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CU Buffs’ Jalen Sami brings experience, leadership to D-line

Sophomore has started 13 of the last 16 games

BOULDER, CO - April 23, 2021:  Colorado Buffaloes defensive lineman Jalen Sami gets ready for a play during a football spring scrimmage. (University of Colorado Athletics)
BOULDER, CO – April 23, 2021: Colorado Buffaloes defensive lineman Jalen Sami gets ready for a play during a football spring scrimmage. (University of Colorado Athletics)

On the Colorado football roster, Jalen Sami is listed as a sophomore, which suggests he’s a young player.

The 6-foot-6, 325-pound defensive lineman is actually a veteran, though, and he’s looking to take his game to another level this year.

“I feel like I’m a super senior here,” Sami said Friday after the Buffaloes completed the 12th of their 15 spring practices.

It’s been quite a journey for Sami, but he’s far from done.

Sami graduated from Vista Ridge High School in Colorado Springs in 2017, and then grayshirted, which means he delayed his enrollment until January of 2018. Then, he redshirted in 2018.

BOULDER, CO – SEPTEMBER 14, 2019: Air Force’s Donald Hammond III carries out a fake with University of Colorado’s Jalen Sami in pursuit during the first half of the University of Colorado – Air Force NCAA football game on September 14, 2019.(photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Although he has played two seasons with the Buffs, the NCAA did not count the 2020 season towards eligibility for any players because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That leaves Sami with potentially three more seasons to play.

During the past two seasons, Sami has been a rock on the defensive line, starting 13 of the 16 games he’s played and logging 577 snaps. This spring, the Buffs are short-handed on the defensive line, so Sami, in the mix for a starting role again, is receiving a lot of reps with the first and second-team units.

“I think it’s been going good,” he said. “I definitely improved today. (The coaches) are pushing for us to move on to the next play and just to get better each day. As long as you get better at one thing, the next day you’re improving.”

Like a lot of players on the CU roster, Sami has gone through a lot of coaches during his time with the Buffaloes. He’s played for three head coaches and three defensive line coaches. For the first time, however, he’s got the same position coach two years in a row, as he’s learning under defensive coordinator Chris Wilson.

“He’s going to get us right,” Sami said. “Coach Wilson has definitely set a standard for us that we’re gonna stop the run. We don’t care how we do it and we’re just going to make sure we stop the run.

“One key phrase or quote he always tells us is we have to earn the right to rush (the passer). In order to do that, we have to stop the run on first and second downs early, and then go into pass rush. … He’s making it a lot easier and he’s making us all know the whole defense.”

CU’s defensive line is a mix of veteran and young players, with Sami among the most experienced. Junior Terrance Lang (out this spring with a shoulder injury) is the only defensive lineman with more starts and snaps played at CU than Sami. Junior Janaz Jordan started the last four games of the 2020 season.

The rest of the group is fairly inexperienced, although sophomore Na’im Rodman has been a key reserve and is enjoying a good spring.

“I think his technique has gotten a lot better,” head coach Karl Dorrell said of Rodman. “You see him being more aggressive and getting in the backfield, putting pressure on the quarterback. He is doing his job very effectively. I’m very encouraged with where Na’im is and I’m sure he feels the same way that he can kind of carry that confidence and that experience from the spring into the summer, that he can be one of our key players on the defensive line and in the future.”

Junior Justin Jackson, sophomore Austin Williams and freshmen Lloyd Murray Jr. and Jayden Simon continue developing, as well.

Sami, who turns 22 on May 6, will be counted on as a leader in the group and that’s a role he embraces.

“It’s pretty much a standard that I have to set for myself that being an older guy and being here for the time that I have been, the standard needs to be set higher and I need to reach those standards,” he said. “The coaches, they look up to me and they expect a lot from me, so I want to live up to that expectation to the best of my ability, not only for myself and the coaches but for my teammates.”