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CU Buffs’ Sam Noyer embracing opportunity on defense

Junior has made move from quarterback to safety this season

CU athletics
Junior Sam Noyer made the shift from quarterback to safety last month.

For more than four years, after his verbal commitment to Colorado in the summer of 2015, Sam Noyer’s focus was on quarterbacking the Buffaloes.

It took one Sunday evening meeting last month to change that focus.

New Buffaloes head coach Mel Tucker called Noyer into his office and presented an idea.

“He sat me down,” Noyer said, “and he was like … ‘It’s not that we’re counting you out at quarterback, but we don’t have that much depth at safety, and you’re one of the most athletic guys on the team, so is there any way you would like to move to safety?’”

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Sam Noyer went 13-for-15 for 195 yards and two touchdowns during the spring game.

For three full seasons and through three different position coaches, Noyer had worked tirelessly to perfect his craft as a quarterback, but a half hour chat with Tucker convinced him to take another path.

“I kind of thought about it, and I was like, ‘You know what coach, I’ll do whatever is best for the team. If that means I’m playing receiver, special teams, (defensive back), whatever it is, I’ll do what’s best.’ That’s kind of how it all went down. From there, the rest is history.”

Now, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior is on the verge of making his mark on defense. He’s not a starter, but being listed second on the depth chart at free safety means that Noyer’s opportunity may not be too far away. In fact, Noyer is probably more valuable to the Buffs right now than ever before, especially with senior Steven Montez still firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback and sophomore Tyler Lytle backing him up.

“At the end of the day, I just wanted to get on the field and with Montez still here, the chances of that were pretty slim (at quarterback),” he said.

The move made sense for CU and it was a selfless act for Noyer, who threw for 7,235 yards and 69 touchdowns as a three-year starter at Beaverton (Ore.) High School before spending the last three years playing quarterback with the Buffs. In nine appearances off the bench, Noyer completed 21-of-41 passes for 179 yards and two interceptions.

“I think that it was definitely a lot easier than people think,” he said of giving up the position he loves. “But at the same time, like I said, I was ready to get on the field any way I could and help the team out.

“Even though it’s going to be such a big change, I was ready to take on that task with a full head of steam.”

There are times when Montez and the other quarterbacks will mess around with Noyer and say, “Hey, come throw the ball with us,” but Noyer just laughs.

“I still have it in me, obviously,” he said, while adding that he doesn’t miss playing quarterback.

“I kind of ran with it ever since I became a defensive player. Obviously, quarterback is still something that I will always love … but at the same time, I definitely missed hitting and I definitely missed that part of football.”

Tucker and  Noyer have never shut the door on a possible return to quarterback. Should the Buffs get in a dire situation where Montez, Lytle and Blake Stenstrom are unable to play, Noyer still has the ability to jump back over to the offense.

Right now, however, the switch to safety is beyond the experimental stage. Noyer played defense growing up and he said his instincts quickly took over. A month into it, he’s feeling ready to help the Buffs.

“I feel a lot more comfortable back there,” he said. “I’m starting to get everything on the defense down instead of just little bits and pieces. I’m still learning every day, but at the same time, I feel like if my name is called, I’ll be ready.”

Noyer has made an impression already because of his size and athleticism.

“He’s a big guy, physical guy, very athletic,” said senior Mikial Onu, the Buffs’ starter at free safety. “He’s a guy that I think when he gets out there, he’ll do well. We have all the confidence in him, just  like anybody else. He’s done really well so far.”

Noyer and Onu are roommates, which has helped Noyer’s transition to safety. A graduate transfer from SMU, Onu has played 39 Division I games at safety, and Noyer often asks him questions.

DENVER, CO - Aug. 30, 2019: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
University of Colorado’s Mikial Onu, left, celebrates his interception with Sam Noyer during the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver.

“He’s been a really big help for me on and off the field, for sure,” Noyer said.

Going into this week’s game at Arizona State, Onu and junior Aaron Maddox had started every game at safety for the Buffs. Maddox, however, suffered a severe laceration to his left leg last week against Air Force and will miss a few games. That has dented CU’s depth at the position even more. Derrion Rakestraw was likely to start against the Sun Devils, but Noyer could become a key player, as well, during Maddox’s absence.

Until then, Noyer’s enjoyment comes from learning the position, getting better in practice and even occasionally picking off passes thrown by his former QB friends.

“It’s nice,” he said of those moments. “They always come over and they get mad at me, like, ‘Oh, you’re reading the calls.’ But, I’m so caught up in learning where I have to be and our calls (on defense) where I can’t even look over there. But, it definitely feels good.”

It will feel even better when Noyer can make a play on game day.

“I’m looking forward to that moment,” he said. “I’m excited to deliver that first blow in a live situation and a live game. I’m excited for that feeling.”