With 11 rushing attempts last season as a redshirt freshman, Alex Fontenot got his feet wet — barely — in college football.
Now, the sophomore is aiming for a full-on dive into the pool.
In a wide-open competition for the starting job at running for the Colorado Buffaloes, Fontenot is doing his best to take advantage of an opportunity this offseason.
"It's my first opportunity to start," the 6-foot, 195-pounder said on Monday after the Buffs' seventh practice of spring. "(The past two years), you knew who was going to start, so you were hanging back, really. Now it's wide open, so it makes you go even harder."
In 2017, Fontenot, from Richmond, Tex., redshirted while Phillip Lindsay put a cap on his remarkable career with the Buffs. Last spring, Fontenot was among the top backs, but he and the rest of the Buffs knew Travon McMillian, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, was on his way. McMillian rushed for 1,009 yards as the featured back.
For the first time in years, the Buffs have almost no experience at the position going into next season. In fact, now that senior Beau Bisharat has shifted to tight end, Fontenot is the most experienced, with 43 yards and a touchdown on his 11 carries.
"He's doing a good job," CU head coach Mel Tucker said. "I like him. He's got good quickness, seems like he's got pretty good vision. He's done a good job in pass (protection) so far. I like what he brings to the table."
Going into this third season of college football, Fontenot feels like he's better prepared to take on a lead role.
"I feel like I'm doing good (this spring)," he said. "I'm just taking it day by day, really. (This offseason), I got better at pass pro and catching, those two mainly. Pass pro is huge, of course, and being able to catch it out of the backfield is also really big."
Tucker isn't too worried about the lack of experience at the position. In addition to Fontenot, the Buffs have redshirt freshmen Jarek Broussard and Deion Smith and true freshmen Joe Davis and Jaren Mangham competing. Walk-ons Chase Sanders and Noa Lukela are also battling this spring.
"We're going to play the best players and I like to play more than one or two guys," Tucker said. "We need to get as many guys ready to play that position as we can.
"We'll get them ready. As long as they can go out there and get the reps ... they can continue to improve. We're going to coach them up and we have a high standard. Keep getting better every day. They're young, but they're talented."
Redshirt freshman Jalen Sami is making an early impression on the defensive line. The 6-foot-6, 320-pounder from Colorado Springs is competing for the starting job at nose tackle.
"He's a big body and he's hard to move and it seems like he's catching on the techniques we want him to play," Tucker said. "He's doing a better job with his pad level, doing a better job using his hands and being able to sustain throughout the practice. He's gotten better."
By the fall, CU could have as many as 11 scholarship defensive linemen, but this spring, the Buffs have just five. The lack of numbers isn't a concern to Tucker.
"We've got enough guys out there to get the work in that we need to get," Tucker said. "It's going to be a physical practice. We've got the pads on and that's how it's going to be in the game. That's the way we have to practice, that's the way we have to live. It's got to be a physical situation out there."
Following a weekend off, the Buffs had a physical practice on Monday. Tucker said the Buffs have to improve their tackling in space, but said, "On the run game on both sides of the ball, I thought we had good pad level, I thought the guys strained to finish and I thought we had a good, physical practice out here today." ... Throughout practices, Tucker and the coaches do a lot of teaching and coaching between plays. "We've got to get the mistakes cleaned up right away and get them ready for the next play," he said. ... The Buffs are off Tuesday and return to the field Wednesday.