Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Josh Kaiser didn’t come to Colorado as a blue-chip prospect ready to step into the lineup from the beginning.
A two-star recruit in 2014 from Mission Viejo, Calif., Kaiser’s had to work for his playing time and he’s slowly moved up the depth chart.
Now a fifth-year senior, he’s earned the starting nod at left tackle for Friday’s season opener against Colorado State. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
“I’ve had to take that attitude into every practice, just to know I’ve been here five years and I have to earn it,” said Kaiser, the lone senior among the Buffaloes’ offensive linemen. “There’s amazing talent in our meeting room and you have to go out and prove it every day.”
Proving it every day is what put the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Kaiser atop the depth chart for this week.
Co-offensive coordinator/line coach Klayton Adams spent the entire preseason camp working with various combinations of players to come up with the five he wants to put on the field to start the game against the rival Rams.
Juniors Tim Lynott Jr. (right guard) and Aaron Haigler (right tackle) were virtually locked into their spots from the start of camp, along with redshirt freshman center Colby Pursell, who had a great camp.
The left side, however, has been unsettled, with Kaiser playing guard and tackle, junior Brett Tonz playing guard and center; redshirt freshmen Jake Moretti and William Sherman playing guard and tackle; and true freshmen Frank Fillip emerging late at tackle.
While the starting group could change week to week, ultimately Adams went with Kaiser at tackle and Tonz at guard on the left side for the opener.
“Really what you want is the guys that have been the most consistent in camp and the guys that you know are going to be able to react with the base rules and play hard and physical, even if they’re not lined up exactly the way you think they’re going go to,” Adams said.
Haigler and Lynott are the only linemen with more game experience than Kaiser, who played in all 12 games last season, with five starts.
Kaiser started the first two games of 2017 at left tackle, but only because Jeromy Irwin, who has since graduated, was suspended. Kaiser spent the bulk of the 2017 season rotating with Isaac Miller on the right side, with three starts.
This month in practice, he’s also lined up at guard at different times. It’s a lot of shuffling, but as a senior and a team leader, Kaiser took it in stride.
“Coach Adams sat down and talked to me, and being able to know both positions and being comfortable at both is important in the long run of the season,” said Kaiser, who is most comfortable at tackle. “It’s just something you have to adjust to and be ready for.”
While his spot on the field has not been consistent, Kaiser’s work ethic has been. He was scout team player of the week during the second week of his true freshman year in 2014.
In 2015 and 2016, he became a regular on the special teams units. During the spring of 2017, he was named the CU’s most improved offensive lineman. This past spring, Kaiser earned the Eddie Crowder Award for outstanding leadership.
CU is eager to see its young linemen – Pursell, Moretti, Sherman and Fillip – perform at some point, but the progress of veterans such as Kaiser has Adams just as pleased as the season is set to kickoff.
“I’d say I’m excited (about the line) – not just for the guys that haven’t played a lot,” Adams said. “I’m excited to watch guys like Aaron and Josh and Tim that have played a fair amount, to see how much better they’ve gotten, because I think we have gotten a lot better. I’m excited to see those guys kind of showcase what they’ve done.”
Kaiser can’t wait, either. Unlike his fellow linemen, this is his last go-round with the Buffs, and he wants to make it special.
“I see us going to another Pac-12 championship and even further than that,” he said. “We’ve been working hard. We want to go as far as we can; we want to win every single game.
“(The CSU game) has been a long time coming, through spring ball and summer workouts and fall camp. I’m very excited to see what we can do, especially on the offensive line. The attitude and the mindset that’s changed in the past couple of months after spring ball … we’re ready to let it loose and let it go.”