• Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado's N.J Falo looks to the sky before the game with Arizona State. For more photos, go to

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado's N.J. Falo, bottom left, holds on to Arizona State's Manny Wilkins, right, during their game. For more photos, go to



Sitting on an airplane, on a flight he didn’t want to take, NJ Falo got a wake-up call.

Loaded with talent – and an impressive head of long, black hair flowing out the back of his helmet – Falo had given glimpses of his potential with the Colorado football team in 2015 and 2016.

The 2017 season was going to be Falo’s best shot to shine, but he never made it to the stage. Before the season even began, football was gone.

A positive drug test late in the summer was the final strike against Falo, and in July, CU dismissed the talented outside linebacker from the program.

Falo flew home to Sacramento, where he has spent the past five months.

“It didn’t really hit me until I got on the plane coming back to California,” Falo said. “I realized my first (two) years at Colorado, I pretty much didn’t take full advantage of my opportunity here, and I saw where I was having too much fun. I was young and my mindset wasn’t where it needed to be.”

Boosted by his family, his love of football and his determination to be a better man, a more mature Falo is ready to come back to CU.

CU won’t confirm that Falo will return, but Falo said he is signing up for classes and plans to be in Boulder next month.

“Originally it was supposed to be a whole year suspension, but after talking with (head coach Mike MacIntyre) before I left, he cut it down to six months, because I know he believes in me and puts a lot of trust in me,” Falo said. “I didn’t want to let him down. I needed to stay focused and come back and prove to him I can be the guy he needs me to be and contribute to the team and bring Colorado back to where we belong.”

Falo, from Inderkum High School in Sacramento, was the second member of his family to play for MacIntyre. Older brother Nate played at San Jose State from 2011-15, the first two years while MacIntyre was still the head coach of the Spartans.

“I feel that’s the reason (MacIntyre) kept me, because for him to know my family’s background, it means a lot,” Falo said. “He’s the type of guy you want to have around. I really love coach Mac and I’m thankful for him.”

If Falo does return, it will be less about MacIntyre’s faith in him than about the change he’s made in himself.

Falo’s talent was evident from the moment he arrived at CU more than two years ago, playing eight games as a true freshman in 2015 and 11 in 2016.

Off the field trouble derailed him, however.

In April of 2016, Falo and running back Donald Gordon – who is no longer with the team – were suspended after they were both arrested and accused of stealing items from a dorm room. Both players took plea deals that summer, and Falo was suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season.

Then came the failed drug test this past year.

“I did make mistakes in life, but no matter what, if I get knocked back down, it’s up to me whether I get back up,” he said. “I’ve been staying focused on getting back. To me, it isn’t about what people think about me; it’s about myself and how I come back from it.”

Falo has had a job throughout the past five months, while also working out and staying in shape – he’s at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, he said – and taking a lot of time for self reflection and self improvement.

“I didn’t want to fall off with the love I have for football, my mindset where I am at in life and my goals in life,” he said. “It was mainly staying focused, for me to find my worth in life, to find out why I play football, the reason I do what I do, and I found myself to even have a stronger relationship with God.

“Just time to sit back and re-evaluate my life within the past three years. I’m really (upset) about it, but I’m just glad I get a chance to go back.”

Falo realizes that a return to CU isn’t a second chance; it’s likely a last chance, and he’s determined not to blow it.

“I was given pretty much two second chances (at CU),” he said. “That’s how blessed I am with what coach Mac sees in me. I’m for sure not going to let him down. I gave him my word that when I come back, I’ll do everything I can to bring this team back.

“I have two more years left. I’m ready to come back and do what I need to do. I want to lead the Pac-12 in sacks. That’s my main goal. I know I have it in me. I know it’s a big goal for me and it’s going to take a lot of hard work, but I’ve been doing it since I came back. I’m really excited.”

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at or