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BOULDER, CO – November 28, 2020: Christian Gonzalez, of CU, plays defense on Jesse Matthews, of SDSU, during the Colorado San Diego State game at Folsom Field in Boulder on November 28, 2020. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

As soon as Colorado coaches named Christian Gonzalez a starter, he knew he needed to be ready.

Opposing quarterbacks like testing true freshmen playing at cornerback.

“I knew that was going to happen coming in, especially if I was playing early,” said Gonzalez, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound corner who has started all three games for the Buffs (3-0, 2-0 Pac-12). “They’re going to target the true freshman. That’s always the go-to.”

Through three games, Gonzalez has been targeted more often than anyone in CU’s secondary. While he’s had some growing pains – including three pass interference penalties in the first two games – Gonzalez is developing, and has yet to give up a touchdown.

“It was a blessing just being able to play and start and be with the team,” he said. “Those penalties got to me, but I just learned to push them on and move to the next play.

“(Quarterbacks targeting a freshman) was in the back of my head, but it’s really just football. I’ve been playing this game since … forever. Nothing really different. Just play and don’t think.”

One of the top players in CU’s 2020 recruiting class, Gonzalez, from The Colony (Texas) High School, had a four-star rating and originally committed to Purdue. He was a star on both sides of the ball, piling up 17 pass breakups and three interceptions on defense, along with 65 catches for 956 yards and 12 touchdowns on offense.

CU coaches were impressed from the start of preseason camp in October and decided to let him have on-the-job training on game day.

Even with the growing pains, Gonzalez has stood out and he was one of few players on CU’s defense that Southern California coach Clay Helton mentioned last week, when the Trojans were planning to play the Buffs; the game that was later canceled.

As he strives to get even better, Gonzalez is leaning on veterans, such as junior Mekhi Blackmon; his coaches; and studying film.

“It’s a big step that I didn’t really do that much in high school,” he said of watching film. “That’s a huge thing in college is watching film. The more I watch of it, it’s easier to see what I need to do, what footwork I need to fix. It’s very helpful.”

Wells dominating

Senior linebacker Nate Landman has garnered plenty of deserved attention during his career, and especially this week. He was named Walter Camp and Bronko Nagurski national defensive player of the week, as well as Pac-12 defensive player of the week.

Quietly, outside linebacker Carson Wells has been dominating, too. Wells is third on the team with 15 tackles, but leads the team with seven tackles for loss (including two sacks). He’s also second on the team with four pass breakups, tied for the lead with three QB pressures and has one of the Buffs’ two interceptions.

“He’s kind of in the shadows,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “But, Carson Wells is playing as good as anybody on our defense right now. He’s got good production.  Obviously Nate is on fire right now, but I would say Carson, he has done a tremendous job in these first few games.”

In addition to playing his position well, Wells has been valuable with on-field communication and helping others along, too, Dorrell said.

“He’s playing really, really well,” he said. “We’re hoping he continues to do the things he’s doing because he’s making a name for himself, as well.”

Back in the fold

Senior receiver KD Nixon spent the first two games of the season standing on the sidelines, nursing a hamstring injury, but made his season debut last week against San Diego State, with four catches for 26 yards.

“Being able to be back is a blessing,” he said. “Not the year that I wanted (with starting late), but you can’t question God; 2020 has been a year full of out of nowhere things, so you’ve just got to push through it.”

With Nixon out early this season, he’s watched several other receivers step up, including Dimitri Stanley (13 catches for 202 yards), La’Vontae Shenault (nine catches for 124) and Brenden Rice (five catches for 59).

“I’m extremely proud of them,” Nixon said. “I’m the best cheerleader on the team. I always want to see everyone eat and that’s just the mindset we carry from high school and I’m going to always carry. It’s a lot of blessings for everybody to do their best, but also we’ve got to do way better. We’re not doing as much as we can to contribute to the team that I know we can.”

Notable

On Thursday, the Pac-12 announced a partnership with the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl for this season. A team from the Pac-12 will match up with an SEC team on Dec. 31 at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. The announcement comes after four other Pac-12 bowls have been canceled (Las Vegas, Sun, Holiday and Redbox). … CU has scored in every quarter this season. It’s the first time since 1998 that the Buffs have scored in each of the first 12 quarters of a season; that year they scored in the first 16. … The Buffs will wear gold helmets with white jerseys and pants at Arizona. CU has worn gold helmets in every game this season. Since debuting its four different helmet colors (gold, black, gray and white) in 2015, this is the first time CU has worn the same helmet four games in a row.