Going through weight room repetitions in small groups while donning a protective mask isn’t how Derrion Rakestraw envisioned his summer preparation ahead of his final season of college football.
The same likely can be said of all of Rakestraw’s Colorado Buffaloes teammates. Yet one of the regular challenges within any football game is the ability to perform while shaking off adversity. For Rakestraw, a senior safety and an emerging leader on the Buffs’ defense, that means remaining focused on the idea the Sept. 5 season opener at Colorado State will unfold as planned.
And if the COVID-19 pandemic continues to scuttle NCAA athletics? Well, Rakestraw and his fellow seniors will deal with that round of adversity if, or when, it strikes. In the meantime, the most experienced member of an otherwise inexperienced secondary is thankful to at least be back on campus working out with his teammates.
“I feel pretty good about what we’re doing,” Rakestraw said. “We have the masks on during the workouts. Every time we gather up, everybody has to put their masks up and stuff like that. We’re following all the rules as we can. I feel safe about it. Everyone has been tested. We know what’s going on in the program. I feel good about where we’re at.”
In a little more than two years, Rakestraw has evolved from a player adjusting to the second position change of his collegiate career to a steadying force at the back end of CU’s defense. Recruited as a wide receiver and moved to cornerback after his redshirt season, Rakestraw eventually settled at safety, recording his first career interception in his first start at Arizona in 2018. He added three more last year while starting the season’s final nine games.
“I’m extremely comfortable back there now,” Rakestraw said. “I’m starving. I’m ready to get back on the field. This is my last go-around, so I’m ready to go out there and show people what I can do. Go out there as a team and just win some games. You saw what we were doing at the end of the season. I’m ready to just continue that trend into the next season.”
After juggling positions during the first half of his career, Rakestraw goes into his senior season as the only player on the spring two-deep roster with starting experience at either of the safety spots. Rakestraw’s listed backup at free safety is junior Isaiah Lewis, while the strong safety spot tentatively is manned by Chris Miller, another converted cornerback, and junior college transfer Jaylen Striker.
Despite the inexperience in the secondary, CU’s defense made commendable strides down the stretch last season. And while Rakestraw will work with a new position coach in Brett Maxie, he believes the return of defensive coordinator Tyson Summers will allow the Buffs to carry that momentum forward.
“That’s huge for us to have coach Summers back,” Rakestraw said. “I feel like he came in and he really changed the attitude of our defense. He really brought that intensity and he really demands a lot out of us. A lot of us really get a lot better because of that. It’s great having him back calling plays, and I know we’re going to have some crazy out there on third down packages.”