Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado no longer has Phillip Lindsay to lean on in the run game, after the second-leading rusher in program history has graduated.
It’s also very possible that the Buffaloes’ next starter at running back isn’t on campus yet. Travon McMillian, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, is the favorite to play the lead role this fall.
This is still a big spring for the Buffs at running back, however. As CU begins spring practice on Friday, it will look to the four scholarship backs currently on board to seize an opportunity.
“For all these guys that for the last two years had very limited reps, it’s an opportunity for them to all step up or one is going to step up and try to be the guy,” running backs coach Darian Hagan said. “I’m trying to get all four of those guys ready and try to make sure that all four of them, at any given time, you can throw them in.”
Those four include seniors Kyle Evans and Donovan Lee, junior Beau Bisharat and redshirt freshman Alex Fontenot.
Of the four, Fontenot may be the most ready to take on a featured role, although he’s the only one without any experience. He’s listed at 6-feet, 195 pounds, although head coach Mike MacIntyre said the Richmond, Texas, product is over 200 pounds.
“He’s a big, powerful back,” MacIntyre said. “I’m excited about getting out there and watching him run this spring.”
So is Hagan, who has been impressed with Fontenot from the time he arrived last summer.
“He could be an every down back and he’ll be a guy we haven’t seen around here in a long time,” Hagan said. “Once he gets in the open field, forget it.”
Hagan said the run game “comes easy” for Fontenot, but this spring the focus will be on his blocking.
“The next step for Alex is to comprehend what we’re doing in pass protection,” Hagan said.
The others have that part down, but each has things to work on, as well.
Bisharat has run the ball sparingly in his first two years, but was second among running backs in rushing last season, with 21 carries for 61 yards (Lindsay led the team with 1,474 yards on a school-record 301 carries).
At 6-2, 220 pounds, Bisharat is the biggest back on the team, and Hagan wants him to start running like a big back.
“I told him he needs to quit worrying about being 205 pounds and being a shifty running back,” Hagan said. “He needs to be about 225-230 pounds and be a power back, a change of pace guy, a guy that people don’t want to tackle.”
Hagan believes Bisharat could be similar to former Oregon State running back Ryan Nall, who ran for 2,216 yards during his career with the Beavers before skipping his senior year to enter this year’s NFL draft.
“He has that type of ability,” Hagan said. “He has it in him; he just needs to turn it on. If he does that, I think he’ll understand what I’m saying and he’ll be a guy that will look to punish people instead of look to run around people.”
Evans and Lee won’t be running over defenders, but they bring different skills.
A former walk-on, the 5-7, 175-pound Evans has rushed for 400 yards in his career, but had just two carries for two yards last season. The Buffs were cautious with him as he returned from an offseason hip injury, but could lean on him more this year.
“To have him back this spring, as strong as ever, running as fast as ever, determined that he has an opportunity to be a featured back is nice,” Hagan said.
Lee, who is 5-9, 185, has rushed for 422 yards in his career, has caught 46 passes for 244 yards and has nearly 600 yards in kickoff returns. He redshirted last year with hopes of having a bigger role this year.
“This spring is a big spring for him to see where he fits and takes his spot in the offense,” MacIntyre said.
How Lee, or any of the others, fit remains to be seen. Going into spring, the running back spot is wide open. Hagan hopes one – or all four – prove worthy of taking it.
“I have faith in all four that they can do some really special things and I’m looking forward to coaching them this spring,” Hagan said. “I’m excited about each one of them, how talented they are, and each one of them brings something different to the table.”