Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Donovan Lee looks for running room against Idaho State during the first half of their 2016 game in Boulder.

Sitting out the 2017 season, which would have been his senior year, wasn’t easy for Donovan Lee to accept.

“It was rough,” the Colorado running back said. “I’ve never not played in a season, so that hurt. It drove me to keep working that whole time and get back out here.”

Knowing Lee wasn’t going to get much of an opportunity to play last season, because of Phillip Lindsay carrying the load as a senior, the Buffs elected to use Lee’s redshirt year to save him for a potentially larger role in 2018.

It may not have been Lee’s ideal way to spend last season, but it may have been the best thing for him.

“Definitely humble pie,” said Lee, now a redshirt senior. “I try to be humble all the time, but God did his part to make sure I stayed humble. It was the biggest slice (I’ve had). I don’t need anymore.”

Now it’s up to Lee to make the most of that experience, and with spring practice getting underway this past week, he’s intent to do just that.

In addition to preparing for a bigger role on the field, Lee needed to sharpen his focus and maturity off the field and, so far, he’s done that.

“I’m definitely seeing a totally different person,” running backs coach Darian Hagan said. “He’s matured really, really fast. I think redshirting allowed him to mature, and he’s able to see things differently when he’s out there with the guys working out and lifting in the weight room. He’s trying to be a vocal leader, and I think he is really, really hungry to prove that he deserves the opportunity.”

The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Lee, who is from West Hills, Calif., got some opportunities early in his career. In fact, his 422 career rushing yards are the most among the four scholarship running backs the Buffs have this spring. He also has 46 catches for 244 yards and 586 kickoff return yards in his career.

Lee hasn’t run the ball in a game since getting seven carries for 15 yards against Oregon State on Oct. 1, 2016, however. He’s barely touched the ball in the Buffs’ 21 games since.

“He was a guy that you want to give him a lot of reps and you want to make sure that you put your talented players on the field, but at times in this game of football, if you’re not trusted off the field, as well, you’re not going to be in the position to attain your desires and your goals,” Hagan said.

Lee is hoping to be in better position to do that, and he wants Hagan to feel confident about calling his number.

“A big part of this industry is trust amongst player and coaches,” Lee said, “and I just need to do my part to instill that trust in them so they know whenever the time comes and they need to call my number, I’m going to be there ready to perform.”

With Lindsay now preparing for the NFL, Lee and his fellow backs — senior Kyle Evans, junior Beau Bisharat and freshman Alex Fontenot — are vying for playing time in a wide-open competition this spring.

“I’m just excited, because I feel like I haven’t played football in so long,” he said. “I’m excited to get back out here with my team, my brothers and try to make some noise as a team.”

Lee has flashed his ability as a receiver and running back during his career, and he could be a versatile weapon for the Buffs’ offense. While his role on this team has yet to be defined, Lee said he just simply wants to help the Buffs win.

“Wherever the coaches would like to put me,” he said. “I just want to do my part to make this explosive offense as explosive as possible.”

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