Considering he’s a part of the group competing for starting roles and playing time at safety, Colorado junior Aaron Maddox might be a bit biased when it comes to judging that position.
After going through two weeks of preseason camp, however, Maddox is convinced the safeties will exceed outside expectations.
“No doubt about it,” he said. “For sure. I may be biased, but way better than what people may believe. We’ll just have to go out there and prove it.”
After losing starters Nick Fisher and Evan Worthington and backup Kyle Trego to graduation, the Buffs also lost talented sophomore Hasaan Hypolite, who was dismissed from the team in spring and transferred to Houston.
What’s left is a group eager to prove themselves.
Senior Mikial Onu, a graduate transfer from SMU, has, by far, the most Division I experience, but he’s new to CU; junior Derrion Rakestraw has just 262 career snaps at safety under his belt, but knows the defense better than the rest; junior Trey Udoffia has 11 career starts at corner, but is new to safety; sophomore Isaiah Lewis was on the field for only seven defensive snaps last year; and freshman Mark Perry is talented, but new to college football.
Maddox, a former junior college transfer who played sparingly last year (108 snaps), fits right in with that group, which is largely unknown to CU fans.
What has Maddox excited, he said, is the way they’ve used competition to improve.
“You have to be looking at your notes all the time because your competition is looking at his notes all the time,” Maddox said. “Everybody can play. Everybody is executing, everybody has been making plays all camp. It’s going to come down to the nitty gritty and we probably won’t know until really close to the season (who will start).”
Most of the safeties have spent time working with the first-team defense during camp, and Maddox said they root for each other.
“We always tell each other how we can do something better or what you did wrong and how you can improve it,” Maddox said. “One thing to expect is that we’ll be very physical.”
First-year head coach Mel Tucker demands physicality from all positions, and Maddox doesn’t disappoint in that regard.
“I didn’t get a chance to see Aaron in the spring coming off of injuries, but really explosive,” defensive coordinator/safeties coach Tyson Summers said. “He’s an aggressive player, an aggressive thinker. We’re really trying to make sure we’re fine-tuning details for him; fine-tuning body mechanics, fine-tuning how he tackles and hopefully being able to help him with his fundamentals so that he’s putting himself in good body positions where he doesn’t have the injuries he’s had in the past.”
Maddox, who played his freshman year at Pima (Ariz.) Community College before transferring to CU in January of 2018, has missed each of the last two springs with shoulder injuries.
The 6-foot-1 junior is aiming to stay healthy, and that started by getting stronger. He came to CU weighing 169 pounds and played last year around 180. He is now fluctuating between 195 and 200.
“I feel amazing, I feel stronger,” he said. “Last year I was a little bit light. It was tough for making some tackles. Now I stand my ground a lot better, tackle a lot better. I feel faster, I feel great. I’m way more powerful.”
Even at a lighter weight last year, Maddox recorded 15 tackles in his 108 snaps – a rate of one tackle per 7.2 snaps. Every other safety on the roster last year was at 11.5 or higher.
Now Maddox is hoping for an even bigger role and he’s enjoying the Buffs’ new defense and coaches.
“I love this defense; I love the coaching staff; I love the energy they bring,” Maddox said. “I love how they teach us; I love how they’re on our backs all the time even with the smallest details. Even if you make a play, they’re going to teach you how to make that play even better. They’re going to teach you a certain technique to where you can get their faster or you can read it faster. It’s a strive for perfection (operation). It’s something I grew up around, it’s something I love. We couldn’t have a better coaching staff, in my opinion.”
Maddox believes the coaching, combined with the talent and work ethic of the players, will make the safeties fun to watch.
“It’s going to be very exciting to see,” he said.