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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)
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Listed as a sophomore, Jalen Sami is still considered a young player, but the Colorado defensive lineman is actually a seasoned veteran aiming to take his game to a new level this year.

Sami graduated from Vista Ridge High School in Colorado Springs in 2017, just a few months after the Buffaloes won the Pac-12 South title in 2016. Since then, he’s been on a long journey that could last for another three seasons if he wants.

A grayshirt in 2017, Sami enrolled at CU in January of 2018. A knee injury that season kept him on the sidelines, but he started 11 games in 2019. Last year, he played in five of CU’s six games, but, of course, the NCAA declared that the season didn’t count towards eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, despite being 22 years old and four years removed from high school, Sami is an improving “young” player with a lot of motivation this season.

In this edition of the Rewind, we catch up with Sami to take about his offseason, his motivation for the 2021 season and his excitement for a young, but talented, group of defensive linemen.

Also in this edition of the Rewind:

  • Shannon Turley continues to impress
  • Brendon Lewis in rare territory
  • Stats of the week
  • My AP Top 25 ballot
  • Quotes of the week

LEADING OFF: Sami ready to roll

After starting 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2019, Sami was expected to improve in 2020. It turned out to be a year that didn’t live up to his expectations.

In 2019, he recorded 25 tackles in 411 snaps (one tackle every 16.4 plays). Last year, he had three tackles in 166 snaps (one for every 55.3 snaps).

Colorado defensive lineman Jalen Sami speaks to reporters during media day at the Dal Ward Athletic Center on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

“Some of it was I had an ankle injury, but I was playing through it,” Sami said. “I just wanted to do whatever I could to help the team, especially with not having that spring ball or that offseason training and just coming in. I had some other family issues that I was working on but got that handled and I came in had a good season. Not the best that I wanted, but I’m looking forward to this season and everything I can do.”

Sami actually lost his starting job last year. After starting the first two games at nose tackle, he came off the bench the rest of the year, as Janaz Jordan slid into the lineup.

“Janaz is a tremendous athlete,” Sami said. “He’s a big guy that can move. I haven’t seen a big guy move like that, especially at his size.”

This year, the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Sami and the 6-4, 305-pound Jordan are both back and looking to dominate. Although both have been nose tackles, defensive coordinator/line coach Chris Wilson wants his group to be versatile and play all over the line.

Could Sami and Jordan play at the same time?

“That’s a good question,” Sami said. “You could definitely see us all rotating and (Wilson) does love the versatility of playing either left side or right side, and choose your gap or switch it up. We play to the offense. We know offenses, or we see formations and we play to that. That’s why coach Wilson emphasizes knowledge of the game and seeing what you see and knowing what you’re going to get.

“We have different scheme calls, but it’s all going to be beneficial, especially as a D-line. We’re all working towards playing each position and knowing how to play each position.”

Sami looks fitter than he did in the past and told BuffZone that after playing at about 335-338 pounds in 2020, he’s down to around 320 pounds. He also joined the long list of players to praise the efforts of first-year strength and conditioning coach Shannon Turley.

“I’m feeling great. I’m feeling excited,” Sami said. “Coach Turley’s offseason program this summer was definitely beneficial and different from what we’ve had in the past. I embraced every rep, all the lessons or teachings he had for us and it got me to become a better athlete. I feel better, I feel more flexible. I’m excited for the season, especially during fall camp.”

One of three defensive linemen with starting experience – along with Jordan and Terrance Lang – Sami is looking forward to putting his offseason work to the test. He’s also motivated by the competition on the line. He’s not only competing with Jordan but sees great potential in a group that includes junior Justin Jackson, sophomore Na’im Rodman and freshmen Lloyd Murray Jr., Jayden Simon, Allan Baugh, Tyas Martin and Ryan Williams.

“I’m definitely motivated because of just the way we look,” he said. “Our emphasis is our second team is just as good as our starters. We’re emphasizing that every day.  I’m extremely happy and excited to play.

“Coach Wilson as defense coordinator, his theme and everything is player-led oriented. Players are just going to make plays. Everyone knows the game plan, we know what plays are the weaknesses and the strengths to (the plan) and we know how to play the offenses. It’s amazing. I’m excited for the season.

“Now that we’ve had the extra training and everything (compared to last year), I believe that this season is going to be an amazing season. We are all working hard and we’ve had a great first week of camp and we’re only growing.”

TURLEY IMPACT: New S&C coach impresses

This offseason, the Buffs have had 15 spring practices and, through Monday, 17 this month. The media has been able to watch four of those, which means we rely mainly on the comments of coaches and players to figure out who is standing out the most.

University of Colorado Athletics
Shannon Turley is beginning his first year as the Colorado Buffaloes’ director of strength and conditioning in football. (University of Colorado Athletics)

Which Buff has been praised the most? New strength and conditioning coach Shannon Turley, and there’s not even a close second. The media doesn’t even have to ask about Turley and he gets mentioned. Sami certainly isn’t alone in feeling the impact of Turley.

Of course, CU hasn’t played a game since Turley was hired, but it’s clear that less than seventh months into the job, he’s been as good as advertised. He gained a reputation for being one of the best in the business during his time at Stanford (2007-2018).

“I’ve been impressed with him ever since I met him,” head coach Karl Dorrell said.

Dorrell was the quarterbacks coach of the NFL’s Houston Texans in 2013 when he met Turley, who was leading the strength and conditioning program at Stanford at the time. Dorrell’s son, Chandler – now the Buffs’ director of player personnel – was a walk-on freshman at Stanford in 2013 and the Dorrells met Turley in the recruiting process.

“We went on an official visit, and I’ve been through the whole process with how they do things,” Dorrell said. “Obviously, my son being a part of that program at the time, his first year at Stanford, they went to the Rose Bowl. So to me, there was some consistency and longevity of things that they were doing that were very, very much instrumental to their success.”

Dorrell jumped at the chance to get Turley last winter and the players have been grateful for the change.

“Turley’s awesome,” center Colby Pursell said. “He’s helped me a lot. He’s helped a bunch of our guys out a lot with some of their issues. We all like him a lot. He’s doing different things that we weren’t familiar with. We went through a full – not quite a full offseason – but a majority of one and I feel like it was a good one. I feel like we came along well as a team.”

Cornerback Mekhi Blackmon put his trust in Turley and has jumped to 180 pounds.

“Knowing where Turley has been and his resume, we understand that he knows what he’s doing,” Blackmon said.

Asked simply how he was feeling in the early days of camp, safety Mark Perry said, “We got to go out there and condition first time with coach Turley, and he’s really good. He stressed a lot of preparation for your body before we go out to run, before we go out to practice, and he’s really been stressing just taking care of your body, making sure that you’re good.”

Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer
Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis runs a passing drill during practice on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

RARE TERRITORY: Lewis takes over at QB

Freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis came into this month battling sophomore JT Shrout for the starting job. That competition abruptly ended, of course, when Shrout injured his knee on Aug. 14.

Barring injury, Lewis will be the starting quarterback when CU opens the season Sept. 3 against Northern Colorado. That puts him in rare company. Since 1959, only 12 freshmen – true or redshirt – have started at least one game at quarterback for the Buffs. Only one of them started a season opener: Cody Hawkins.

In 2007, Hawkins won the starting job during preseason camp, won his debut (31-28 in overtime against Colorado State) and started all 13 games for the Buffs. He led CU to a 6-6 regular season and a trip to the Independence Bowl.

The last freshman to start a game at quarterback was Steven Montez, who led the Buffs to a 41-38 win at Oregon on Sept. 24, 2016.

A few other notables regarding freshman quarterbacks at CU:

  • The group of 12 has a combined record of 6-5-1 in their starting debut.
  • Only two of the freshmen made their starting debut at Folsom Field: Koy Detmer (a 24-24 tie with Oklahoma on Oct. 17, 1992) and Sefo Liufau (a 43-10 win against Charleston Southern on Oct. 19, 2013). Lewis is slated to join the list.
  • Hawkins is the only quarterback to lead CU to a bowl game as a freshman.
  • Only two quarterbacks who started as freshmen and started multiple games finished their career with a winning record: Koy Detmer (14-3-1 record) and Craig Ochs (10-6).

If Shrout misses the entire season, all of Lewis’ backups – Drew Carter and walk-ons Jordan Woolverton and James Mott – are freshmen. That means if something happens to Lewis, the Buffs could have multiple freshmen start at quarterback – something that’s never happened at CU.

STAT OF THE WEEK: 100

Combined career passing yards for the four healthy quarterbacks on the CU roster. Lewis went 6-for-10 for 95 yards in his only game – the Alamo Bowl against Texas on Dec. 29. Mott completed his only pass, for 5 yards, in 2019 while playing for the University of Chicago. Carter and Woolverton are true freshmen and have yet to play in a college game.

STAT OF THE WEEK, PART II: 18,500

Number of Instagram followers receiver Brenden Rice has gained since the NCAA introduced legislation to allow players to profit from their name, image and likeness on July 1. Rice was already the team leader in Instagram followers before July 1, with about 20,700. By Monday, he was up to 39,200. For perspective, running back Ashaad Clayton ranks second with 12,100. (I’m up to 305!)

STAT OF THE WEEK, PART III: 6

Number of Associated Press preseason Top 25 teams on the Buffs’ schedule – tied for the most in the country with Stanford and UCLA. The Buffs are slated to face No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 11 Oregon, No. 15 Southern California, No. 20 Washington, No. 24 Utah and No. 25 Arizona State.

MY TOP 25 BALLOT

Here’s the ballot I submitted to the Associated Press for the preseason Top 25:

1. Alabama

2. Oklahoma

3. Clemson

4. Georgia

5. Ohio State

6. Texas A&M

7. Notre Dame

8. Iowa State

9. Cincinnati

10. Oregon

11. North Carolina

12. Wisconsin

13. LSU

14. USC

15. Miami

16. Iowa

17. Florida

18. Utah

19. Penn State

20. Indiana

21. Texas

22. Louisiana

23. Coastal Carolina

24. Washington

25. Boise State

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

Receiver Brenden Rice on experiencing some success as a true freshman in 2020: “It was amazing just to be able to transition (from high school). Some of the leaders on the team helped to build me up and keep me composed and confident and humble. So truly (this year), it’s just taking that next step to be more smooth within my routes, and in having that leadership composition added to my game, it helped a lot.”

Colorado wide receiver Brenden Rice runs with the ball during a scrimmage at Folsom Field in Boulder on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Quarterback Brendon Lewis, who is from Melissa, Tex., on making his collegiate debut in the Alamo Bowl in December, in his home state and against the team he rooted for growing up – the Texas Longhorns: “It was so cool. I grew up playing with them on NCAA and all that stuff, watching them. Playing against them it was like, ‘Whoa.’ I couldn’t think like that in the game, though. I just had to think they’re human just like I am. … I just gotta do me.”

Head coach Karl Dorrell on whether it’s been easier for the team to learn the playbook this year with a full offseason: “I would say no, because last year we gave them just a very generic (playbook). We had that shortened season and I didn’t know when we were going to training camp until like a week before training camp. We had to decide on doing probably about 30-40% of what we normally would do. So I would say now that we’ve had a full offseason … we’re throwing the whole enchilada at them. So, it’s not easier. It’s definitely not easier. But these guys have a great feel of what our system feels and looks like, and I think they’re digesting the information as we move forward and they’re doing a pretty good job.

Receiver Dimitri Stanley on mentoring freshman receiver and fellow Cherry Creek High School alum Chase Penry: “Chase is my boy. Even at Creek, I was a senior, he was a freshman, I was trying to teach him some new stuff. He’s always willing to learn. And he’s been doing his thing out on the field, too. He treats it just like any other practice and he pretty much has been dominant. He actually has a lot of elements to his game that you can’t teach. So I just kind of teach him the fundamentals of college football in a different type of speed to help progress his game, even further than it’s already at.”

Cornerback Mekhi Blackmon on how good freshman corner Christian Gonzalez can become: “He’s gonna run the conference. There’s no doubt, he’s gonna run the conference.”

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