As a quarterback at Central Burden High School in Kansas, Bo Savage often didn’t play a full game because of the 45-point mercy rule in eight-man football.
“We would just score like 70 points at half,” said Savage, who threw 143 touchdown passes in his three years as a starter. “It was fun times.”
Nearly a decade after graduating from high school, Savage is no longer playing, but he might face tougher competition now as the graphic designer for the Colorado football program.
“It’s kind of your livelihood,” said Savage, 27, who is nearing his one-year anniversary with the Buffs’ program. “You’ve got to keep up with trends. The better your work, the more attention the brand is going to get; even personally the more attention you’ll get.”
In today’s world of college athletics, having an exceptional graphic designer – or team of designers – is almost as critical as having good coaches or players.
Strong graphics can attract recruits and bring attention to a program. And, with legislation on the way to allow student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, graphic designers can help those athletes build their brand.
“If you want to compete in recruiting, this is part of it now,” Savage said. “(High school players) want that love. They want to be noticed, they want to show off who’s recruiting them.
“If you’re competing with Oregon or USC, anybody, you’ve got to really show them what Colorado is. If the work is really mundane or another school out-shines your work, then that kid might have a different perception of them than us.”
CU has a team of people involved with recruiting, but Savage is a one-man show when it comes to graphic design in the football department.
Buffs head coach Karl Dorrell said Savage’s work, which has been displayed on social media throughout the past year, is even more important because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coaches have been unable to have in-person visits with recruits for the past 12 months.
“Given how this season in this year has been with COVID, with us not being out and not getting really to have any face-to-face interaction, the social media and the graphics designer and that whole area is critical for getting some content and exposure for your program,” Dorrell said.
“There’s going to be a point in time where this is all going to be lifted, and hopefully things will be back to normal at some point this year, it’s still a big, big part — just because all of us have our smart phones and all of us have that gratification about what’s going on out there; what’s going on in the world; what’s going on in recruiting; what’s going on with me in my recruitment? Being able to push out information about us in a positive way and in a number of ways I think is really important.”
A Wyoming native, Savage set numerous records at Central Burden, where he played for his father. He then went on to play at Bethany College, graduating with a degree in sports management.
“I was thinking I was going to be a (general manager) or an (athletic director) one day,” he said.
His first job was with an arena football team, the Wichita Force, where he made sales calls, emceed during timeouts, got involved with marketing, etc. After that, he got an internship as a video production assistant at Lipscomb University. He was there for only a few months and created two graphics, but a connection at Air Force led him to a life-changing opportunity.
“At that point I had only done like two graphics and I was about to go be a graphic designer for a D-I program,” he said. “That was a great place to just learn about recruiting to just mess around with it and get really good at it.”
After about 18 months at Air Force, he went to Kansas State as the director of creative media for a year.
“Just through those two places (Air Force and K-State), I built enough to basically be a shoo-in here at Colorado,” he said.
Throughout the past year, Savage has occasionally run into Dorrell in the elevator, and the coach will share a few thoughts on his vision for the program. Savage also works closely with the recruiting staff and the Buffs’ marketing team.
“It’s very collaborative,” he said. “But, I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of freedom to, especially on the recruiting side, kind of go crazy wild with those and just have fun with them.”
That’s where the competition comes into play, as Savage is always watching what others are doing and keeping up with trends.
“There’s a whole community of creatives,” he said. “Graphic design, video, photography — anything that kind of deals with sports creative, there’s a little community out there, and it’s just growing and growing.
“You kind of know who’s hot. It’s like a head coach almost; someone who is putting out really good work somewhere, it gets noticed because people are watching for inspiration.”
Savage used the analogy of the four-minute mile. That was a barrier that had never been broken until Roger Bannister ran a mile in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds in 1954. Now, it’s common for elite runners.
“Someone does something really cool, something really different and then that kind of helps force, at least myself, to say, ‘OK, how can I move towards that next barrier?,’” he said. “What’s the trend now, and how can I see it evolving in my own way?
“There’s new things coming out every single day and somebody is breaking a barrier every single day.”
Savage said he’s constantly seeking creative inspiration, whether it’s with 3D software, photography or even woodworking.
“I’m trying to set myself up to, when inspiration hits, that I have the tools necessary to attack that inspiration and get the job done,” he said. “Coming up with ideas is one of my favorite things and just kind of building out projects. … I’ve never had a day where I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go to work.’”
Savage’s latest inspiration has been shown through CU’s efforts to help players build their brand. Savage has created personal logos for some players and spent time with several players, including running back Jarek Broussard, quarterback Brendon Lewis and linebacker Robert Barnes, taking photos of them in their own style — rather than in uniform.
“That’s really cool because you get to be face-to-face with that player, and that person,” he said. “You get to know them a little bit and the more time goes on, the more you build a relationship with those guys, it gets fun to kind of see their success build up and where they started and where they’re going.”
While it’s been an enjoyable project for Savage, he knows the impact he can make for the players as they seek to build their brands.
“The point is to get fans to see their face, see who they are and be able to follow them easier,” he said.
Although Savage is the lone graphics designer in the CU football program, that could change. Some programs have multiple graphic designers and Dorrell said it can only help the Buffs to add to their staff.
“If we had maybe two other people, along with Bo, seeing all the different aspects that are out there and creating that dialogue of discovery with that group, you can probably maximize and do many more things, just because you have three different people working on certain aspects of social media,” Dorrell said.
For now, the Buffs are leaning on Savage, who is making his mark with current and future players — and it’s somewhat fitting that he’s in this role.
With his father coaching football, Savage said his childhood “was just all about sports,” but his mother was his art teacher in high school. Now, he’s combining sports and art in his job with the Buffs.
“It’s kind of the best of both worlds, I think,” he said. “I think they think it’s pretty cool that they can see that I took parts of who they are and that’s instilled in me.”