In a wide open competition for playing time at safety, Derrion Rakestraw is finally feeling comfortable in his role with the Colorado football team.
Having played receiver and then cornerback during his first two years with the Buffaloes, the Sequoyah (Ga.) High School product is starting to make his mark at safety.
“I’m getting real comfortable with it,” Rakestraw said last month after one of the Buffs’ final practices of spring drills. “I’m starting to step up as a leader and trying to get everybody lined up and knowing what to do. It’s starting to feel natural.”
Last season, seniors Nick Fisher and Evan Worthington combined for 21 of the 24 starts at safety. Another senior, Kyle Trego, was a top backup at the position. That trio combined to play more than 80 percent of the snaps at safety, and since all three have graduated, the Buffs have very little experience at the position.
“We have a lot of guys that are hungry,” Rakestraw said. “I don’t really see inexperience because everybody wants to play. We have a lot of good, physical safeties, so I feel like we’ll be good.”
Despite moving to safety just a year ago – with about three practices left in spring – Rakestraw enters the 2019 season as CU’s most experienced safety. Last season, he played seven games on defense and even got two starts when Worthington went out with an injury. He played 262 snaps, recording 19 tackles, an interception and three quarterback pressures.
Rakestraw’s inexperience with the position was exploited at times during the 2018 season, however.
“I feel like I wasn’t as ready as I should have been, but it was good to get that experience and know what I can expect for the next year,” he said. “I’ll be ready for it this year.”
New defensive coordinator/safeties coach Tyson Summers said that while the safeties have a long way to go, Rakestraw stood out in spring.
“I think Derrion is doing well,” Summers said. “He’s certainly the guy that’s the farthest along with understanding and communicating our defense and what we want, but he’s also the guy that puts in the most amount of time and the most amount of work towards it.”
Rakestraw has no choice but to put in the work if he wants to play.
Daily competition – at all positions, not just safety – means there’s no time to rest. But, Rakestraw also believes that’s creating depth, even if there isn’t much experience.
“I definitely feel like we are (building depth),” he said. “Everybody wants to play. We have a lot of good safeties. I feel like we already have the depth; it’s just competition.”
The depth took a hit last week when sophomore Hasaan Hypolite, a possible starter, was dismissed for violating team rules.
Still, the Buffs have some potentially solid pieces to work with this season.
Listed atop the depth chart at free safety at the end of spring, Rakestraw played with the second-team defense during the spring game on April 27. Junior Trey Udoffia, a converted cornerback, and sophomore Isaiah Lewis played with the first-team defense.
Junior Aaron Maddox – the second-most experienced safety on the team, with 108 snaps played last season – missed the spring while recovering from a shoulder injury, but should be ready to compete in the fall.
Walk-on Lucas Cooper and incoming freshman Mark Perry will get into the mix, as well.
While a starting role isn’t guaranteed for Rakestraw, he’s enjoying the competition and finally settling into a position.
“I’m probably going to always miss receiver, but I definitely like (safety) better than corner,” he said. “I feel like it’s more natural for me. Instead of being pressed up all the time, I can play off and kind of read the whole play and things like that.”
Rakestraw is hoping that comfort will help him to be a key part of what he believes can be a good defense.
“I love (the defense),” he said. “We have a lot of good opportunities for picks, for double teams on deep routes. I feel like we have an answer for everything.”