CU Buffs players leaning on each other

Two coaching changes, coronavirus pandemic have led to players stepping up as leaders

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Offensive tackle William Sherman, right, is one of several veteran players stepping up leaders for the Colorado Buffaloes.

During his first two seasons with the Colorado football team, William Sherman played for head coach Mike MacIntyre and offensive line coach Klayton Adams.

After MacIntyre was fired and Adams moved on, Sherman played in 2019 for head coach Mel Tucker and offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic. They lasted about 15 months before Tucker took the money from Michigan State and ran, bringing Kapilovic with him.

Now, it’s Karl Dorrell leading the program and Mitch Rodrigue coaching Sherman and the linemen.

The constant has been Sherman and his teammates, who have dealt with two coaching changes – and now the coronavirus pandemic – by leaning on each other.

“Once coach Tucker (left), a bunch of guys – Nate Landman, Mustafa (Johnson), KD (Nixon), me – we kind of just had to talk with ourselves and the team and told each other, ‘There’s not going to be a coach that comes in here and saves this program and takes us to a Pac-12 championship, takes us to a national championship. We have to do that; we have to set a culture,’” Sherman said.

By all accounts, Dorrell has earned respect from his team, despite not having much opportunity to be around them because of COVID-19. After an unusual amount of coaching turnover, however, the players have decided it’s up to them to get the Buffs on a winning track.

When the coronavirus caused the cancellation of spring ball and forced the Buffs to work out on their own and get to know their new coaches through Zoom calls, the players kept in touch.

“We tried to hold each other accountable, make sure everybody was working out, trying to stay in shape,” Sherman said. “Now that everybody’s here, everybody looks good. I’m pretty excited to see how we look when we get on the field.”

Dorrell was officially introduced as head coach on Feb. 24, exactly three weeks before spring practices were scheduled to start. He got his staff in place just in time to hit the ground running into spring, only to have COVID-19 put a sudden stop to the plans of the Buffs and every other team in the country.

“Honestly, we really didn’t get to know (Dorrell) well at all, because we literally left as soon as he like came in,” said Johnson, a senior defensive end. “We had a senior’s meeting before everyone else, so I got to know him a little more personal there in a smaller setting, but … I don’t think we’ve gotten to know him very well, other from what we talked about on Zoom calls and the small moments we’ve had before all this happened.”

That has made player leadership perhaps more critical than ever this offseason, and the players have embraced it.

Dorrell recently said Zoom has been “probably not the most comfortable of mediums” for a new coach to get to know his players, but he’s also been impressed with how they have handled the situation. Players have stayed in shape and made the most of their Zoom meetings with coaches as they learn the playbook.

“I have to give it to our young people,” Dorrell said. “They’ve adapted to this line of learning and getting information just as much as we learn how to convey this information.  It’s been a struggle on their side of it on the early onset, but I think they have a comfort level now.”

Players returned to on-campus voluntary workouts on June 15 and that’s been another adjustment. They’ve been tested at least twice for COVID-19 and receive temperature and symptom checks when they arrive for workouts. They’re also working out in smaller groups of about 10, rather than full team workouts.

Johnson said he misses the weight room competition with other linemen, but he and his teammates have pressed on.

By now, the Buffs are used to adjusting – and they’ve come together through a unique and challenging offseason.

“Coach Tucker left and that was a huge surprise,” Sherman said. “We hired coach Dorrell and the next thing we know spring ball is being canceled. It was just month after month something new was coming up. Just a bunch of adversity that I think we handled greatly. I’m proud of the team for handling it the way they did. We kept working. We put our head down and just worked. And you know, like I said, we let each other know we had to hold each other accountable.

“It’s going to be a team-led team; it’s going to be led by the players.”