Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
It’s generally not too difficult to get a smile out of Colorado receiver KD Nixon, who seems to wear it permanently.
On Tuesday, however, the sophomore was particularly upbeat as he and his teammates finished practice.
“We’re happy,” Nixon said. “Our vibe is totally different. I love it.”
That’s not the message one would expect out of a team riding a six-game losing streak, but the Buffaloes (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) go into their regular season finale on Saturday at California (6-4, 4-3) perhaps feeling a little relief.
Last week, the Buffs dealt with rumors about the future of head coach Mike MacIntyre. A Denver Channel 7 report that MacIntyre would be fired at season’s end cast a shadow over the Buffs all last week, and they responded with a 30-7 loss to Utah.
On Sunday, MacIntyre was fired, and while it sent shock and some sadness through the locker room, there’s been a bit of pressure taken off of them, as well.
“It’s the new wave,” Nixon said. “Just being free, having fun, enjoying the process, enjoying the moment. I know it’s the last game, but you never get these moments back, so you’re going to take advantage of this week and focus on Cal.”
Interim head coach Kurt Roper said his message to the team was to approach this week like the others, but he’s also aware that the Buffs needed some work on their mental health.
“They’re not blind to the fact of what’s going on and what’s being said and talked about all season long,” he said. “You better be a tough minded person in anything in life. It’s life. There’s things you can control and can’t control. The first place you start struggling is mentally with things.”
Players continue to express their disappointment that MacIntyre is no longer their head coach, but the uncertainly and tension that goes along with job speculation seems to have been lifted a bit.
“There’s a lot less pressure,” defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson said. “I think (Roper) understands that it is a hard time for us right now, with a lot of confusion, that we can’t fall back and lose our bond between ourselves.”
Johnson added that there was “energy and excitement” in practice on Tuesday.
Roper’s personality has played a role in that, as he tries to rally the Buffs to win a game this week.
“I think he’s done a really good job of trying to keep it somewhat consistent,” offensive lineman Aaron Haigler said. “I think it’s important for an interim (coach) to bring new energy and bring a new life to this team, but also keep it kind of consistent.”
Perhaps more so than Roper, the Buffs may be following the lead of senior receiver Jay MacIntyre, the son of the now former head coach. It’s been an emotional week for Jay, but he showed up to practice Tuesday in a jovial mood, somewhat surprising his teammates.
“Today JayMac was himself,” Nixon said. “He came out swaggy, having fun.”
“That’s just Jay,” Haigler added.
Jay bringing a positive attitude to practice may have been exactly what the Buffs needed Tuesday.
“I respect the hell out of Jay,” quarterback Steven Montez said. “He’s an awesome guy. He’s one of the tougher guys mentally that I’ve met. He keeps working. He still goes out there and practices his butt off and works extremely hard. If his dad were at practice today seeing how hard he was working he’d be beyond proud of him, especially with the circumstances we’re faced with right now.”
Those circumstances didn’t seem so bad on Tuesday, and it didn’t hurt that a Sweet Cow Ice Cream truck was waiting to serve them a post-practice treat.
“The ice cream was also a nice touch,” Johnson said with a laugh.