Between his days as a player and as a coach, Mel Tucker has gone through more than three decades of football seasons.
Opening his first preseason camp as the head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes had a bit of a different feel for him, however.
“I woke up this morning with a little extra pep in my step,” Tucker said Thursday after the Buffs’ first of 25 preseason practices.
For Tucker, it’s been a long time coming. He’s waited his entire coaching career for a chance to be the head coach of a program, and it’s been nearly eight months since he was hired by CU.
“I just wanted to get going,” he said. “I really wanted to practice. We have been talking about it a lot … and it’s actually time to start playing and practicing. I’m always fired up and excited to coach and see the guys on the grass.”
Thursday gave Tucker his first chance to see a group of freshmen and transfers that arrived this summer. It also allowed him to see the benefits of an offseason of hard work.
“I’m pleased with what I saw today,” he said. “We had a really good summer and players worked extremely hard with their strength and conditioning. We’re bigger, we’re faster, we’re stronger, and it showed up today. We were able to have very good tempo. Our transitions were good. We really picked up where we left off in the spring, so that was exciting.”
In particular, Tucker highlighted three veterans – and arguably the three most important players on the team: quarterback Steven Montez, receiver Laviska Shenault and linebacker Nate Landman.
“Steven was very sharp mentally today at quarterback,” Tucker said. “I really liked his command of the offense. He was really good with his checks. He threw the ball on time.”
Shenault made his return to practice after sitting out the spring while recovering from injuries.
“Great to see Viska out there,” Tucker said. “He’s back to form. That was my first time really able to see him live and full speed and I was impressed, to say the least. That’s a very good sign.”
Defensively, Landman is being counted on as a leader. He took that to heart this summer and it carried over to Thursdays’ practice.
“Not only does he make the calls and get guys lined up, he leads by example,” Tucker said. “Guys respect him, they listen to him. He helps with our tempo and holding guys accountable, which we talked about over the summer.”
During the spring, Tucker said the coaches were doing the leading, but he said it was “very encouraging” to see players stepping up as leaders on Thursday.
“That’s what I expect from those guys,” he said. “They’ve played a lot of football. Leadership from your best players is critical. Leading by example and being able to make plays. We saw that today.”
Tucker also saw a lot of newcomers struggling a bit in their first practice with the Buffs. That’s to be expected, but not for long.
“The tempo at which we practice and how we work in a sense of urgency and finishing plays, they need to pick it up,” he said. “They got a taste of it today, so I expect to see these guys fall in line and catch up to the older guys.
“Guys will rise to the occasion. I expect to see huge improvement tomorrow.”
Overall, Tucker felt it was a successful first day as the Buffs kick off their first camp under his direction.
“Obviously it’s a starting point for us,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the tape and making the corrections because that’s how we’re really going to get better. Our guys are hungry and we have to stay that way. It’s a work in progress. Day after day after day we have to work to get better in every area. I trust this team is going to do that.”