During a recent practice, Colorado defensive line coach Kwahn Drake watched as the lessons from previous practices sunk in for a young walk-on.
“I had just been trying to get him to work a certain technique,” Drake said. “He didn’t make the play, but just to see him know, be on time to the one gap, work the releases and do the things that we’re talking about, you could see the child in him, like, ‘Yes, I made my coach happy!'”
In his first season with the Buffaloes (3-0), Drake said he has had those types of moments with “every one of them” in his group, and it’s been incredibly satisfying for him.
For Drake, 32, these moments began to develop when he was a child in New Orleans.
Drake’s grandparents were school teachers. In fact, his grandfather, Henry Crosby Jr., who passed away in 2005, was a legend at West Jefferson High School in Louisiana. After playing football at Grambling State University under Eddie Robinson, Crosby – who also played college baseball – went 229-93 in three decades of coaching high school football. He also coached a high school state championship team in baseball.
West Jefferson named its athletic complex after Crosby in 2010, and he was inducted into the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1995.
Drake lived next door to Crosby and learned a lot from the legendary coach. But, Drake didn’t need to leave the house to learn how to teach. Both of his parents were both school teachers.
“They taught every day in the house,” Drake said. “I leaned on them more when I first started teaching. The biggest thing is, if you have good plan – meaningful activities with a planned out time frame – guys will respond to it. They respond well and they enjoy the work.”
Drake’s upbringing steered him into teaching. He began his coaching career nearly a decade ago at St. James and then St. Augustine high schools in Louisiana. It was during those three years that Drake began developing as a teacher, and as a coach.
“When I first started coaching, I was a high school teacher, so teaching in the classroom has allowed me to be a better teacher on the field and finding different ways to apply it to the players and help them learn,” he said.
Since 2012, Drake has made coaching stops at Tulane, Memphis and Eastern Illinois before being hired at CU in January. Through it all, he’s focused on teaching and watching his players learn.
“It’s rewarding to see guys make those small steps that, it doesn’t show up in the stat column, but you know it took them a while to get to that point,” he said. “That’s very rewarding.”
Like any good school teacher, Drake tailors his coaching at CU to the individual needs of his players. While his defensive linemen are working on a lot of the same techniques in practice, each of them learns differently, and each of them has different strengths and weaknesses.
Drake’s approach with the Buffs’ linemen was first to become united.
“It was more of just getting them to hang out with each other outside of football, being a part of a family,” he said. “After that, each guy individually has different skill sets that need tweaking here and there. Some guys need to work on things that are more powerful, some guys need things that are more finesse.”
Then he joked, “I teach everybody equally different.”
So far, Drake’s approach has paid off, as the Buffs are playing better up front than they did a year ago.
Drake is enjoying his time with the Buffs so far, but when his players – whether a senior starter or a young walk-on – show that they’ve learned what he’s taught them, he knows the foundation was set during his childhood in New Orleans.
“It’s crazy because when you get those lessons (as a kid), you take it for granted,” he said. “Now to see it come to fruition, I call and thank (mom and dad) for all the times they were on me and the lessons they taught. It separated me and gave me an opportunity to be here.”
A few random notes from the weekend:
1. I love the bye week. It’s a much-needed break for the players and coaches, but it’s also much needed for the beat writers. I was able to spend the entire day Saturday with the family. First, I watched my youngest son (8-year-old Mason) in his second-ever flag football game. He’s our athlete, and he had two TD runs, saved a TD with a flag-pull on defense and had a game-ending sack – earning one of two player of the game awards for his team. Best game I’ve seen live all fall!! After that, we spent the afternoon/evening in Estes Park, having a picnic and watching the elk. Too warm for this time of year, but hard to beat the rare family day during football season!
2. We did get back in time for me to catch the end of the Stanford-Oregon game and a good chunk of ASU vs. Washington. A couple of really good Pac-12 games. Then, I spent Sunday evening catching up on some of the games. Gotta love the condensed versions of games that are posted on YouTube!
3. Colorado QB Steven Montez took advantage of the bye week for some family time, too. As soon as practice was over on Friday morning, he got in a quick lift in the weight room and then boarded a plane for El Paso, Tex. Montez was able to watch his brother, Raymond, lead Del Valle High School to a 37-14 rout of rival Canutillo. The younger Montez had three TD passes and a rushing TD – and the towel he used to keep his hands dry during the game had a CU logo on it. Steven’s appearance at the game garnered plenty of attention from local media, given his celebrity status in El Paso. “Raymond played well; he’s really good right now,” Steven told the El Paso Times. “He understands the game so much better.”
4. Shameless plug for a story I wrote over the weekend. CU is putting some capital projects on hold right now to raise money to invest a couple different programs, including mental health, which has become a very important issue in recent years. Friday’s game vs. UCLA is being dedicated to mental health awareness. With that timing, I had a feature on CU’s efforts to help the student-athletes in that area. My story is mainly focused on a student-athlete group, the Bolder Buffs, that was formed this fall to be allies for their peers. CU soccer goalie Jalen Tompkins and women’s basketball guard Kennedy Leonard spearheaded efforts to form the group. If you’ve got a few minutes, read the story and see what the Buffs are doing to help each other in this area.
Stat of the week
Colorado’s opponents are a combined 1-10 so far (Colorado State is 1-4, Nebraska and New Hampshire both 0-3). That’s a .091 opponent winning percentage, and that ranks as the worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The five worst heading into this week:
1. Colorado: 1-10 (.091)
2. Texas State: 3-12 (.200)
3. Cincinnati: 3-11 (.214)
4. Utah State: 4-11 (.267)
5. North Texas: 4-10 (.286)
That, CU fans, is likely why 44 of 61 Associated Press voters don’t have the Buffaloes on their Top 25 ballot this week. Most voters may not know this statistic, but they know the Buffs haven’t faced a good team yet, and this week CU gets 0-3 UCLA.
Pac-12 players of the week
Here’s who I voted for this week as the top players in the Pac-12:
Offense – KJ Costello, Stanford: Several great individual performances this week, but what Costello did in a big game was impressive. He completed 19-of-26 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns – one late in the fourth quarter and the game-winner in overtime.
Defense – Ben Burr-Kirven, Washington: Racked up an amazing 20 tackles in the win against Arizona State. He also forced two fumbles and recovered one of them.
Special teams – Jay Tufele, USC: A starting defensive lineman, he blocked Washington State’s potential-game tying field goal with under 2 minutes to play to preserve a 39-36 win.
Pac-12 Team of the Week
Stanford Cardinal (4-0): They were impressive during their comeback win at Oregon. They got some lucky breaks, but I’ve always been a fan of coach David Shaw, and he just picked up a pivotal and very impressive win.
National Team of the Week
Kentucky Wildcats (4-0). In Week 2, they snapped a 31-game losing streak to Florida, winning 27-16 in Gainesville, Fla. Now, the Wildcats are in the Top 25 rankings for the first time in 11 years. On Saturday, Kentucky knocked off then-No. 14 Mississippi State, 28-7. Running back Benny Snell is one of the nation’s leading rushers, and the Cats are rolling.
A few thoughts on the Pac-12 after Week 4:
1. Coming into the season, most thought Washington was the Pac-12’s best hope for the College Football Playoff, but to me, that’s shifted to Stanford. Obviously, Washington already has a loss to Auburn, and the Huskies could certainly win the Pac-12. But, sitting at No. 7 right now, Stanford is in great position to make a CFP run. The Cardinal visit No. 8 Notre Dame this week. Run the table, and Stanford will have road wins at Oregon, Notre Dame and Washington.
2. I’m certainly not handing the North title to Stanford, though. That race is long from over, and it’s going to be a fun one to watch all season. Washington and Oregon are certainly in the mix, and I think it’s too early to discount Washington State and Cal. Like Oregon, Wazzu failed to close the deal last week in a loss to USC, but the Cougars have impressed me. They get Oregon and Washington in Pullman. Cal is intriguing and I tend to think the Bears (3-0) will fall off, but they get a real shot to prove themselves this week when Oregon comes to Berkeley. They also get Washington, Stanford and Colorado (the South favorite?) at home.
3. I realize he’s been battling a sore ankle the past two weeks, but it’s still really weird to see Khalil Tate not running the ball. The Arizona QB doing basically nothing as a runner has to be one of the biggest surprises in college football this season. Tate took college football by storm last year, coming off the bench and racking up 1,411 rushing yards and 1,591 passing yards – almost all of that coming in nine games. Four games into this season, Tate is on pace for more than 3,100 yards and 24 TDs in the air, but on the ground, he’s got 31 yards on 23 carries, averaging 7.75 rushing yards per game. So far this season, these are the Pac-12 QBs averaging more yards on the ground than Tate:
43.0 – Brandon McIlwain, Cal
42.0 – Chase Garbers, Cal
20.5 – Manny Wilkins, ASU
19.0 – Justin Herbert, Oregon
10.7 – Tyler Huntley, Utah
10.3 – Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA
9.5 – Gardner Minshew, Washington State
9.0 – Steven Montez, Colorado
How stunning to see not one, but TWO Cal quarterbacks on top of this list? McIlwain and Garbers have a combined 255 rushing yards. In the previous two seasons combined, the Bears got a total of minus-250 yards from their QBs.
4. USC may have saved its season with its comeback win against Washington State. After two bad losses in a row, they were in big trouble down 30-17 against the Cougars. Freshman QB JT Daniels was impressive down the stretch, though. Just one win, but that’s the type of win that could be season-altering for the Trojans. They could really seize control of the South in the next four games (at Arizona, vs. Colorado, at Utah, vs. ASU).
5. In a conference that features Tate, Stanford’s Bryce Love and Washington’s Myles Gaskin, it’s more than a bit surprising that these are the top three rushers right now: Arizona’s JJ Taylor (119.3 yards per game), Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson (118.3) and Colorado’s Travon McMillian (96.7).
After week 4, here’s how I rank the teams in the Pac-12:
1. Stanford (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12): Yeah, they got very fortunate at the end of their 38-31 overtime at Oregon, but the Cardinal have defeated two of the best teams in the conference already.
2. Washington (3-1, 2-0): The offense is underwhelming, but the defense is championship level.
3. Oregon (3-1, 0-1): Costly mistakes prevented the Ducks from closing it out against Stanford, but they’ll be a factor in the North race.
4. Colorado (3-0): Idle Buffs remain at No. 4 as they open pac-12 play this week.
5. California (3-0): Bears were also idle last week and get a chance to prove themselves this week against Oregon.
6. USC (2-2, 1-1): For a while, the Trojans looked to be going down for a third week in a row but rallied for a nice 39-36 win vs. Washington State.
7. Washington State (3-1, 0-1): Cougars are much better than I thought they’d be this year, but letting USC off the hook was disappointing.
8. Arizona State (2-2, 0-1): Another team that’s much better than I thought they’d be this year, the Sun Devils stood toe-to-toe with Washington in Seattle.
9. Utah (2-1, 0-1): Utes were idle last week. Now, they get back-to-back road games at Washington State and Stanford.
10. Arizona (2-2, 1-0): Wildcats have now won two in a row after the 35-14 victory at Oregon State.
11. UCLA (0-3): Another idle team last week, Bruins look to get their first win this week at Colorado.
12. Oregon State (1-3, 0-1): This is just an awful team that appears destined to go 0-9 in the Pac-12 again.
Quote the of week
“He’s kind of the whole package when you’re trying to defend a quarterback.” – UCLA head coach Chip Kelly, talking to Bruins media on Sunday about facing CU quarterback Steven Montez this week.
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at email@example.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.