Walking onto the field at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on Aug. 30, KJ Trujillo was in awe.
“I looked into the stands and I got little butterflies in my stomach,” said Trujillo, a true freshman corner with the Colorado Buffaloes this past season. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never been in front of this many people before.’ The fans, it’s a lot different from high school.”
Trujillo didn’t play that night, but whatever butterflies he felt didn’t last long, as he looked comfortable throughout much of his first season of college football.
“I feel like I played decent,” said Trujillo, from Buena Park, Calif. “If I had to grade myself, A through F, I’d probably give myself a B. I don’t think I did enough or made enough plays, but at the same time I think I did my job and I did make some plays.”
Originally slated to redshirt – which Trujillo said in the spring he had hoped to do – he didn’t play the first three games of the season, but was forced into action because of a rash of injuries at cornerback.
CU wasn’t deep at corner coming into the season, but then junior Mekhi Blackmon and sophomore Chris Miller both went down with season-ending injuries within the first five games of the season.
The 6-foot, 165-pound Trujillo started seven of the last eight games (missing one with injury). His 438 snaps played were the most by a CU true freshman defensive back since Chidobe Awuzie’s 643 snaps in 2013. His seven starts were the most by a true freshman cornerback since Kenneth Crawley’s 10 in 2012.
“I had a lot of great guys around me to help me, making me better and that allowed me to build my confidence,” he said. “The hardest adjustment was in the springtime, just getting used to the speed of the game; it’s a lot faster. But after just taking a certain amount of reps, it became usual, normal to me.”
Trujillo finished the season with 21 tackles and ranked third on the team with six pass breakups. He also had one interception and one sack.
Most importantly, he played with confidence, despite missing the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery.
“I never doubted myself,” he said. “I knew what I could do. It was just a matter of getting a lot of reps and being able to show myself.
“(Playing as a freshman) really just put my confidence through the roof. I’ve always been a humble guy, but at the same time, I know what I’m capable of and that just showed me and showed the rest of the world.”
With an eye on next season already, Trujillo could become a leader at cornerback – which should be a much deeper and more talented group in 2020.
The Buffs lose talented senior Delrick Abrams Jr., leaving Trujillo as the most experienced cornerback in the defensive scheme led by head coach Mel Tucker and coordinator Tyson Summers.
Blackmon (shoulder) and Miller (knee) are hoping to be back and both will compete for starting roles if healthy.
“With Chris and Mekhi coming back, I think we’re going to have a good secondary,” Trujillo said. “They help us out a lot. So we’re going to have a strong, solid secondary, I believe.”
Coaches are also high on converted receiver Tarik Luckett, who played 161 snaps this season.
“I think that will benefit us a lot, just being able to get early experience,” Trujillo said of himself and Luckett playing this year. “We’ve still got plenty of time here at Colorado, so through our next few years, we’ll definitely be prepared.”
There’s no time to relax, however, because competition in practice will be intense.
In addition to that group, rising sophomore Dylan Thomas, and redshirt freshman D.J. Oats return next year. Nigel Bethel, a sophomore transfer from Miami, will also compete after sitting out this season due to the NCAA transfer rule.
Earlier this month, the Buffs got even deeper by signing Jaylen Striker from Independence (Kan.) Community College and Christian Gonzalez, a four-star recruit from The Colony (Tex.) High School.
As for Trujillo, he’s already working on getting better. Weighing in at just under 160 pounds a year ago, he went into the holiday break at nearly 170 and hopes to get to 180-185 by next season.
“I just want to grind this offseason: lift, get bigger, get faster,” he said. “The rest will take care of itself.”
Most snaps played by a Colorado true freshman defensive back in the last eight seasons (2012-19):
643 – Chidobe Awuzie, 2013
642 – Kenneth Crawley, 2012
524 – Marques Mosley, 2012
438 – KJ Trujillo, 2019
323 – Tedric Thompson, 2013