Throughout his childhood, Brendan Pyne enjoyed hearing old stories of professional football.
His great grandfather, George Pyne II, played for the NFL’s Providence Steam Roller in 1931. In 1965, Brendan’s grandfather, George Pyne III, played one season with the AFL’s Boston Patriots.
Brendan’s father, George Pyne IV, went to training camp with the New York Giants after being an All-Ivy League tackle at Brown. And, his uncle, Jim Pyne, played 81 games on the offensive line for four different teams from 1995-2001.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Brendan said of hearing the stories over the years. “But you know, the expectation (in the family) is just to get into college, play college football and if you’re able to play there, it’s a great opportunity.”
Pyne’s story didn’t have any connection to the Colorado Buffaloes until last week, when he became one of the most intriguing walk-ons in recent CU memory.
In this rare offseason edition of the Monday Rewind, get to know one of the newest members of the CU football team a bit more. Also this week:
- The mobile quarterback in Jay Johnson’s offense
- Super Bowl ties to CU
- Stat of the week
- My Pac-12 and AP rankings
- My Heisman ballot
LEADING OFF: Getting to know Brendan Pyne
Pyne was briefly introduced to CU fans prior to Christmas when it was announced he would join the Buffs as a graduate transfer. After leading Brown University in tackles this past season, Pyne will walk-on with the Buffs. He joined the team earlier this month and there’s no question he has hopes of becoming the latest Pyne in the NFL.
“That is one of my dreams, to play in the NFL, and this does give me a little bit of an opportunity to get there,” Pyne said in an interview with Buffzone last month. “This is a total roll of the dice, but if you don’t bet on yourself, who else will? I played at IMG and I was a captain there and all my buddies that are playing in the NFL were playing in big Power 5s. I believe that I can play at that level and I’m going to go take a shot on myself.”
Pyne graduated from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla, in 2016. According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, he became the first IMG player ever to go on to play football in the Ivy League.
A three-year starter at Brown, Pyne led the Bears with 51 total tackles this past year. He led the Ivy League with 48 solo tackles in 2018. In the last three seasons, he had 178 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and a sack, playing all 30 games for the Bears.
At 6-feet tall, Pyne is currently about 215 pounds. He said Buffs head coach Mel Tucker has talked to him about playing at inside linebacker or at the star position.
“I told him I don’t care if I play defensive line; I just want a fair shot at playing and getting on the field,” Pyne said.
Pyne has watched some CU film from this past season and was impressed with Davion Taylor’s work at the star position. Taylor has graduated and Pyne could help there.
“I played a lot of that type of position at Brown and a little bit at IMG,” he said.
At the conclusion of this past season at Brown, Pyne was looking for a new school because he has exhausted his eligibility at Brown, but not for the NCAA. The Ivy League is the only conference in the country that does not allow redshirts. So, although Pyne didn’t play varsity in 2016, he spent a maximum four seasons with the Bears.
Pyne reached out to CU and he visited the Boulder campus during Thanksgiving Break. After meeting Tucker, Pyne was ready to become a Buff.
“I met with coach Tucker and it was a great visit,” Pyne said. “I’m going there to play for him and I’m really excited about it.
“Really what I wanted was a fair chance of playing on defense and coach Tucker was really on me for the past couple weeks. I went out there and it was beautiful out there. The facilities were great and everybody seemed really bought into the program. I think what coach Tucker is doing there, he can win a lot of games. All I really want is a fair chance to play and to win some games.”
Pyne didn’t win much at Brown, as the Bears went 5-25 during the last three years, but he’s impressed with Tucker’s ability to win at CU.
“He’s got a great resume,” Pyne said. “He’s a winner and he really wants to win and he’ll do anything to make a championship program. He said that he could give me a fair chance of playing and that’s all I can ask for. He’s very inspirational as well.”
Pyne also has quite a resume.
On the field, he proved himself at Brown and became yet another Pyne to excel. The family isn’t done, by the way. Brendan’s younger brother, Drew, is a quarterback who signed with Notre Dame last month. Drew got a scholarship offer from Florida State as an eighth grader and collected offers from Alabama and others the summer before he started high school.
“I won’t see him too much anymore, but it’s an exciting time for him,” said Brendan, who has been within a couple hours of his brother the past four years.
Beginning with George II, the Pyne family has been remarkably successful in football.
“Football’s in my family,” Brendan said. “Ever since I was a little kid, we were playing football in the backyard, and it’s in my blood.”
Off the field success is in the blood, too.
Pyne’s father, George, is the founder and CEO of Bruin Sports Capital, an investment and holding company. Recognized as one of the most influential people in sports, George has been the president of IMG Sports and Entertainment, and was chief operating officer at NASCAR, where he negotiated a $4.5 billion TV rights deal. He also serves on the board of the National Football Foundation.
Brendan, meanwhile, has already had internships with NBC Sports, Sports Media Advisors and Learfield, while spending more than two years as a teaching assistant for business entrepreneurship classes at Brown.
Brendan said he’s the first football player at Brown to graduate in only three-and-a-half years. Regardless of how much more football he has in him, he’s on the path to success.
Coming to CU gives him a new type of opportunity, though.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play at the highest level of football and I wanted to give myself an opportunity, if I was able to do that academically,” he said.
Given the history of his family, Pyne could wind up being a steal for the Buffs this offseason.
Mobile QBs in Johnson’s offense
In a Buffzone article last month, CU offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jay Johnson said he views freshman Brendon Lewis as a thrower, but there’s no doubt Johnson likes the running ability that Lewis brings to the table, as well.
Lewis enrolled this month after a stellar career at Melissa High School in Texas. He threw for 8,922 yards and 112 touchdowns, while rushing for 3,240 yards and 39 touchdowns during his career.
Johnson isn’t necessarily looking for the next Lamar Jackson, but he wants a QB who can make plays with his feet, whether it’s gaining yards downfield or simply scrambling to keep a play alive.
“I think you’re always looking for a guy that can extend plays, and we need the guy that has the ability to sit in there and help his offensive linemen out with that deal, which I think is probably the most difficult thing to attain as a quarterback,” Johnson said. “It’s very challenging, if you’ve never been in that position when all the bullets are flying at you.”
Graduating senior Steven Montez was good at using his feet to extend plays and Johnson said when he’s looking for a quarterback, “We want to start there. Obviously with different guys’ skill set, when all of a sudden they can extend, that stresses the defense in a much greater way.
“If that guy has the ability to do some of that (running downfield) it stresses them differently, so it will be interesting to see how it all comes together.”
Lewis will be in a three-man battle for the starting job with junior Tyler Lytle and sophomore Blake Strenstrom.
Lewis has dual threat skills that CU hasn’t had at QB in years, but Johnson said Lytle and Stenstrom have “sneaky run ability,” like Montez.
Johnson didn’t use Montez’s “sneaky” run ability nearly as much as he has used the QB run in the past, though. Here’s a look at how Johnson has used his quarterbacks as runners during his last seven seasons as a coordinator (these are numbers for all QBs, not just the starter, and sacks are included):
2011 (Louisiana): 147 carries, 520 yards, 5 TD
2012 (Louisiana): 136 carries, 862 yards, 12 TD
2013 (Louisiana): 149 carries, 861 yards, 8 TD
2014 (Louisiana): 155 carries, 671 yards, 3 TD
2015 (Louisiana): 128 carries, 518 yards, 8 TD
2016 (Minnesota): 118 carries, 355 yards, 10 TD
2019 (Colorado): 67 carries, 179 yards, 3 TD
Lewis has a skill set more in line with Terrance Broadway, a true dual threat who quarterbacked Louisiana from 2012-14. Stenstrom displayed some running ability at Valor Christian High School (120 carries for 752 yards) and had a nice 27-run against USC last season.
Lytle has always been more of a pocket passer, even at Servite (Calif.) High School, where he rushed 62 times for 131 yards as a senior, but he did score seven touchdowns on the ground and has shown ability to run and scramble in practice.
Johnson’s history suggests that Lewis’ skill set will be beneficial in the competition, but the battle to start the spring will be intriguing.
“I think they’ll be a little bit different, but it will be kind of interesting to see … if you can tell a marked difference or are they somewhat similar,” Johnson said of the competition this spring. “I’ll be interested to see how that plays out.”
CU’s ties to the Super Bowl
Although a Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Francisco 49ers matchup in Super Bowl LIV isn’t too popular for football fans around here, there are several people from the Buffs family involved.
The only player participating in the game from CU is 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, a three-year veteran who was a key part of the Buffs’ Pac-12 South title team in 2016.
In a postgame interview with ABC 10 News in Sacramento on Sunday, Witherspoon sad, “Once in a lifetime (opportunity). A lot of good people coming together for a common mission and you have this type of result. I’m just so proud of all our guys, proud of what we’ve been through and how we’ve grown as a team.” See the full interview here.
Witherspoon is looking to become the first former Buff to win a Super Bowl ring as a player since tackle Nate Solder with the New England Patriots in 2016.
Also with the 49ers, former CU head coach/assistant coach/tight end Jon Embree is looking for a ring. In his third season as the assistant head coach/tight ends coach with the Niners, Embree was the Buffs’ head coach in 2011-12, going 4-21. He was a CU tight end from 1983-86 and spent 10 years (1993-2002) on the CU staff as an assistant.
For Embree, this Super Bowl run has been a long time coming. This is his 13th season in the NFL (two as a player, 11 as a coach) and he had never experienced a playoff victory until this year. In fact, this is just the second winning season he’s been a part of, in any role, since 2006.
Both of Embee’s sons will be involved with the game, too. Taylor, who played at UCLA, is an offensive quality control assistant with the 49ers. Connor, who played at UNLV and then Kansas, is a defensive assistant with the Chiefs.
Headlining the Buffs’ ties to the Chiefs is Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City’s offensive coordinator. CU’s all-time leading rusher, Bieniemy served as Embree’s offensive coordinator with the Buffs in 2011-12.
Now in his seventh season with the Chiefs, Bieniemy was promoted to OC before the 2018 season. This is the eighth time in 12 seasons as an NFL coach that Bieniemy has been in the playoffs, but the first time reaching the Super Bowl.
A star on CU’s 1990 national championship team, Bieniemy did play in the Super Bowl, however. In 1994, he was with the San Diego Chargers when they lost Super Bowl XXIX, 49-26, to the 49ers. He had one carry for 3 yards and one catch for 33 yards in the game. (Side note: The starting tight end for that Chargers team was Alfred Pupunu, who is currently the Buffs’ tight ends coach. And, one of the stars of that game was, of course, 49ers receiver Jerry Rice – the father of new Buffs’ signee Brenden Rice).
A couple of former CU sports information students will be going to the Super Bowl, as well: Cydney Ricker (who worked in Chiefs public relations) and Morgan Tholen Dannewitz (suite services coordinator for K.C.).
Stat of the week: 35
Former CU players who have won Super Bowl rings as players. The list includes three players with three rings: receiver Cliff Branch (Raiders in 1976, 1980 and 1983), tackle Tom Ashworth (Patriots in 2001, 2003 and 2004) and linebacker Ted Johnson (Patriots in 2001, 2003 and 2004). Eleven players won two rings, including Boyd Dowler, who played for the Packers in Super Bowls I and II. Also two-time winners are three Buffs who played for the Broncos during their back-to-back title seasons in 1997-98: Matt Lepsis, Tom Rouen and Alfred Williams. To date, 26 of the 53 Super Bowl champions have included at least one Buff.
MY FINAL PAC-12 RANKINGS
How I rank the Pac-12 at the conclusion of the 2019 season:
1. Oregon Ducks (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12): Pac-12 champs closed the season with a Rose Bowl victory.
2. Utah Utes (11-3, 8-1): Very disappointing finish with blowout losses in the Pac-12 title game and Alamo Bowl, but Utes had a great season.
3. USC Trojans (8-5, 7-2): Trojans were awful in a Holiday Bowl loss to Iowa, but did finish three games ahead of the next-best team in conference play.
4. California Golden Bears (8-5, 4-5): Solid season, wrapped up with a nice win over Illinois in the Redbox Bowl.
5. Washington Huskies (8-5, 4-5): Weird year for the Huskies, but they finished strong, sending coach Chris Petersen out with a dominant, 38-7 win against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
6. Arizona State (8-5, 4-5): A 20-14 win over Florida State in the Sun Bowl gave the Sun Devils a three-game winning streak to close the season.
7. Washington State (6-7, 3-6): Mike Leach was sensational for the Wazzu program and he’ll be missed, but his tenure ended with a thud, with a blowout loss to Washington and falling to Air Force in the Cheez-It Bowl.
8. Oregon State (5-7, 4-5): Beavers made a case for the best of the non-bowl teams with their best season since 2014.
9. Colorado Buffaloes (5-7, 3-6): Really nice wins over Washington and Stanford late, but Buffs came up short of bowl eligibility again.
10. UCLA Bruins (4-8; 4-5): They gave their fans some hope for a while, but closed the year on a three-game skid.
11. Stanford Cardinal (4-8; 3-6): Stanford’s worst season in 12 years ended with a four-game losing streak.
12. Arizona Wildcats (4-8; 2-7): Easily the most disappointing team in the South, the Wildcats started 4-1 and then lost seven in a row.
MY FINAL TOP 25 BALLOT
Here’s the ballot I submitted to the Associated Press for the final Top 25 poll:
3. Ohio State
9. Notre Dame
11. Penn State
16. Appalachian State
21. Boise State
22. Air Force
25. Central Florida
MY HEISMAN BALLOT
I was honored to once again have an opportunity to vote for the Heisman Trophy. This was the ballot I turned in:
1. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU: Pretty easy choice, really. Never saw this one coming when the season began, but he put together one of the most remarkable seasons I’ve seen in college football.
2. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma: What an end to his journey through college football. He was fun to watch all season and the best dual-threat QB in the country.
3. Chase Young, DE, Ohio State: Most dominant defensive player I saw all season.
A FEW LEFTOVERS
This is the first Rewind since just after the Utah game several weeks ago, so these quotes are a few weeks old, but here are some Mel Tucker comments from signing day I thought were worth posting here:
On CU having a national approach to recruiting: “(Athletic director) Rick George, he made it clear to me a year ago. He said, ‘Listen, you go wherever you’ve got to go to get the players, and we’re going to support you. We’re going to give you the resources,’ and so that’s what we’re doing.”
On receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig, who might be the most underrated player from CU’s class: “When I first saw him, I looked at him as a safety because he plays both sides of the ball and he’s very athletic. He’s long. He’s got great ball skills. He’s a physical player, he’s tough, and he had very good production, high level production on offense. As we got in the process a little bit deeper, he expressed us that he wanted to be a receiver, and I said, ‘That’s great because we need receivers too.’ He’s one of the finest young men that you’ll ever want to come across. He immediately saw that this is a place where he can fulfill all his dreams on and off the field. The culture is something that he bought into. He was very excited about joining this football team.”
Looking ahead to February signing day, when the Buffs could sign a couple more players: “We’re going to continue to recruit and we may continue to sign guys. How many guys, how many spots we have or we don’t have, that’s kind of a fluid deal. But recruiting is non-stop and we’ll recruit all the way through that date.”