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Al Pupunu
Al Pupunu

Given the lack of production and use of the tight ends in the passing game in recent years, it may be easy to forget that the Colorado football program actually has a pretty good tradition with the position.

From Jerry Hillebrand and Sam Harris in the 1960s to Daniel Graham in 2002 and Nick Kasa in 2013, the Buffs have had several tight ends succeed at CU before playing in the NFL.

Al Pupunu is hoping he can do his part to keep the tradition going. Hired last month as the Buffs’ new tight ends coach, Pupunu is eager to get to work.

“This is awesome,” he said. “This is a dream come true for a lot of coaches. What we try to do is get into a Power 5 conference. I’m just grateful and please for the opportunity.

“I don’t look at it as a challenge. I look at it as … an opportunity to develop these kids and mentor these kids and get them on the right track to be successful, not only on the football field, but also outside of football, in the community, and mold them into awesome young men.”

First-year head coach Mel Tucker and offensive coordinator Jay Johnson have both said the tight end will be utilized as a weapon in the offense going forward, and that’s exciting for Pupunu, who played the position at the highest level.

Pupunu, 49, was a record-setting tight end at Weber State, posting 93 catches for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns in 1991. That’s the second-best single-season reception total for a tight end in FCS history. He then played nine years in the NFL, including his first five years with the San Diego Chargers, and caught 102 passes for 1,000 yards and three touchdowns.

“What I believe, in my heart because I played it all my life and played at the NFL level, to me, if you don’t have a tight end, it’s going to be hard to run a lot of things,” he said. “A lot of teams like to run the spread offense. Well, the spread offense, you don’t have the big guys; you’re putting a lot of pressure on the offensive linemen and running backs.

“But if you have a tight end in there, you can set the point, you can flex them out, you can take advantage of the corners. There’s a lot of things you can do with the tight end position. When you have two good tight ends, you can do a lot.”

But, do the Buffs have the personnel to do it? Pupunu said the answer will come after he gets on the field with his players, but in watching workouts, he’s been impressed with graduate transfer Jalen Harris, senior Darrion Jones and others.

“I think we have the guys here just off the couple of times I’ve seen the guys run,” said Pupunu, who coached tight ends at Weber State the last two years. “We’ll see how they match up when we get into spring time and get after these guys. I think it’s going to be exciting. We’ve got some big guys here.”

In briefly studying the tight ends, Pupunu said, “There’s a lot of technique things we can get way better at it. We just have to teach these guys how to knee bend, keep their elbows nice and tight and get their eyes up. There’s a lot of upside to these guys and we just have to work on the small things. I’m excited for the opportunity to get with these guys and get them right.”

With a strong background as a player and more than a decade of coaching experience, Pupunu is ready to prove himself at a Power 5 team – and Tucker has no doubt he’s hired a good mentor for the tight ends.

“He is a veteran coach who was an outstanding player who played for several years in the NFL,” Tucker said. “He is an excellent teacher and relates well to the student-athlete. He has great energy and is a straight shooter, and he’ll be creative in utilizing the tight end in our offense, both in blocking and receiving.”

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at or

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