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Na’im Rodman preparing to take game to next level for CU Buffs

Defensive lineman was key reserve as freshman in 2019

Colorado's Na'im Rodman pressures Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate on Oct. 5 at Folsom Field in Boulder. Rodman was fourth among CU defensive linemen in snaps played this past season.
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Na’im Rodman pressures Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate on Oct. 5 at Folsom Field in Boulder. Rodman was fourth among CU defensive linemen in snaps played this past season.

Throughout this past season, Na’im Rodman never had a “freshman” moment, where he felt out of place in college football.

Instead, the Colorado defensive linemen had moments of inspiration as he thought about his future.

“It was just like, ‘I’m going to get better in this aspect and they’re not going to think I’m such a young guy anymore,’” Rodman said.

“I handled (the season) well. Mentally, I just know I have some stuff to work on, technique and everything, and just getting stronger, faster this (next) season. It was a great learning experience, a teaching experience.”

A 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive lineman from St. John Bosco High School near Los Angeles, Rodman provided much-needed depth up front for the Buffaloes during the 2019 season.

Thin on experience, the Buffs leaned on several newcomers, including Rodman. He responded with 11 tackles and his 314 snaps played ranked fourth among defensive linemen.

While it was a learning experience, Rodman said he was pleased with several aspects of his game, including his hand placement and how he got off blocks.

“Towards the end of the season, I got really better at that,” he said. “And definitely my pass rush because before I came here I struggled with that and I got better, just working different moves and speed off the ball and having an awareness of where the quarterback is and not going too far up field.”

Coming from one of the top high school programs in the country, Rodman was no stranger to earning his way onto the field. He was not only a starter at Bosco, but one of the best defensive linemen in the Trinity League, recording 59 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and three sacks as a senior.

That experience served him well last season with the Buffs.

“At my high school, you had to compete,” he said. “Coming here, I knew I had to compete. Keep working. Just do what I gotta do to get ready and help the team any way I can.”

The competition will be ratcheted up a notch or two this next season. CU head coach Mel Tucker has put a premium on finding “big guys that are strong and powerful; they can move people,” he said last month on national signing day.

Rodman was a part of that emphasis. While he originally committed to CU’s previous head coach Mike MacIntyre, Rodman signed after Tucker was hired 13 months ago.

Tucker has revamped the defensive line, and it’s a group that could be together for a while. All 10 scholarship defensive linemen from this past season are slated to return for 2020 and only two are seniors: starter Mustafa Johnson and backup Va’atofu Sauvao, who did not play in any games.

Rodman was one of four true freshmen in the group this season, along with Austin Williams, who played 190 snaps. Lloyd Murray Jr. and Jayden Simon redshirted.

With Johnson, nose tackle Jalen Sami, end Terrance Lang, Rodman and others all returning, the group figures to be better in 2020. Tucker, however, added even more competition this offseason.

Defensive end Antonio Alfano, a former five-star recruit who was one of the top players in the nation in the 2019 class, transferred in from Alabama. Junior college transfer Justin Jackson and Jordan Berry, a 330-pounder from Narbonne (Calif.) High School are joining the group, too.

“We’re going to come back bigger, better, faster, stronger, smarter, more connected,” Rodman said. “It’s going to be something different next year.”

He hopes to be different, too.

After coming to CU at 305 pounds, he played around 283, he said. He hopes to settle in around 290. Rodman hopes to improve his body and his technique for next season.

“It’s going to be a lot of technique stuff (this offseason), like getting off the ball, footwork and just locking my arms out and shooting my hands and getting off blocks better,” he said.

For Rodman, the first season is in the books, and he learned to appreciate Tucker’s intensity and line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh’s attention to detail. He said he also adopted a “reset and get to the next play” attitude from defensive coordinator Tyson Summers.

As he begins preparation for next season, Rodman is using all those lessons to make himself a better player – for the good of the team.

“Work for the guys next to you and behind you,” he said.

Line production

Snaps played by CU defensive linemen in 2019:

  • 588 – Terrance Lang (40 tackles, 6 sacks)
  • 411 – Jalen Sami (25 tackles, 1 sack)
  • 393 – Mustafa Johnson (34 tackles, 4.5 sacks)
  • 314 – Na’im Rodman (11 tackles)
  • 217 – Janaz Jordan (12 tackles)
  • 190 – Austin Williams (5 tackles)
  • 58 – Jeremiah Doss (0 tackles)
  • 33 – Lloyd Murray, Jr. (2 tackles)

2020 DL projection

Colorado’s projected defensive line group next season:

Seniors – Mustafa Johnson, 6-2, 290; Va’atofu Sauvao, 6-3, 310; Dante Sparaco, 6-5, 270 (walk-on)

Juniors – Jeremiah Doss, 6-4, 255; Justin Jackson, 6-2, 270 (JUCO transfer); Janaz Jordan, 6-4, 305; Terrance Lang, 6-7, 280; Nico Magri, 6-3, 280 (walk-on)

Sophomores – Na’im Rodman, 6-2, 290; Jalen Sami, 6-6, 320; Austin Williams, 6-5, 320

Redshirt freshmen – Antonio Alfano, 6-5, 285 (transfer); Lloyd Murray Jr., 6-2, 325; Jayden Simon, 6-3, 265

True freshmen – Jordan Berry, 6-2, 330