When Trevor Woods blocked an Arizona punt on Saturday and returned it for a touchdown, he did more than give the Colorado Buffaloes’ a much-needed springboard to a rout.
The true freshman safety also gave the Buffs a bit of a jolt in recruiting.
During head coach Karl Dorrell’s two seasons with the Buffs, he’s shown the willingness to play freshmen who prove they’re ready to play. Dorrell believes that seeing Woods and other freshmen making plays on game day can make an impression in recruiting.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It helps to see that in recruiting that there’s a young team that’s out there competing and competing hard and they’ve got a chance to play early if they’re capable of helping us win. That’s how we build our program. We’re going to play our best players. If our best player’s a freshman, he’s gonna play.”
Woods has received most of his playing time in special teams, but he’s also played 55 snaps on defense. He is one of several true freshmen earning an opportunity to play.
The group includes Cole Becker, who has handled the Buffs’ kicking duties this year. Receivers Chase Penry and Ty Robinson have been in the rotation on offense, with Penry catching a touchdown pass against Arizona State. Cornerbacks Kaylin Moore, Nikko Reed and Tyrin Taylor have combined for 141 snaps on defense.
Quarterback Drew Carter, linebacker Zephaniah Maea and defensive lineman Ryan Williams have also played this season.
“Back when I was in school … we had to wait our turn, right?” Dorrell said. “I don’t believe in that philosophy anymore. I think the best players play. We put them on a pretty good track to graduate in four years anyway, so there’s no reason why we need to redshirt a guy just because. If we think a guy can play and help us now, he’ll play. If we think a guy needs a redshirt, he redshirts, but I don’t have a seniority aspect as to we want our seniors to play and wait until they’re done and you freshmen get to sit behind. That’s really our message in our in recruiting.”
For much of this season, second-year freshman Ashaad Clayton has been the Buffs’ No. 3 tailback, behind Jarek Broussard and Alex Fontenot. Clayton has missed the past two games, however, and is expected to miss at least another game or two.
Sophomore Deion Smith is taking advantage of the opportunity. He has carried the ball 12 times for 35 yards and a touchdown in the last two games combined.
“He’s in the three-man rotation,” Dorrell said of Smith. “Those are the primary three that we’re using … so, yes, his role has stepped up and he’s done some really positive things. We’re going to continue using those three guys in some rotational fashion.”
Smith, who missed the 2020 season with a knee injury, has 17 carries for 68 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Saturday’s forecast calls for rain in the afternoon when the Buffs (2-4, 1-2 Pac-12) visit the California Golden Bears (1-5, 0-3) at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif. (1:40 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network). Bears head coach Justin Wilcox doesn’t believe that will impact the game too much, however.
“We have a great surface and unless it becomes an extreme downpour, I don’t see that being a major factor,” he said. “This game is meant to be played in the elements and it’s kind of one of the great things about football. I think there’s always considerations given if it’s kind of overwhelming. I’ve been in some of those games where the elements really dictate what you do offensively, defensively, because it gets so extreme. I don’t know that that’s going to be the case this weekend.”
Quarterback Zach Yanda, who played at Chatfield High School and Santa Monica College, joined the Buffs as a walk-on this week. … Since CU joined the Pac-12 in 2011, the home team is 4-1 in this series, with Cal winning both matchups in Berkeley and CU going 2-1 in Boulder.