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CU Buffs Hall of Fame profile: Mickey Pruitt helped turn around football program

Colorado safety Mickey Pruitt starred for the Buffaloes from 1984-87. Pruitt has been elected to the CU Athletic Hall of Fame class of 2021. (University of Colorado Athletics)

As a high school star in Chicago, Mickey Pruitt had several schools recruiting him for football and he was planning to become a Miami Hurricane before he paid a visit to Boulder and the University of Colorado.

“I chose Colorado just because of the things that (head coach) Bill McCartney was saying and wanting to build the program, and he got started with us,” Pruitt said.

It proved to be a great choice for Pruitt, who was a three-time All-Big Eight player for the Buffaloes and helped spark a turnaround of the program. Pruitt is one of nine members of the CU Athletic Hall of Fame 2021 class. The class will be inducted during a ceremony the first week of November. This summer, is profiling each member of the class.

“It’s very exciting,” said Pruitt, 56, who is currently the deputy executive director for sports administration for Chicago Public Schools. “It’s a dream come true, a blessing that I did make the Hall of Fame at the University of Colorado.”

Pruitt, who played safety, was just the third football player in CU history to earn first-team all-conference honors three times (1985-87), and only four have done it since. Pruitt had back-to-back, 100-tackle seasons and finished with 332 for his career — a record at the time for a CU defensive back (he’s currently second).

One of the most memorable plays in Pruitt’s career came on Sept. 14, 1985, when the Buffs led Oregon, 21-17, in the closing moments at Folsom Field. Oregon had fourth-and-goal at the 3 with 22 seconds to go, and Pruitt sacked Ducks quarterback Chris Miller to end the game. That win helped spark a 7-5 season, which ended a string of six consecutive losing campaigns.

Pruitt, who was in McCartney’s first recruiting class in 1983, is proud to be a part of the turnaround.

“(McCartney) was trying to build a program with our class and that’s what he did,” Pruitt said. “And then we started getting a lot of special other players after us to really, really build the program so that the University of Colorado could win a national championship (in 1990).”

The Buffs were a long way from a national title when they went 1-10 in 1984 — Pruitt’s redshirt freshman season — but he said that season was pivotal.

“You had to bond after going 1-10,” he said. “All of us came from winning programs in high school and we wasn’t used to losing. It is a bonding where we said, ‘Hey, we’re not doing this again.’

Colorado safety Mickey Pruitt (19) sacks Oregon quarterback Chris Miller as time expires to preserve a 21-17 Buffaloes victory on Sept. 14, 1985, at Folsom Field in Boulder. (University of Colorado Athletics)

“Once we went through that 1-10 season, you saw something was going to happen because all of us started working out and working out extra hard. You could just see the camaraderie and the special things that we felt we could do, just because the recruiting that we were doing and talent that we had on the team.”

During the next three years, the Buffs went 20-15 and played in two bowl games, led by Pruitt, Barry Remington, Curt Koch, Eric McCarty, Jon Embree, Barry Helton, Mark Hatcher, Sal Aunese and many others who are still regarded as CU greats.

“That’s why I thought that eventually, we were going to turn this program around, because we had a lot of great players that played, even before us,” Pruitt said. “The guys before us, they taught us the way, how to win, how to play.”

Pruitt was selected by his teammates as the Buffs’ MVP his senior year when he had 108 tackles and five interceptions and was a member of CU’s All-Century team in 1989. Although undrafted out of college, he played 62 games in the NFL with the Chicago Bears (1988-90) and Dallas Cowboys (1991-92).

Pruitt still relishes his time in Boulder and the relationships he formed that continue today — not just with football players, but with all athletes that were at CU at the time (his brother, Tony, was on the CU basketball team from 1983-85).

“It’s special,” he said. “A lot of us still talk to each other and still have a bond with each other. When you have teammates that still reach out to you, still talk to you, see how you’re doing, see where you’re at, that’s special. You know you had a good group when that happens.”

After his playing days, Pruitt spent two years (1995-96) as a graduate assistant with the Buffs and three years (1997-99) as an assistant at Hawaii. He misses coaching, he said, but has enjoyed his 22 years overseeing the sports program with Chicago Public Schools. Athletes such as NBA stars Anthony Davis and Patrick Beverley have come through CPS during Pruitt’s time.

“Seeing them grow up, being in the pros and stuff like that and they’re coming from our program from CPS, it’s gratifying,” he said. “When you run and oversee the whole thing it’s even more gratifying.”

Pruitt was once one of those young CPS athletes who went on to great things, and he’s pleased he wound up at CU.

“I tell people this is one of the most beautiful campuses in the world,” he said. “Boulder is a small town, but I think they love the Buffaloes.”

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