It took less than 20 minutes of game time last November for Juwann Winfree to validate all of the hype that had surrounded him for more than a year.

Although the Colorado football team lost to Southern California 38-24 at Folsom Field on Nov. 11, Winfree busted loose that day, with five catches for 163 yards and his first two touchdowns in a CU uniform.

"That was an eye-opener for a lot of people," Winfree said Monday. "It was an eye-opener for me especially and my family and parents. It was big for me, because that's what you dream about since you're a kid, making big plays on the highlight (reel) against top teams."

Now fully healthy and fully confident, Winfree is hoping for many more days like that as he prepares for his senior year with the Buffaloes.

That game against USC gave Winfree and the Buffs a glimpse of what they had been waiting for since he joined the team in the fall of 2016.

After one year at Maryland and one year at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, Winfree signed with CU in 2016. Then, early in fall camp that season, he was the best receiver in a group that included Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields and Devin Ross - who all rank in the top eight in CU history in catches.

Two weeks into fall camp that season, Winfree tore his ACL and missed the entire season. Last year, he was healthy, but still working his way back into shape as he took a backup role to Bobo, Fields and Ross. Winfree caught 21 passes for 325 yards last season, doing most of his damage against USC.


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Now, three days into spring practices, Winfree is once again proving to be the cream of the crop.

"The guy that's been probably the best one so far has been Juwann," co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini said. "It's hard to cover that guy one-on-one. He's able to win on the deep ball, he's able to win on the slants and that's impressive to see from a big 6-3, 210-pound receiver."

Physically built like a pro, Winfree is acting like one, too. Chiaverini said he sees Winfree showing leadership qualities in workouts, and Winfree is determined to make next season a great one for him and the team.

"I see a lot of hunger (among the receivers)," Winfree said. "We're dynamic. We have a lot of size differences. We're just trying to prove all that we can as a group and show that we're a different team this year. We're trying to put up big numbers and have a great season this year."

After the Buffs slipped to 5-7 (2-7 Pac-12) last year, Winfree said it's just not the receivers showing that hunger.

"Overall as a squad you can see the hunger difference," he said. "Everybody wants it this year. This conference is open this year. We have an opportunity to do something special and I feel that the whole team is starting to believe it."

Winfree could be special, too, after working through what has been a tumultuous journey through college football.

As a true freshman at Maryland in 2014, he caught 11 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns, but was dismissed from the team the next summer. In his one year at Coffeyville, he caught 55 passes for 837 yards and seven touchdowns and nearly signed with Pittsburgh before coming to CU.

Now entering his third season with the Buffs, he's finally got a chance to be a star, and it helps that he's healthy during spring ball for the first time since 2015 at Maryland.

"It's big for me," he said. "I've been waiting for this since the end of the season. I've just been working on preparing for this moment and proving to my coaches to be able to make the plays when called."

He showed against USC that he can do it, but he's hoping that's just the start.

"As a receiver, you build off of confidence," he said. "It's hard to get called in there once a game and make that spectacular play. But once you get the opportunities and keep building on them and building on them, you get more confidence. You build off it and keep progressing."

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