There’s never a bad time to announce a five-star prospect joining the program, but for the Colorado Buffaloes, the timing could not have been better.
Mired in a five-game losing streak, the Buffs (3-6, 1-5 Pac-12) welcome Stanford (4-4, 3-3 Pac-12) to Boulder on Saturday (1:10 p.m.; TV: Pac-12 Networks) in hopes of trying to salvage something out of this season.
Barring a fairly stunning three-game winning streak to close the season, this will be another lost year for a program that has made just one bowl appearance in the previous 11 seasons.
Trying to convince the CU faithful that better days are ahead has become an annual tradition, but the future got a bit brighter with Monday’s announcement that defensive end Antonio Alfano has signed a financial aid agreement with the Buffs.
Rated the No. 1 prospect in the country by 247Sports.com for the 2019 class, Alfano signed with Alabama and enrolled there in January, but he left the Crimson Tide in September and entered the transfer portal.
“I’m really excited about him and I expect him to be an impact player,” CU head coach Mel Tucker said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “He was obviously a very highly recruited player and rightly so. He’s a dynamic player that can do lots of different things.”
What Alfano, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound wrecking ball, does on the field will be important for the Buffs. What he can do for them off the field could be monumental.
Five-star players don’t come to Boulder very often. In the last 20 years, three five-stars have signed with the Buffs out of high school: running back Marcus Houston in 2000, offensive lineman Ryan Miller in 2007 and running back Darrell Scott in 2008.
Miller earned All-American honors as a senior in 2011 and was drafted by the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, but Houston and Scott both transferred to other schools.
While Alfano didn’t sign with CU out of high school, his decision to transfer to Boulder is significant for Tucker, who was hired exactly 11 months ago.
“(Alfano) sees the vision,” said Tucker, who recruited Alfano out of high school. “He knows what I’m all about and what our goals are here and he wants to have an opportunity to be successful on and off the field. And so we were able to make that happen.”
Tucker and the Buffs aren’t throwing in the towel on this season; in fact, he was pleased with a solid day of work on the practice field on Tuesday. But with losses piling up and bowl game hopes on life support, there is an eye on the future.
“I’m really excited about the direction of our program, the shift in culture that will allow us to be successful now and in the future,” he said. “There’s certain things that have to happen for you to have a successful program. Obviously recruiting is a big part of it.”
Getting a player of Alfano’s caliber to Boulder could lead to an influx of talent. It doesn’t hurt that Alfano’s decision was announced just a few days before one of CU’s biggest recruiting weekends of the year. Several top prospects are slated to be in Boulder this week.
“My experience in recruiting is momentum does play a factor,” Tucker said. “When you’re looking to build a class, a strong class, first and foremost, you’re looking for high character guys that are in alignment with what you believe in as a program, on and off the field. And those guys are attracted to each other in recruiting.
“Everyone’s looking for the right fit and I believe, and we believe, that Boulder is a very, very attractive place for the top recruits in this country and we’re aggressively recruiting those players.”
While it’s unknown why Alfano left the Crimson Tide in September, Tucker said he believes CU will be a good fit.
“I had really good conversations with Antonio about his future, his goals, his aspirations, and they’re totally aligned with what we want to do here in our program, on and off the field,” Tucker said. “I’m really excited about him being a Buff, coming to Boulder, being able to flourish, reach his goals. I believe that he’ll be a better person, be a better student, be a better football player as a result of deciding to come here. And so we’re going to work together to help him reach his full potential.”
Alfano is planning to enroll at CU in January, but it’s not known yet if he can play in 2020. Because of the NCAA transfer rule that requires a year in residence before playing, Alfano would need a waiver to be eligible, but there is hope he’ll get that waiver.
If Alfano can play in 2020, the Buffs’ defensive line could be a formidable group. CU doesn’t lose any defensive linemen to graduation. Starters Mustafa Johnson, Jalen Sami and Terrance Lang have been solid when healthy, while Janaz Jordan and freshmen Na’im Rodman and Austin Williams have provided good depth.
“The good teams have depth so they can roll guys in and out,” CU defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh said. “That’s what we’re looking for right now and I’m excited to have that opportunity.
“I like to play a lot of guys. The more guys I can play, the more guys through the season stay healthy and then the more guys learn, the better your unit is. Keep them all happy.”