Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
The 2016 Colorado football team that won the Pac-12 South division may always be remembered for the tremendous leaders that turned the program around that fall and the attention to detail they had in producing a 10-win season.
Last year, with many of those leaders gone, the Buffaloes slipped to 5-7 and last in the South.
CU head coach Mike MacIntyre has emphasized improvement on leadership this offseason.
“Last year was good, but not as good as the year before,” he said. “(In 2016), you had some guys that had been through a lot of things and really valued every bit of it. Not saying the other guys didn’t. I think (in 2016), there was just a little bit … just a little extra.”
To get that little extra this year, MacIntyre started by looking in the mirror.
“I feel like I have done a better job with this group this year than last year,” he said. “I re-looked at some of the things we did and I’ve had our coaches around our players a lot more, because recruiting can take you everywhere and you can worry about all of this, but you have to worry about your (current) team, too.”
A revamped recruiting calendar has helped MacIntyre in those efforts.
MacIntyre likes the earlier signing date in December and spring official visits, but he’s also discovered an unexpected benefit to the new calendar.
By signing most of the 2018 class in December, MacIntyre and the staff didn’t have to be on the road recruiting nearly as much in January. That meant the coaches were around the current players more when they returned from the holiday break.
“I had the coaches there every Monday with them being around them and I came in every Wednesday and was around them,” he said. “That new rule, I took advantage of it to be around our guys more.
“We’re doing the same thing this summer. That’s going really well and different things we’re doing for leadership and meetings and team camaraderie and team building and getting guys connected better.”
In an example of that, the Buffs tweeted a video on Friday night of MacIntyre beating sophomore cornerback Ronnie Blackmon in a game of pop-a-shot, with other players around them enjoying the fun. That’s just one moment between a coach and his players, but it’s those types of moments that could pay off this season.
“When I sat down looking back, I thought I needed to help build that (camaraderie and leadership) and help facilitate that, and the coaches and players and all of us together needed to,” MacIntyre said.
The true nature of CU’s leadership will be on display during the season, but MacIntyre is confident a solid foundation is being set.
“The senior class has been really, really good, and a lot of the juniors in their leadership are excellent,” he said. “We’ve got a really good senior class.”
Another aspect to team camaraderie is the off-the-field competition that takes place in the weight room.
“I tell the guys every day you come in here, whether we’re on the field or the weight room, it’s a competition,” strength and conditioning coach Drew Wilson said. “Sometimes the competition is with yourself to get better.”
For example, Wilson said, “I would be hard-pressed to find someone that’s going to out-jump Kabion Ento. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t try to jump your best because you’re going up against Kabion.”
In terms of lifting weights, the Buffs have a ranking system, with the strongest players lifting near the front of the room. Those in the back are pushed – and even ribbed a little bit – to work their way forward.
True sophomore Laviska Shenault is not only the strongest receiver on the team, he’s one of the strongest players on the entire roster.
Shenault, who is 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, squats nearly 500 pounds and has a goal of getting to 550 before his CU career is over. By comparison, defensive lineman Javier Edwards and offensive lineman Jake Moretti posted squats of 550 and 525, respectively, in April.
Shenault is in a lifting group that includes Moretti and center Colby Pursell, who squatted 505 in April.
“He’s special,” Wilson said of Shenault. “Viska’s a freak.”
Wilson mentioned sophomore linebacker Nate Landman as a player having a great offseason. “I love that kid,” Wilson said. “He works his tail off and does everything; wants to be better.” … Senior linebacker Rick Gamboa and senior safety Nick Fisher are among the leaders stepping up in the weight room. “They handle the majority of stuff I have to say,” Wilson said.