Slimmed-down Dante Sparaco in position to help CU Buffs’ defense

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado freshman Dante Sparaco, left, has made a good impression with the Buffs’ coaching staff this spring.

Dante Sparaco has always believed in his ability to compete physically in college football.

The linebacker’s first spring at Colorado did nothing to change his confidence.

“I’ve felt ready since I arrived,” the true freshman said. “It was my job to be able to get here in the weight room and get on the field and show these coaches I am ready to play.”

The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Sparaco made a good impression after enrolling in January to get a head start on his college career.

Last season, Jimmie Gilbert led the Buffs with 10.5 sacks, but is now with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. That leaves the Buffs in need of a top pass rusher. While senior Derek McCartney could be the leader in that area, Sparaco could be a factor, as well.

“Dante Sparaco stuck out this spring,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “If he can keep coming on … he might be a true freshman that can really help us in the pass rushing area.”

Sparaco certainly looks the part physically after losing 20 pounds since his senior season at IMG Academy in Florida, where he weighed in at 265 pounds. Within his first week at CU, Sparaco was down to 250, and got down to 242 in the spring.

“I came in a bit heavy, and I got my body (fat) percentage down pretty good,” he said. “I feel good.”

During his semester at IMG, Sparaco learned how to balance football with a college-type of class load. That’s helped his transition to CU, especially academically.

As far as football, Sparaco felt the weight room would tell him a lot about his readiness to compete.

“If you get in the weight room and you’re able to hold your own physically on the field, it’s just up to you to be able to understand the plays and that’s the easy part,” he said.

Sparaco set personal records with weight lifting this spring, and coupled that with building a strong base of knowledge with CU’s defensive scheme.

Sparaco, who played two years at Glenwood Springs High School and a year at Cherry Creek before going to IMG, has experience with several positions. He played defensive end, outside linebacker, receiver, tight end and quarterback at various times in high school.

A year ago, he had visions of playing tight end at CU, but said he’s excited about playing outside linebacker for the Buffs.

“I love the position I’m at right now,” he said.

McCartney did not participate in spring drills as he continued to recover from a torn ACL suffered last season (he is expected to be ready to go in the fall), which opened the door for Sparaco and others to get valuable practice reps.

Sparaco took advantage of those reps, while also learning a lot from McCartney, inside linebacker Rick Gamboa and other veterans.

“It’s always great learning from (veteran) players … seeing what they know and seeing how much more I can improve upon in my game,” he said. “I think I’m ready to contribute this year.”

Sparaco’s work over the summer and how he progresses in the fall will determine how much he will contribute initially, but he’s certainly off to a good start.

“I’m happy with what I was able to get done,” Sparaco said. “There’s some things I need to go into the summer working on — getting stronger is one of them — but I’m excited for how the spring played out.”


Sparaco, who had a 3.8 grade point average in high school, is majoring in neuroscience at CU. … His father, Dino, was a linebacker at Montana State. … In two seasons as a quarterback at Glenwood Springs, Sparaco threw for 2,429 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 1,072 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.