent on the field at receiver this spring.

"I'm really excited about that group," Chiaverini said. "We have a very, very talented room, but we also have a room that they are very hungry. They're coming off not a great year and there's no big-time starters in there. There's no entitlement right now. They're all fighting for positions, they're all fighting to find out where they're going to be in the pecking order.

"You want guys that want to come to work."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33