It's tough to find players on the Colorado football roster who have put in as much time and experienced as few rewards as tight end Nick Kasa and linebacker Paul Vigo.
The two long-suffering Buffs produced the best outings of their careers in a win over Washington State last week, each making game-changing plays in the Buffs' second-half rally.
Quarterback Jordan Webb was obviously worthy of the offensive player of the week award he earned from the Pac-12 Conference on Monday, but without Kasa and Vigo, the Buffs wouldn't have beaten the Cougars.
The two Buffs have similar stories of perseverance and position changes that prepared them to come up big for their teammates.
Vigo forced a fumble early in the second half deep in Washington State territory and safety Terrel Smith returned it to the 1-yard line. Webb scored a touchdown on the next play and the Buffs trailed 21-14.
Two of Vigo's three tackles in the game went for losses. He also broke up a pass in addition to the forced fumble. Vigo suffered a concussion on a kickoff but says he expects to play this week at home against UCLA
"That's what it's all about," Vigo said. "I feel like you've just got to continue to grind and face adversity and then whenever you're put in position to make a play, you've got to make the play."
Vigo, a fourth-year junior, switched from defensive back to linebacker in the offseason. It's starting to look like one of the best decisions coaches have made this year. Vigo says he loves his new role and is continuing to grow into it.
He has played in all four games this season on defense, easily the most meaningful playing time of his career and he also is one of the team's leading playmakers on special teams.
Kasa's contributions can't be overstated. He literally saved the day by recovering a fumble from freshman running back Christian Powell on the Buffs' game-winning drive.
Kasa said fans thanked him for the fumble recovery after the game.
"At the time I didn't really think about it," he said. "I was just doing what any one of our guys would have done."
Kasa said he actually got off to a rotten start against the Cougars. He said he made several early mistakes in the game because he didn't hear the correct play call. He said he was happy to be able to rebound from those mistakes.
"I just told myself I needed to keep plugging along and finally I came out and was able to start helping the team," he said.
Kasa made two big plays in the fourth quarter in addition to his fumble recovery. He caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Webb. It was the first touchdown of his career and the longest regular-season touchdown catch by a tight end in CU history. He also made one of two key blocks on an 84-yard touchdown run by tailback Tony Jones. Wide receiver Nelson Spruce also had a pivotal block on the play.
"It was a great feeling, just to find that spot where I can actually be doing something for the team and doing something really good," Kasa said. "It makes me feel glorious."
Kasa decided to move to tight end in the middle of last season after having spent the previous 21/2 years as a defensive lineman. He said he has never really second-guessed his decision to switch positions, but there have been times when he wondered whether his hard work would net results.
Kasa said he firmly believes it comes down to how much you want it.
"I just used those thoughts to work harder," Kasa said. "I definitely knew coming into the spring that I had a lot of work to do and it was just good to see what I needed to work on. I worked my butt off over the summer and it's finally paying off."
While Kasa is a home-grown product, having attended Legacy High School in Broomfield, Vigo came to CU from New Brunswick, N.J. Vigo said he has definitely experienced a period in his career when he questioned whether it was worth coming more than halfway across country to attend CU. He said he's thought of moving closer to home at times in the past, such as when he was suspended for a violation of team rules last season, but he's happy he hung in there in Boulder.
"It's just about developing a sense of confidence in myself and basically growing, being mature," Vigo said. "With the position changes and the suspensions and different incidents coming up and stuff like that, I just felt like it was a setback for me that I put myself in and it was a challenge of how am I going to climb out of it. I just decided to roll with the punches and deal with it and come out and keep continuing to fight."
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleRingo