Eventually, Northern Colorado figured out Friday that punting in the direction of Dimitri Stanley wasn’t a good idea.
Until they did, however, the Colorado sophomore enjoyed his best game as a Buffaloes’ punt returner. The fourth-year receiver caught just one pass for seven yards in the 35-7 win against the Bears but finished with three punt returns for 68 yards, including a career-long of 27 yards.
“Some of my teammates were saying that on the sideline. They were like ‘They’re going to stop kicking to you in a second,’” Stanley said after the game. “I’m like, ‘I hope not,’ because there was just a lot of plays to be made on the field out there. I think I could have made a couple more, could have gained a couple more yards, but I’m happy with that first game back punt returning.”
Stanley has been the Buffs’ primary punt returner the past two years but had never broken free as much as he did against the Bears. Coming into this year, he had 17 career punt returns for 122 yards, an average of 7.2 yards. His longest was 26 yards.
His three returns from Friday all now rank among his top four: 27, 22 and 19 yards.
“He’s a really good player, a dynamic kid, and he enjoys returning punts,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said. “We enjoy having him back there. We had some good field position because of the efforts that he made in the punt return business.”
It’s becoming a family business for Stanley.
His father, Walter, played two seasons at CU from 1980-81. He was the Buffs’ kick returner for two years and the main punt returner in 1981. During his time with the Buffs, he caught 28 passes for 490 yards, while also returning one punt and one kickoff for touchdowns.
Walter Stanley had one of only seven 100-yard kickoff returns in CU history and then went on to play in the NFL from 1985-92 for five different teams. In 85 NFL games, he racked up 3,277 return yards, including a touchdown on a punt return; and he caught 120 passes for 2,213 yards and five scores.
Dimitri Stanley got his love for returning punts from his father.
“My dad was a punt and kick returner in the league and I grew up loving punt returning and all that,” Stanley said. “It’s just explosive plays. It flips the field. It’s everything you want in a game. That excitement, everything comes with those returns.
“A lot of people don’t really have the will to do it because you can’t really see the people in front of you when the ball is in the air. I just stay calm and trust my athleticism at that point.”
Stanley has also caught 52 passes for 611 yards and three touchdowns in his career and is sure to make a big impact on offense this year, but he hopes there are more opportunities to make plays as a returner, as he did against UNC.
“I’m just trying to do as much as I can for the team to get us in a position to score,” he said. “If the pass game isn’t working, I have to do something with the ball in my hands every chance I get. I’m glad that I was able to do a little bit and gain a couple more yards off those returns. Hopefully, I can keep on doing that throughout the season.”
Walter and Dimitri Stanley are the only father-son duo in CU history to each record a 100-yard receiving game. They also have the most combined touchdowns (eight) of any father-son duo at CU.
Defensive lineman Jalen Sami got off to a great start with two tackles for loss, including a sack against UNC.
“It felt good,” he said. “It was exciting, but it’s pretty much all practice. We practice that. We practice playing schemes and how offenses will play against us. So they came out and did what they did against us. We’d been practicing it all week. It just became second nature. It was just a very exciting moment for me.”
First catch for Penry
True freshman Chase Penry, who, like Stanley, is a Cherry Creek High school graduate, caught a 16-yard pass on a third-and-six play during the third quarter, helping to extend a drive that led to a Buffs’ touchdown. It was some payoff for the good impression Penry has made in his short time as a Buff.
“He was one of those freshmen that came in and just has a great knack for understanding our system,” Dorrell said. “I think he picked it up pretty fast. He was performing like that all camp. Whenever he had a chance in practice to make a play on a ball, he would do it. I think the quarterbacks all feel very confident in what he is and the lights weren’t too big for him. He made a tremendous third-down catch in traffic and that’s the kind of kid he is.”