When he got to Colorado last summer, Jaren Mangham didn’t lack confidence in his ability to make an impact with the Buffaloes’ football team.
What the freshman running back didn’t have was experience.
Now he does, and Mangham said this past season was a good launching point for his college career.
“I felt like my freshman year went pretty good,” Mangham said. “I felt like I learned a lot. I came far as a person.”
CU (5-7, 3-6 Pac-12) had a wide-open competition at running back this past season and sophomore Alex Fontenot wound up securing the top spot. In his first year as a starter, Fontenot rushed for 874 yards and five touchdowns on 185 carries, while adding 27 catches for 122 yards.
Mangham, meanwhile, was the top backup, rushing for 441 yards and three touchdowns on 107 carries and hauling in 10 catches for 41 yards. Only seven freshmen in CU history have rushed for more yards.
“Whenever I watch the film, I can just see the improvement in myself,” he said. “Little things like footwork, reading my blocks, staying in the gaps, don’t bounce it out too late, stuff like that. So I felt like I came a long way.”
At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Mangham is a big back and he often displayed his powerful running style. It’s a style that helped him become a four-star prospect at Cass Tech High School in Detroit, where he rushed for 1,098 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior.
Mangham quickly discovered there’s more that goes into playing running back at the college level, though.
“In high school, it was really just, ‘Get the ball and go score,’ but once you get to college there’s really a lot more to it,” he said. “Certain blocks you’ve got to read; you’ve got to read backers sometimes; you’ve got to be patient; you can’t just get out of the hole. You really just go in with a plan every single play. One plan might not work but the other one might. You might try to go front side, but it might not be there so you have to come backside if the linebacker overshoots, so it’s really just a lot more to it.”
Learning more about the position wasn’t the only challenge for Mangham, though. After rushing for 111 yards and three touchdowns in the first three games, he sprained the AC joint in his shoulder at Arizona State in the fourth game.
Mangham never missed a game, but said, “I really wasn’t the same throughout the season but I came back, played in some games and I feel like I finished up pretty strong.”
After a solid first season, Mangham is already working for a better sophomore season.
Fontenot will be a junior, while Mangham, Jarek Broussard, Joe Davis and Deion Smith are slated to return as sophomores. The Buffs could also add young talent. Ashaad Clayton, a four-star back from New Orleans, and Jayle Stacks, a three-star prospect from Cherry Creek High School, are both verbally committed to CU.
“I’m always excited for the competition,” Mangham said. “I’ve never ran from the competition ever. I feel like the competition makes everyone better around us and I feel like we’ve got a solid room.”
Mangham is aiming to do his part to make the room even better by making himself a better player.
“I feel like I’m going to do a lot better come next year,” said Mangham, who cited fixing mental errors as his top priority this offseason. “I feel like everyone’s going to do a lot better come next year, because we had a lot of young people and I feel like the experience is going to put us over the top.”