Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
As a senior at Centennial High School in Peoria, Ariz., Brett Tonz was asked to help his team by playing on the offensive line.
That was more of a side gig for Tonz, however, as he made his mark as a dominant defensive lineman.
“Really I just did defense and didn’t really go over the plays (on offense) much,” he said. “They just told me some stuff (to do on offense) and I went out there and did it my senior year.”
Four years later, Tonz is a redshirt junior for the Colorado Buffaloes playing full time on the offensive line. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound left guard made his first career start in Friday’s 45-13 win against Colorado State.
“It’s been a little while, going back to high school, since I had started a game,” Tonz said this week as he and the Buffs prepare to visit Nebraska on Saturday. “It was nice to get out there, having fun. All the hard work I put in, just finally getting that opportunity and I’m just trying to run with it.”
A member of the 2015 recruiting class, Tonz signed with CU as a defensive lineman and played there during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. During the spring of 2017, however, the Buffs had more of a need for him on offense, and he made the switch.
“It’s definitely been a process, that’s for sure,” said Tonz, a backup who played just 63 snaps on offense last season. “There were times I’d get really frustrated because there’s so many different techniques and footwork that go with offensive line than there is on defense.”
Despite some frustration, Tonz said he took the approach to “keep your head down and keep working.”
This past spring, he shared the team award for the most improved offensive lineman, and then won a starting job on preseason camp. He played 57 snaps against CSU, leading the line with 1.5 knock-down blocks and allowing zero pressures on the quarterback.
“I thought I played pretty well,” he said. “There’s always things you can work on.
“As a group, I thought we did really well moving the ball and pass protected the best we could.”
With talented youngsters vying for playing time behind him, Tonz knows he can’t let up now. But, he has gained a reputation on his team for having a bit of a mean streak on the field — something he hopes continues to pay off.
“For me, I just have a mentality like I go out there and it’s me against everybody (on the defense),” he said. “I go out there and give everything I’ve got and I’m going to leave it all out there for my brothers.”
Ready for rain
CU doesn’t have much experience practicing in the rain, but head coach Mike MacIntyre said his team will be ready for precipitation. Nebraska’s game last week was cancelled due to inclement weather, and there has been a lot of rain in the Lincoln area lately. The forecast for Saturday in Lincoln calls for a temperature around 70 degrees with a slight chance of rain.
“All spring, we practiced every time it was cold and rainy outside; we never went inside,” MacIntyre said. “We’ve been doing wet ball drills all week, so the balls are wet out there in practice. That’s gone really well. We worked on that, and we do that periodically during camp, too.”
MacIntyre is optimistic that outside linebacker Jacob Callier will play Saturday. Callier missed the second half of the CSU game with a shoulder injury.
“He practiced today and looked good, so right now it looks like he’ll be playing,” MacIntyre said. “He practiced today and I thought he did well.”
Working out kinks
Ronnie Blackmon had a great night returning punts against CSU, racking up 82 yards on five returns — the second-highest single game punt return total by a Buff in the past decade.
The sophomore did, however, go against the conventional approach of not fielding a punt inside the 10-yard line. Three of Blackmon’s five returns were fielded within 5 yards of the goal line — including one that he caught at the 2.
“The good thing, he made a really good return (of 28 yards) after it, but we don’t want to catch it inside the 10-yard line like that in certain situations,” MacIntyre said. “We’re working with him on that.”
CU announced Wednesday that it will go with a traditional uniform — gold helmets, white jerseys, black pants — on Saturday. … Nebraska offensive coordinator Troy Walters, who worked as CU’s receivers coach from 2013-15, told Huskers media Wednesday that Saturday’s game will be special for a lot of reasons for him. “I coached three years there with coach Mac and that staff,” he said. “Great man, great tradition at Colorado.” … Walters said he was impressed with CU’s defensive line against the Rams. “It all starts up front,” he said. “They’re stout and they want to prevent you from running the ball.”