Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
In producing the program’s best season in 15 years, the Colorado football team leaned heavily on a senior class that may go down as one of the best in school history.
On Thursday, the Buffaloes (10-3), who are slotted No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings and No. 11 in the Associated Press poll, will bid adieu to the seniors when they take on Oklahoma State (9-3, No. 12 CFP, No. 13 AP) in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.
There’s no doubt the Buffs will miss a group of seniors that guided the turnaround of the program. Yet, there’s excitement and confidence that next year’s senior class can be one of the all-time best groups, as well.
“We have a good junior class of three-year juniors and fourth-year juniors,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “I think it’s a strong class. I’m excited about those guys.”
The current class of seniors features four-year starting quarterback Sefo Liufau, three-year starting center Alex Kelley and starting tight end Sean Irwin. It also includes eight regular starters on defense: defensive backs Chidobe Awuzie, Tedric Thompson and Ahkello Witherspoon, linebackers Jimmie Gilbert and Kenneth Olugbode and defensive linemen Jordan Carrell, Samson Kafovalu and Josh Tupou.
In addition to being talented, this year’s senior class is filled with leaders that have gone through difficult times early in their careers and guided the Buffs to this year’s turnaround.
Next year’s seniors aren’t much different, however.
In fact, many of the 2017 seniors came to CU with this year’s seniors. They, too, have been a part of multiple losing seasons before the breakthrough this fall.
“We’re trying to restore the order and make CU great again,” junior safety Afolabi Laguda said. “It’s not over. The people who don’t believe, they’re going to believe one day. We always have fire in our belly.”
Laguda is one of several talented juniors on this year’s team.
It’s a group that includes nine regular or part-time starters on offense. Tailback Phillip Lindsay, receivers Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields and Devin Ross, tight end George Frazier and offensive linemen Jeromy Irwin, Jonathan Huckins, Gerrad Kough and Sam Kronshage are all currently juniors.
On defense, Laguda is joined by safety Ryan Moeller, linebackers Addison Gillam and Derek McCartney and defensive linemen Timothy Coleman and Leo Jackson III.
“People think just because we have a (strong) group of seniors that young guys can’t step up (next year), but that’s what leadership does,” Laguda said. “You mold your young guys to be those leaders. That’s about growth. That’s what a program is. That’s what Mac has built.”
In preparing for the Alamo Bowl, the Buffs have had a bit of an eye on next year, as the practices have allowed the younger players a chance to get more reps. That’s only going to help next year, Laguda said.
“These bowl practices are a great time to keep growing and keep developing as a team and keep developing as a player,” Laguda said.
Much of this year’s success has been attributed to the maturity and leadership of the seniors. Of the five captains, however, three of them are juniors — Frazier, Jeromy Irwin and Lindsay.
“That shows the strength in leadership will still be there,” MacIntyre said.
“We feel like our classes are good; we feel like we have them stacked pretty well to be able to keep the program going. That’s the key.”
After breaking a string of 10 consecutive losing seasons, the junior class has every intention on keeping it going next year and beyond.
“This next year’s team, even though we’re not there right now, we’ll be great,” Laguda said.