With an NFL future and the potential for millions of dollars on the line, college football players have elected to skip bowl games in recent years.
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, Iowa tight end Noah Fant and several Michigan Wolverines were among those skipping the bowls last year to focus on the NFL.
Ohio State’s Nick Bosa went a step further last year. Projected as a high draft pick for 2019, Bosa knew he was going to skip his senior year. When he suffered a core muscle injury in the third game of his junior season, he had surgery and announced he would leave the team to focus on the NFL rather than coming back for the end of the season.
The move paid off, as Bosa was the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft this year, by the San Francisco 49ers, and he’s been one of the best players in the league.
This season, Colorado has a highly regarded NFL prospect in receiver Laviska Shenault. Like Bosa a year ago, Shenault came in as a projected top-10 NFL draft choice by some. Like Bosa, Shenault is a junior who isn’t likely to return for his senior year. And, like Bosa, Shenault suffered a core muscle injury early in the season.
Unlike Bosa, Shenault hasn’t decided to shut down his college career and prepare for the NFL. What Shenault has done is battle each week, often with pain. He missed one full game because of the injury, but he’s looked hobbled in a few others.
Some fans have suggested Shenault shut it down and get ready for the NFL. Watching him leave briefly with a knee injury during Saturday’s 16-13 win against Stanford only enhanced that thought for some.
Everyone has their opinion on what Shenault should do, but what does Shenault think about this situation? After the game on Saturday, I decided to ask him.
In this edition of the Monday Rewind, we’ll look at Shenault’s season and his thoughts on the future. Also this week:
- Great moment for the Price brothers
- Best of the Buffs against Stanford
- Stats and quotes of the week
- Pac-12 rankings and AP ballot
LEADING OFF: Shenault’s motivation
Heading for the elevator at the Champions Center on Saturday evening, Shenault was ready to go home after a hard-fought and physically demanding victory, but he was courteous enough to give me a couple minutes of time before he left.
That afternoon, Shenault had caught a team-high eight passes for 91 yards, in addition to delivering the most memorable run of the season, a bone-crunching, bulldozing, 5-yarder on fourth-and-1 late in the fourth quarter to help the Buffaloes set up the winning field goal.
In the second half, in addition to that run, he caught two passes. That all came after it was announced he was questionable to return because he hurt his knee late in the first half. In the postgame press conference, he said, “I was definitely dealing with pain.”
This has been a tough season for Shenault, a preseason All-American and potential top-10 pick in the draft. He’s been dealing with pain – and blanket coverage by defenses – most of the year and his numbers show it: 45 catches for 621 yards and three touchdowns, along with 15 rushes for 119 yards and two scores. For a normal human, those are great numbers. Shenault is not a normal human, however.
Considering the pain and the bright future ahead of him, I was curious why he keeps playing. I asked him, has it ever entered your mind to shut it down and get ready for the draft?
“Of course it’s entered my mind,” he said, “but I love football too much to shut it down. I can’t shut it down on the team like that.”
Yeah, but as bumps and bruises pile up, does it make you reconsider?
“I can’t do it,” he said with a smile. “Just can’t do it. My competitiveness is definitely one of the reasons. I just don’t want to stop. That’s not me.”
Shenault’s life story has been told repeatedly and it’s clear this is a driven young man. Shenault, who was 10 years old when he lost his father, has been through a lot at a young age and he’s never backed down. In fact, he thrives on challenges. He lifts weights with linemen because he’s that strong. He played hurt through the final three games of the 2018 season. Catch a ball near the sidelines and run out of bounds to avoid contact? Yeah, right.
When asked to describe the play where he hurt his knee on Saturday, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Shenault couldn’t help but smile in the middle of his answer and say with pride, “I ran the dude over.”
Yeah, and he ran a dude over on the fourth-and-1, too.
At this point, playing with pain is part of his game. Not that he enjoys it. He’s frustrated, but said, “It’s just pain. That’s all it is.”
That’s not a normal reaction, but Shenault’s not a normal guy. He’s a unique talent and a unique young man. He was in pain Saturday, but coming out with a win made it sweet.
“My hurt is OK now,” he said. “Now it’s just a little thing because of that win. So it was definitely good to get that win.”
Don’t expect to see him stop trying to get more. It’s almost a given that Shenault will be in the NFL a year from now. It would be shocking if he chose to come back for his senior year. But he’s got at least two games left as a Buff, and he’s having a blast playing college football.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I’m going to miss it. I’m going to miss it for sure.”
(For the record, I’m not suggesting Shenault is doing what’s right and that Bosa did not. I just see them as similar situations with different outcomes. Bosa made the right decision for himself, and I believe Shenault is making the right decision for himself).
MEMORABLE MOMENT: Price delivers
I love the photo to the left, taken by Cliff Grassmick, the Daily Camera’s talented veteran photographer. It shows CU kickers Evan and Davis Price celebrating in the moments after Evan booted the game-winning 37-yard field goal against Stanford.
Over the years, the Price bothers – Davis is a senior, Evan a redshirt freshman – have had brief moments in the spotlight at CU, but nothing like Saturday.
CU’s backup placekicker, Evan played for injured James Stefanou and hit all three of his field goals. The final kick, as time expired, earned him a ride on the shoulders of his teammates.
“It’s just a surreal feeling,” Evan said. “A lot of people put it all on me for making that kick, but it’s just one kick that I made to get us there. Amazing drive (by the offense) … defense was playing incredible whole game. I just did the last one percent of it.”
Evan can downplay it all he wants. This was a cool moment – not only for him, but for the Price family.
Native Coloradoans, Davis and Evan starred at Evergreen High School before coming to CU.
Davis was an all-state kicker and punter at Evergreen. Through the 2018 season, he ranked 11th in state prep history with 24 career field goals, according to the Colorado High School Activities Association. He holds the Evergreen school record for field goals in a season, with 12 – and he did that twice, in 2014 and 2015. Only eight kickers in state history have scored more in a season than the 88 points Davis had in 2014.
Evan was the Cougars’ primary kicker for only one year, as a senior in 2017, but he also earned all-state honors after hitting 11 field goals that year. He made a school-record 54-yard field goal in a one-point win over Lewis-Palmer and he’s one of only nine kickers in state history with multiple 50-yarders in a season (he had two that year).
Both players have been walk-ons at CU (although Davis was on scholarship as a junior in 2018), but both have shined at times.
During CU’s magical run to the Pac-12 South title in 2016, Davis briefly filled in for injured Diego Gonzalez. One of three kickers used that year, Davis went 4-for-6 on field goals and 26-for-27 on extra points. On his first career field goal attempt, he drilled a 54-yarder – the longest ever for a CU freshman.
In 2017, CU signed Stefanou and Davis has attempted just one kick since – a missed 53-yarder against Oregon State last year. But, he was the Buffs’ primary kickoff specialist in 2017 and 2018, and wound up punting in nine of 12 games last year because of injury to Alex Kinney.
Stefanou had handled kickoff duties most of this season, but Davis has been in that role again for the past three games.
Evan, meanwhile, is enjoying his second stint as an injury replacement. Last year when Stefanou was injured, Evan went 4-for-5 on field goals (the only miss being blocked) and 5-for-5 on extra points.
This year, Evan hadn’t played all season until booting the final extra point of a 31-14 loss to UCLA on Nov. 2. Now, with Stefanou’s status for the final two games up in the air, Evan is in the starting role.
While Evan was enjoying a perfect day (3-for-3 on field goals, 1-for-1 on extra points) against Stanford, Davis put three of his four kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks – and the other was perfectly placed to pin the Cardinal at their 7-yard-line.
Although the journey to this point likely isn’t what the brothers envisioned, Davis and Evan Price could be teaming up to handle the Buffs’ kicking duties during their final few games together.
“It’s incredible,” Evan said. “I couldn’t ask for a better ending to his senior season. He’s playing, I’m playing. It’s working out for us and I just try to cherish these last couple games I’m going to have with him.”
BEST OF THE BUFFS: This week’s top CU players
CU’s top performers in Saturdays 16-13 win against Stanford:
- RB Alex Fontenot: Solid once again, he had 95 yards on 18 carries. On the Buffs’ game-tying drive in the fourth, he ran seven times for 36 yards.
- LT Arlington Hambright: The senior had a season-best grade of 88.7, including eight knockdown blocks and a touchdown block on the Montez run. He’ll be the Pac-12 offensive lineman of the week considering he was the only nominee.
- P Alex Kinney: He averaged 50.0 yards on four punts, including a 59-yarder that pinned Stanford at its 13, and a 54-yard boot.
- LB Nate Landman: Only five tackles, which is really low by his standards, but he was also good in pass coverage and better than his numbers show.
- CBs Tarik Luckett and KJ Trujillo: The two true freshmen played every snap on defense against a talented QB and didn’t give up much. Stanford’s one big passing play – a 79-yard TD – didn’t come against either corner.
- QB Steven Montez: He’s certainly had better games, but sometimes a QB has to battle through a grind-it-out game and he did that. He scored the Buffs’ only touchdown on a 17-yard run, completed 20-of-30 passes for 186 yards and ran for 40 yards. He did throw an interception, but that didn’t appear to be his fault.
- PK Evan Price: First major action of the year and he scores 10 points on an extra point and three field goals, including the game winner.
- S Derrion Rakestraw: Finished with four tackles and picked off a Stanford pass.
- WR Laviska Shenault: Modest numbers (96 total yards), but on a day when neither team shined on offense, he was fantastic, with eight catches for 91 yards and a 5-yard run for a first down late.
- STAR Davion Taylor: Nominated for Pac-12 defensive player of the week, he was arguably the best player on the field Saturday. He recorded eight tackles (although it seemed like more), including two tackles for loss. He also had a huge pass breakup late in the game.
THOUGHTS ON THE WEEKEND
1. CU likes to rotate its running backs and I really like the potential of freshman Jaren Mangham. Still, I thought it was odd that on the Buffs’ final possession of the game, it was Mangham on the field and not sophomore Alex Fontenot. The Buffs were clearly trying to milk the clock with the run game, yet went with Mangham (six carries for 5 yards up to that point) over Fontenot (18 carries, 95 yards, 5.3 average) with the game on the line. CU got what it wanted out of the drive, but Mangham had just 13 yards on five carries on the drive. It all worked out, so it’s hard to nit-pick too much, but I found it odd that the Buffs didn’t ride the hot hand there.
2. The Buffs’ offense – QB Steven Montez and coordinator Jay Johnson, in particular – have been heavily criticized lately, and with good reason. What was supposed to be an explosive unit has averaged a stunningly low 14.8 points over the last five games. And, while I just criticized the offense with No. 1, I’ll give Johnson some credit. The game and the final numbers weren’t pretty, but it often takes an ugly slugfest to beat Stanford. With the game on the line, CU beat Stanford at its own game, with drives of 14 and 13 plays to get game-tying and game-winning field goals. The Buffs also had a 13-play drive in the second period and a 9-play drive to start the game. Not the prettiest game, but the offense did what it needed to win the game.
3. Speaking of coordinators, Tyson Summers is doing a really good job with the Buffs’ defense. The Buffs had allowed at least 30 points in every game before last week, but this hasn’t been the easiest season for Summers. First seasons are always tough when trying to install a new system, but Summers had a depleted defense in the spring. Then, he’s dealt with numerous injuries this season. The defense has played better the past few weeks and to hold Stanford to 13 points was big for that group.
4. Light week in the Pac-12 with Oregon and Utah both on bye, but the conference did add two bowl eligible teams. Washington got there with a dominant win over Oregon State and USC reached the six-win mark by holding on against Arizona State. Cal and ASU are both a win away from bowl eligibility. With three weeks to go in the regular season, all 12 teams have at least four wins. While they won’t all get there, they’ve all got a chance to reach the postseason. No other conference in the country has all of its teams with four or more wins at this point.
STAT OF THE WEEK: 53
Career games played for Buffs punter Alex Kinney, setting a new program record. The previous record of 52 was held by tight end Quinn Sypniewski (2000-05).
STAT OF THE WEEK, part II: 10
Interceptions for Montez this season, marking his career high. He had nine each of the previous two seasons. It’s the first double-digit INT season by a CU quarterback since Sefo Liufau threw 15 in 2014.
STAT OF THE WEEK, part III: 414
Rushing yards for Mangham this season. That’s the ninth-best single-season total for a freshman in CU history and he’s the first freshman to hit the 400-yard mark since Michael Adkins had 535 in 2013.
MY PAC-12 RANKINGS
How I rank the Pac-12 after Week 11:
1. Oregon Ducks (8-1, 6-0 Pac-12; previous rank: 1): Bye week for the Ducks last week.
2. Utah Utes (8-1; 5-1; PR: 2): Utes also on bye last week.
3. UCLA Bruins (4-5; 4-2; PR: 4): Another team on a bye last week, Bruins bring 3-game win streak to Utah this week.
4. Washington Huskies (6-4; 3-4; PR: 8): Defense was impressive in win against Oregon State, as Huskies gained bowl eligibility.
5. USC Trojans (6-4; 5-2; PR: 6): Nearly lost a big lead, but finished off ASU to get bowl eligibility.
6. California Golden Bears (5-4; 2-4; PR: 11): Bears snapped four-game losing streak in win against Washington State.
7. Oregon State Beavers (4-5; 3-3; PR: 3): Pac-12 home losing streak up to 12 games.
8. Arizona State Sun Devils (5-4; 2-4; PR: 9): Losing streak now at three games.
9. Arizona Wildcats (4-5; 2-4; PR: 10): Cats were on bye last week, but now own Pac-12’s longest losing streak, at four.
10. Colorado Buffaloes (4-6; 2-5; PR: 12): Temporary relief? We’ll see, but Buffs end five-game skid.
11. Stanford Cardinal (4-5; 3-4; PR: 7): Once mighty Cardinal might struggle to even get to a bowl.
12. Washington State Cougars (4-5; 1-5; PR: 5): Rout of CU in Pullman is the only conference win for the disappointing Cougars.
MY TOP 25 BALLOT
Here’s the ballot I submitted to the Associated Press for this week’s Top 25:
3. Ohio State
8. Penn State
15. Notre Dame
20. Boise State
24. Appalachian State
25. Virginia Tech
For the first time all season, I’ve bumped Clemson out of the top spot. I’ve been adamant that while Clemson has seemingly gone through the motions at times, I believe that on neutral field, they beat anyone in the country. I still think so, but LSU’s resume is too good to ignore. LSU is now 4-0 against Top 25 teams and 3-0 against teams currently in the College Football Playoff Top 25. Clemson is 1-0 against Top-25 competition (a week 2 win against Texas A&M) and hasn’t played anyone in the CFP rankings.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
Head coach Mel Tucker on the improvement of the defense in recent games: “It’s just really a credit to coach Summers – Tyson Summers and our entire defensive staff, who work really hard with our with our players to teach, motivate and develop our guys. We’re playing a lot of young players. We started two true freshmen corners today; they played every snap. That’s just a credit to those guys, to those coaches and our players that just continue to stay with it and continue to keep chopping.”
Star Davion Taylor on the game-winning field goal: “I was excited. We believe in our kicker, so that’s why we gave him the position to make the kick. We were just waiting for him to make it and when he made it, we were just excited. We weren’t really surprised because we believe in him and he practices every day. We just rushed the field because it was just exciting to get a win after all these weeks.”
QB Steven Montez on ending the losing streak: “We still have a lot of things in front of us. We can still do the things that we want to do if we play good football and we play fundamentally sound and play as a team. We get this bye week – dudes get their legs back, get them healthy again and then hopefully have a good week of practice going into Washington. But I mean, it’s all about the bye week first. We’ve got to take it one week at a time, even if we don’t have a game this week. We still gotta have a good week of practice.”
WR Laviska Shenault on Evan Price kicking the game winner: “Shout out to our kicker. A freshman, too, so that’s definitely big for him.”
THIS WEEK: Bye No. 2
The Buffs have the week off before the final two-game stretch against Washington and Utah.