Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
As a 200-pound freshman at Hart High School in Valencia, Calif., during the fall of 2012, Colby Pursell was not only in his first year of playing football, but his first year in organized sports.
By the end of that season, Pursell had displayed enough potential to get called up to varsity for the playoffs.
“They saw potential in me and I kind of took that to heart, so I knew I had to work out,” he said. “I had to adjust if I wanted to be good because I didn’t want to be average. I wanted to be good at what I did, so I had to work hard at it.”
Often working out twice a day to get better, Pursell lived up to his potential in high school. Now a 6-foot-4, 290-pound redshirt freshman with the Colorado Buffaloes, his drive to succeed has put him in position to take over the starting role at center this season.
“It’s a pretty exciting prospect,” Pursell said, “but I obviously have to work and still earn my spot here out on the practice fields. Potential … everyone recruited here has potential. Now you have to get on the field and execute and show you can actually play and hang with the big guys.”
The challenge to prove himself is one Pursell has always embraced.
When he was a freshman at Hart, coaches stuck him at right tackle and said, “Learn this.” So, he did. And, he worked out relentlessly to get bigger and stronger for the role.
Pursell played right tackle for two years and then switched to left tackle. He played well at Hart, but was just a two-star recruit. Outside of CU, the only schools to offer him a scholarship were Army and Cal Poly.
“In high school I felt you could see on the field I was kind of uncoordinated,” he said. “I could still block people, but I wasn’t very coordinated. Now I feel like I’m getting better with that, especially since I had a year and a half to grow into myself.”
Like his coaches in high school, CU saw some potential in Pursell. Once again, he took it to heart.
Because he was just 17 when he graduated from high school in 2016, the Buffs had Pursell grayshirt and delay his enrollment until January of 2017. He took the time to get ready for his opportunity at CU.
“I was able to drop bad weight and gain good weight,” he said. “I thought it worked out pretty well (to grayshirt).”
After playing four years at tackle in high school, Pursell got to CU and was immediately moved to center. No big deal to Pursell, who, once again, put his head down and went to work.
“I want to play and I’ll play wherever,” he said. “I’m not the big guy on the field, like in high school. We have guys on this team that are 6-7; I’m the short guy at 6-4. There’s guys who have a better build to do that than I do (to play tackle), and my build is better for center here.
“I come here and it’s like, ‘OK, it’s time to learn center.’ So, I had to learn a lot.”
Centers are required to not only snap the ball and block, but to make calls for the group up front. Despite being new to the position, Pursell was impressive enough last year that the Buffs put him on the travel squad and contemplated using him in games when injuries hit some veterans.
“He’s almost like a computer because he just does everything right and works at it and he’s always on time and eats correctly, works extremely hard and is extremely bright,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “His work ethic has helped him keep improving, plus he’s an excellent athlete. His work ethic, he ranks up there with the best offensive linemen I’ve seen, especially as young as he is. He already gets that work ethic that he needs.”
Pursell has learned to like center because of the challenges and responsibilities that come with that position.
“There’s something else I can learn and there’s more responsibility there,” he said. “I have to snap the ball, I have to make the calls. There’s a bit more responsibility there and I have to know more and I kind of like that.”
On an offensive line that returns just two starters from last year, Pursell’s ability to excel at center could be crucial. And, he just might be a player the Buffs build their line around in the future.
Pursell, of course, isn’t worried about what could happen. He just shows up to work every day.
“I can’t think too far ahead,” he said. “One day at a time.”