CU Athletics
Senior safety Derrion Rakestraw returns to the Colorado secondary after starting the final nine games of the 2019 season.

Among the Colorado safeties, Derrion Rakestraw is known as the “old man.”

Rakestraw has earned that badge not only because he’s the lone senior among the group. He’s also the guy that many of the others lean on.

“He’s the guy that gets them lined up, he’s the guy that communicates with them,” CU defensive coordinator Tyson Summers said. “He’s been an example to them and done a great job with his leadership.

“He’s one of my favorite guys, and obviously having been his position coach last year he’s special to me. He’s special to me for a lot of different reasons, but he’s playing at a high level, communicating well and I’m really proud of everything he’s done to this point in time.”

CU opens the season Nov. 7 against UCLA and Rakestraw is one of the keys to their success because of his leadership in the back of the defense.

Rakestraw has played in 36 games (11 starts) and is one of only eight seniors on the roster. He’s one of only three remaining from the 2016 Pac-12 South championship team (along with linebacker Akil Jones and quarterback Sam Noyer).

With all that experience, Rakestraw has a new level of confidence.

“I’m pretty confident going into this season, just because the experience I got last year really helped me be able to play a lot faster,” he said. “Really with the whole defense we’re trying to pick up where we left off last season, so I’m confident with the calls we got; I’m confident with our coaches and everybody out on the field with me.”

It took a while for Rakestraw to gain that confidence.

A graduate of Sequoyah (Ga.) High School, he came to CU in the fall of 2016 as a receiver, but in the fall of 2017, he was moved to cornerback. Near the end of spring practices in 2018, he was moved to safety.

Injuries forced Rakestraw into action late in 2018, when he made a pair of starts, but his inexperience showed. He began the 2019 season as a backup, but after Aaron Maddox was injured (and then left the team), Rakestraw took over. He started the final nine games of the 2019 season and finished with 38 tackles, five pass breakups and placing second on the team with three interceptions.

He helped a struggling CU defense play its best games down the stretch.

“He played as solid as he can play the last (six) games for us,” Summers said. “He made a lot of outstanding plays. He’s a big reason for our turnaround last season. His communication and confidence and high level of play.”

Last year, Rakestraw had graduate transfer Mikial Onu leading the safety group, but this year, it’s on him.

Isaiah Lewis and Chris Miller are both juniors, but Lewis has played just 29 career snaps and Miller is converting from cornerback. True sophomore Mark Perry is a potential star, but he’s got just 196 snaps under his belt.

The rest of the safety group is made up of two true freshmen (Will Anglen and Toren Pittman) and several walk-ons.

“I definitely have (taken on more leadership),” Rakestraw said. “Getting to some of the young guys, bringing them along now, and Mark and Chris trying to help them along, too. But everybody in our safety room, we’ve got a lot of smart guys and they’re doing a great job learning the playbook and getting out there flying around, so we’re all doing good with what we got right now.”

In addition to leadership, Rakestraw said he’s hoping to play faster this year.

“Just making more plays overall, being a better overall safety,” he said. “I feel like every year that I’ve been playing, I’ve been trending upward so I’m trying to keep that going into this season.”