Returning to the Colorado football team last season, Evan Worthington was a new man — both in name and his play.
Having changed his last name from White, Worthington returned after getting dismissed from the team before the 2016 season and was one of the best players on the Buffaloes' defense last season.
Nick Fisher, meanwhile, got the most playing time of his career and showed his potential to be a top player.
Going into this year, that duo is expected to anchor the back of the CU defense at safety.
"Those guys that played last year, Nick and Evan, I feel good about," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said.
Leading up to fall camp, which begins Aug. 1, BuffZone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, we take a look at the safeties, which are led by the senior starters, but must develop some depth during camp.
If Fisher and Worthington stay healthy, they've got a chance to be a formidable duo.
Worthington, who starred at Aurora's Cherokee Trail High School before coming to CU, flashed his potential as a young player in 2014 and 2015. Matured and more focused last year, he was arguably the best overall player on the defense.
Going into this year, Worthington is garnering some attention, named to the preseason All-Pac-12 third team by Phil Steele, Athlon and Lindy's.
Fisher, meanwhile, had a great spring for the Buffs, and seems to be seizing the opportunity in front of him to finally become a full-time starter. Earlier this week, he was also named a team captain, which speaks volumes about the leadership he brings to the table.
Beyond that duo, however, the Buffs have very little experience and will have a fierce battle for playing time during fall camp.
Senior Kyle Trego has been a backup since he arrived as a junior college transfer in 2016, but he had a great spring. Safeties coach ShaDon Brown said he saw Trego take his game up a notch or two this offseason.
The Buffs will also be looking for several newcomers to step up and prove they can help on game day.
Sophomore Derrion Rakestraw — a former receiver and cornerback — hopes to get into the mix, along with junior college transfer Aaron Maddox, sophomore Kevin George (a 2017 JUCO transfer who redshirted last year), redshirt freshman Isaiah Lewis and true freshmen Hasaan Hypolite and Ray Robinson. Walk-ons Lucas Cooper and Daniel Talley will also fight to get on the field.
Maddox, one of the top JUCO prospects in the 2018 class, had offseason shoulder surgery and sat out of the spring, but should be ready to go. If he is healthy, he may be the best of the bunch, but Eliot said, "It'll be interesting to see how (the competition) pans out."
If healthy, Fisher and Worthington will likely get the most time at safety this season, but there's no question the Buffs will go into camp looking to get others ready.
Returners (2017 statistics)
Nick Fisher, Sr., 6-0, 190 (29 tackles, 1 INT, 6 PBU)
Derrion Rakestraw, So., 6-2, 190 (13 snaps, 1 tackle)
Jaisen Sanchez, Sr., 6-1, 200 (missed season with injury)
Kyle Trego, Sr., 6-0, 200 (28 snaps)
Evan Worthington, Sr., 6-2, 210 (86 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 INT, 7 PBU)
Lucas Cooper, Jr., 5-10, 185 (walk-on; 13 snaps)
Griffin Foulk, So., 6-1, 200 (walk-on)
Darrell Hubbard, Jr., 6-1, 200 (walk-on)
Daniel Talley, Sr., 6-2, 215 (walk-on; 13 snaps, 1 tackle)
Kevin George, So., 6-3, 180 (JUCO transfer, redshirted in 2017)
Hasaan Hypolite, Fr., 5-11, 200 (true freshman)
Isaiah Lewis, Fr., 6-0, 195 (redshirt freshman)
Aaron Maddox, So., 6-1, 190 (JUCO transfer)
Ray Robinson, Fr., 6-1, 200 (true freshman)
Dustin Johnson, Fr., 6-1, 195 (walk-on)
Brock Miller, Fr., 6-0, 200 (walk-on)
Afolabi Laguda (graduated; 69 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 PBU)
Ryan Moeller (graduated; 44 tackles, 2 TFL, 5 PBU)
2017 recap: Although the CU defense had some struggles, the safeties were solid all year, with Laguda and Worthington leading the way and Moeller playing safety and Buff back. Fisher and Trego gave the Buffs some good depth, as well. Worthington was third on the team in tackles and led the team interceptions. He was one of the team's most versatile defenders. A two-year starter, Laguda had a solid season and was strong against the run. Moeller was steady once again as a playmaker against the run and pass. Fisher got the most extensive playing time of his career and played well as the top backup.
2018 outlook: Although Laguda and his 26 career starts are gone, the Buffs should be in good shape, at least in the starting lineup. Worthington has the potential to be one of the best safeties in the Pac-12. He's got the versatility to play a variety of spots, but was most comfortable and played his best at strong safety last year. He's got a nose for the ball, in the run game as in pass coverage. Fisher has always flashed his potential, but had veterans such as Laguda and Tedric Thompson ahead of him in the past. Now, he's got a chance to shine. He was Pac-12 defensive player of the week late in the 2016 season, and he had a 100-yard INT return for TD in a game last year. If healthy, Fisher and Worthington could form one of the best safety duos in the conference. Depth is a concern, however, as there is very little experience behind the starters. Walk-on Daniel Talley (34 career plays) is the most experienced backup, followed by Kyle Trego (30) and walk-on Lucas Cooper (26). The Buffs, however, have high hopes for JUCO transfer Aaron Maddox and freshmen Hasaan Hypolite, Isaiah Lewis and Ray Robinson. They will all fight for playing time this year. Robinson, Trego and Talley can also play Buff back. Jaisen Sanchez, who has missed the past two years with injuries, recently suffered another knee injury, and may not be able to play this final season.