Coming into this season, Jaleel Awini had hopes that by the midpoint of schedule, he’d have a key role in the Colorado offense and a few catches — and touchdowns — under his belt.
Instead, the senior has yet to play a snap, but he heads into the second half healthy and ready to contribute.
“I’m excited to be back,” said Awini, who has been out all season with a back injury. “The team is on a good roll, so I want to help the team any way I can.”
Awini, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver, said his back started bothering him in the spring, and he tried to ignore it, but the pain became too much as he began going through fall camp in August. It was determined that Awini needed to step away from the field for a while.
“It’s been a lot of rehab, a lot of core stuff, and then I have to get my mentality back,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest part I need to deal with is the mental side. It’s getting better.”
This week did wonders for his mental state, he said. On Monday, he returned to the field, put the pads on and is running around and hitting teammates again.
“There’s definitely some rust, but it feels natural just to use my athleticism and speed,” he said.
Although this is Awini’s first week of practice, head coach Mike MacIntyre said Awini will be in uniform on Saturday against Arizona State and could play a role on special teams.
“I don’t know exactly how much he’ll play,” MacIntyre said. “We’ve got him slated to help us some special teams right now.”
Awini led the team in special teams points (29) last season, so he figures to play a key role there.
Having changed positions quite a bit — from quarterback to receiver, back to quarterback, to outside linebacker and then back to receiver — there’s really no telling what kind of impact he can make beyond special teams.
With the Buffs having lost outside linebacker Derek McCartney to a season-ending knee injury in Week 3, however, it’s quite possible that Awini will once again find himself on defense.
“(Defensive coordinator Jim) Leavitt has been talking to me about that, and we’ll see how it goes throughout the season,” Awini said. “It could be a possibility.”
At this point, however, Awini will accept whatever role he’s given.
“I had very high expectations coming into this season playing quarterback and wide receiver,” he said, “but anywhere the team needs me so I can help this team get to a bowl game, that’s my goal this year.
“I’m just happy to be back on the field.”
Senior quarterback Sefo Liufau, who has missed the majority of the past three games because of an ankle injury, said his ankle continues to improve, and there have been no setbacks since the injury occurred on Sept. 17.
“It’s gotten better every day,” he said. “It’s just been a slow process, because some things take a little time to heal.”
Redshirt freshman Steven Montez has started in his place the last three games, but Liufau played seven snaps on Saturday at USC after Montez had the wind knocked out of him.
“It was great to go out there and get a couple reps and get a couple plays under my belt,” Liufau said. “I definitely got some confidence from that. It’s always great to go out there and get hit, because as quarterbacks we’re not really live in practice.”
While he has wanted to play the past couple of weeks, Liufau said, “If it’s not the right move, then you have to do what’s best for the team and put your self-interests aside in wanting to play. I think I’ve done a really good job of that.”
Over the summer, MacIntyre suspended running back Dino Gordon for an undetermined amount of games for an off-the-field incident. On Wednesday, MacIntyre said the suspension was lifted a week ago. The Buffs have not yet decided if Gordon will be in uniform on Saturday, however.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.