Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Five years into his tenure as the head coach of the Colorado football team, Mike MacIntyre has yet to go into a season without Phillip Lindsay on the roster.
During the last three years, MacIntyre has been able to lean on Lindsay as the leader of the run game and one of the top weapons on CU’s offense.
Lindsay is now wearing the blue and orange of the Denver Broncos, but MacIntyre is excited about the talent the Buffalos will have at running back.
“I feel like there are definitely some options there,” he said.
Arguably the best option is finally on campus. Travon McMillian, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, has enrolled at CU and is eager to help the Buffs.
“I’m excited about Travon,” MacIntyre said. “He was running in workouts (Wednesday) morning and looked good … and ready to roll. It seems like everything is going well for him.
“He’s a guy that has a lot of experience and played really, really well (at Virginia Tech).”
CU is hoping that experience pays off immediately, as it looks to replace Lindsay, who finished as the second-leading rusher in school history (3,707 yards) and was the only player in CU history with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
McMillian rushed for 2,153 yards and 16 touchdowns in three seasons with the Hokies. He had 1,043 yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman in 2015.
After Justin Fuente took over as head coach in 2016, the Hokies went to more of a committee approach to its run game, but McMillian’s 671 yards that season led the team’s tailbacks. During the regular season last year, his 439 yards led the tailbacks again.
McMillian added 35 catches for 351 yard and seven touchdowns during his career at Tech.
“He can do everything on Virginia Tech film that you would want him to do,” MacIntyre said. “He seems really sharp. I’m excited about having Travon.”
McMillian may not handle 89.9 percent of the running back carries, as Lindsay did last year, but if he plays like he did in Blacksburg, he’s sure to be a featured back.
“I’m going to go with a couple hot guys if we can,” MacIntyre said.
In addition to McMillian, the Buffs are excited about the emergence of redshirt freshman Alex Fontenot, who had a great spring. Three veterans – seniors Kyle Evans and Donovan Lee, and junior Beau Bisharat – will also go into camp looking to start, while true freshmen Jarek Broussard and Deion Smith will add to the competition in the fall.
Even if McMillian has a great season, MacIntyre expects several of CU’s backs to play key roles.
“The running back spot does get beat up some. You want to be able to have guys that can go and do it,” he said. “I feel like we’ll have some good options in that position, and they’ll be able to play special teams, too.”
Punt return options
During fall camp, the Buffs will certainly have several players competing to return punts, but going into camp, MacIntyre has a good idea about who will lead that group.
Sophomore cornerback Ronnie Blackmon led the team with 12 punt returns last year and is the favorite to handle that job again.
“I thought Ronnie did a good job at the end of the year,” MacIntyre said.
Senior receiver Jay MacIntyre was the primary punt returner in 2016 and will be in the mix again. Between Blackmon and Jay MacIntyre, coach MacIntyre said, “Those two guys, right now, I know can do it.”
Safety Aaron Maddox, a junior college transfer, will also be a top option.
“You’ve got to have about three guys you can depend on,” coach MacIntyre said. “I definitely trust Ronnie and Jay, and Aaron really showed the talent of doing it.”
Blackmon also led the team in kickoff returns last year, with sophomore receiver KD Nixon not far behind. Both will be among the options for that role, too.
The Buffs have not named captains for the season, but MacIntyre said that will likely happen in the next couple of weeks.