As far back as his freshman year at Rifle High School, Ryan Moeller was warned how quickly time would fly.
Now a fifth-year senior at Colorado, Moeller is amazed that he’s got just one season left with the Buffaloes.
“You never realize how fast it really does go until it’s the end,” he said last week as the Buffs wrapped up spring drills.
Going into his final year, Moeller plays a key role on a defense that is re-tooling after losing eight starters and three assistant coaches from a unit that ranked among the top 20 nationally in scoring and total yards allowed last season.
Despite the losses, Moeller is one of several players on the defense that brings experience to the table. A former walk-on, Moeller has played in 33 games during his career, 19 of those as a starter.
A safety for much of that time, Moeller took on a new role last year, starting at CU’s unique “Buff back” position, an outside linebacker/nickel back hybrid. It’s a position at which Chidobe Awuzie excelled in 2015, but was tailor-made for Moeller last year after outside linebacker Derek McCartney went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3 against Michigan.
“We were able to keep him out there and you can play against multiple sets that way, instead of just having an outside backer where you can only play certain coverages with it,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said.
Moeller, who lost his starting job at safety to Afolabi Laguda last year, played a limited role off the bench in the first three weeks. With McCartney out, however, the Buffs decided to utilize Moeller’s skills in a unique way, and he started the rest of the season.
At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Moeller is significantly smaller than the 6-foot-3, 250-pound McCartney, but he’s physical enough to provide run support and quick enough to help the Buffs in pass coverage.
“You don’t have to substitute and you can keep playing,” MacIntyre said. “Teams play so fast you don’t want to get caught in one front.”
The Buff back position is one that Moeller has grown to love, because of the versatility it brings.
“Being able to be in that position is a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m used to being on the back end of things, but right now I can be down there and I can be physical, I can stick my nose in and take some hits and give some hits. I’m a physical guy by nature, so I like it. It definitely gets me going.”
Where exactly Moeller fits into the defense next year remains to be seen.
The return of Evan White, who sat out last year after being dismissed by the team, gives CU another exceptional option at Buff back. Moeller and White can also both play safety, but so can Laguda, who is back for his senior year, and junior Nick Fisher.
“Definitely both,” Moeller said when asked where he would play next year. “How things are shaping up now, I don’t see a reason why we wouldn’t do that.
“Between Afolabi, me and Fisher, there’s a lot of experience and a lot of places for us to play and get a lot done.”
The recently completed spring drills weren’t so much about figuring starting roles as they were about rediscovering the cohesion that the Buffs had last season, Moeller said.
The 2016 defense had so many veterans that had played several years together, and Moeller said, “We knew how to communicate with each other. We knew everything.”
Moeller said there’s enough talent and experience for the Buffs to be great on defense again, but believes communication is essential.
“Things were a little rusty (at the start of spring) and there was a bunch of communication we had to get down between new coaches and new players and guys who haven’t played a whole lot, but that communication aspect is one of the biggest things you have to get over,” he said. “There’s so many moving parts, and it just takes a little time.”
While Moeller’s time at CU is nearing an end, he’s intent on making the most of that time, and he’s eager to see how good the Buffs can be on defense.
“Exactly like a puzzle, everything will fit where it needs to fit and that’s going to come down to the leadership and prepping the younger guys,” he said.
“I’m very excited to see where this is going to go.”
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.