While it seems like long ago, Nate Landman still remembers being a freshman and getting his first chance to play college football early in the 2017 season.
Initially, it was just a few snaps at the end of easy wins for the Colorado Buffaloes, but those experiences paid off.
“It’s huge,” said Landman, who became a key contributor late in 2017 and is now in his fourth year as a starter. “Getting used to that speed of the game and the crowd and how defenses are called and how to react on the field. I think it’s huge.”
Landman is now the veteran leader of the Buffs (1-0), but he’s getting a chance to see many of his freshman teammates go through the same experience he did four years ago.
On Saturday, the Buffs will face fifth-ranked Texas A&M (1-0) at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver. Although it’s unknown if the youngsters will get a chance to play against the Aggies, they did play and get their feet wet in Friday’s season-opening, 35-7 win against Northern Colorado.
“It was encouraging,” head coach Karl Dorrell said. “Those young guys that did get a chance to play on both sides of the ball, I felt that they played and competed pretty well. I feel good about the depth. It’s young depth, but for their first time getting on the field in a college game, I think they had passing grades with what they’ve done.”
CU had 10 true freshmen debut on Friday, including three cornerbacks: Kaylin Moore, Nikko Reed and Tyrin Taylor. At one point late in the fourth quarter, there were four true freshmen in the secondary and they helped to keep UNC out of the end zone. The Bears had first-and-goal at the Buffs’ 8, but didn’t score after three incomplete passes. Moore had a pass breakup on one of those plays.
True freshman receiver Chase Penry also caught his first career pass, while kicker Cole Becker went 5-for-5 on extra points.
“I think the secondary played well and played pretty well in some tough circumstances in the red zone or getting close to the red zone and keeping them out,” Dorrell said. “I believe it was an invaluable experience for those guys to get a chance to get their feet wet.
“I remember my first time stepping on the field in a college game and there’s jitters and all those things, but after five or six plays, you kind of get settled in and everything is about what you would expect. I felt those guys did a nice job and we’ll continue, when we get opportunities like that, to keep bringing them along to give them some more experience.”
In addition to the true freshmen, four redshirt freshmen made their CU debuts. And, quarterback Brendon Lewis, a second-year freshman, played in his second career game and first start.
“With a game under his belt now, and he knows what it feels like to be a starter now, so I think he can just settle in and play,” Dorrell said. “I thought he played well. Even in the game last week, he took care of the football. He didn’t throw any errant passes. If he didn’t like any of the progressions, he got the ball out of bounds or threw it away. That’s what you have to do with a young quarterback. Sometimes that’s hard to train.”
As the starting quarterback, Lewis will be in the spotlight more than his fellow freshmen and he’s hoping to learn from the UNC game. Against the Bears, he completed 10-of-15 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown and ran for 44 yards.
“I feel like I’m gonna get better and better each week as each week goes on,” he said.
While there could be some nerves in facing the No. 5 team in the country, and doing so in an NFL stadium, Lewis said last week was actually a bigger game in his mind.
“I was looking at last week as my first start,” he said. “Seeing all those people in Folsom I was like, ‘Whoa.’ It’s my first time ever doing that, the first time I’ve been playing in front of that many people. … But, every game to me is a big game.”
That’s why Landman knows the importance of the snaps the freshmen got against UNC and how that could help those players, and the Buffs, in the future.
“You always see the best teams in the country always have the most depth,” Landman said. “I think that was the biggest part about that was being able to develop that depth for our program and our team, getting those guys experience. They were excited. They made great plays, too, when out there, so it was exciting for us to see.”