Last fall, Colorado coaches saw enough potential in Christian Gonzalez to throw him into the fire at cornerback.
This spring, Gonzalez is still just 18 years old but is benefitting from the experience he got last season.
“I do feel more confident, just after getting a regular season; well, half a regular season,” Gonzalez said Monday after the Buffaloes’ fourth practice of spring. “The game has slowed down a lot. Way more than going into last season out of high school, but it’s great.”
Gonzalez, who turns 19 on June 28, came to CU from The Colony (Texas) High School last summer and earned a starting role in preseason camp. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA did not count last season towards eligibility, so Gonzalez will go into next season as a freshman again.
Despite his youth, Gonzalez asserted himself during the brief season for the Buffs (4-2, 3-1 Pac-12). He started all six games and played nearly 90% of the defensive snaps, showing improvement from the start of the season to the end.
“He’s a good young player,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “I won’t say (he played) outstanding, but I will say better than average job for a first-year player to come in here and play.”
Through the first four practices of spring, Dorrell said he already sees a difference.
“I think his confidence is very good, very strong right now,” Dorrell said. “He’s had a very good offseason up into spring practice and he looks the part physically. He’s put on a few pounds. His body is getting more defined. He’s being more aggressive in coverage and you can feel his presence out there on the field a little bit more. Players out there actually see it, too. He’s on the right path.
“We’re hoping somewhere down the line, he’s going to be one of those corners that can handle his own and not really have much safety help. … I think he’s embraced that challenge that we presented for him, and he’s working pretty hard at becoming that type of player. He’s really off to a good start.”
One difference in Gonzalez is his preparation, as he has been doing more film study this offseason.
“Going into spring, my goal was just to use film study and believe it,” he said. “That’s what I struggled with. Just trying to work on that.
“It definitely helps to watch practices, watch games, watch games from last year; watch league games and just see what they do and know what I have to do to step up my game.”
Dorrell was pleased with each of the first three practices last week. Monday was a different story.
“Today was actually a rough day today,” Dorrell said. “I wish it was better coming off the weekend. We had a good first week. I thought half of the practice (Monday) we did some very, very good things on both sides of the ball and special teams. I thought it got a little bit sloppy at the end. I don’t know if guys are tired; we lost a little bit of focus.
“It’s things that we can fix, for sure, but, again, my standards are different than last year so I’m trying to raise these guys about what practice should look like from a day-to-day standpoint every day. There are no days off. There are no lower expectations. … It’s still a lot of work that needs to be done at the standard it needs to be done while we’re doing it. We fell short of that; the first time that’s happened and we need to get it fixed. … We’ll get it fixed.”
Freshman safety Trustin Oliver, a junior college transfer, has been dealing with a lower leg strain, but Dorrell has been impressed. “He asks a lot of questions and he looks good,” he said. “He’s a good-looking kid running around the safety position, so I’ve been very pleased for where he is.” The Buffs are hopeful Oliver will be able to participate in the first scrimmage on Friday. … The Buffs will take the day off Tuesday and return to the field Wednesday.