There is nothing in college football quite like running behind Ralphie or seeing the live buffalo mascot of the University of Colorado sprint across the Folsom Field turf.
That’s not what Mustafa Johnson missed most about the 2020 season, though.
“The biggest thing I appreciate is the fans just because I never realized how much energy I drew from them in regards to playing in the silent stadium, not being able to look up and see people,” said Johnson, a senior defensive lineman. “We feed off their energy. So I think mine is more the fans rather than Ralphie, but I know everyone loves Ralphie.”
Whether it’s the fans or Ralphie that create the energy, Johnson and a few other seniors will get their last opportunity to play at Folsom Field on Saturday against Washington.
Officially, five seniors – defensive linemen Jeremiah Doss and Johnson, inside linebacker Nate Landman, offensive lineman Kary Kutsch and tight end Matt Lynch – will exhaust their eligibility after this year.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Kutsch said. “It’s kind of cool to be moving on to something else just with my own life, but it’s tough that football is kind of over here.”
This will be a unique senior day because there are plenty of players on the team who won’t be back next year but won’t participate in senior day activities.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA did not count the 2020 season towards eligibility, giving everyone an extra year. CU has several players who would have been seniors this year but they are technically juniors who could play one last year. Some might be back, some might move on with life and some might transfer out to another program.
Head coach Karl Dorrell said many of those decisions will be made after the season.
“You’re going to have that surprise or two, guys are just going to leave and enter the portal,” he said. “That’s the part we can’t forecast anymore. … In terms of our (high school recruits) that we have committed right now, they’re free and clear. We’ve already counted for those scholarships, for guys that have already either graduated or moved on. And then I have my antennas up thinking that there’s probably going to be a few more (leaving) that I probably haven’t anticipated.”
While there are sure to be several players moving on, Saturday will be about the five seniors. Doss is out for the year with an injury and it’s unclear if Landman will play because he’s missed the last three games with a shoulder injury, but Johnson, Kutsch and Lynch are expected to be in the lineup.
Dorrell is grateful for the impact all five have made during his two seasons in Boulder.
“All of those guys have been, I think, instrumental for the young players in this program,” Dorrell said. “They’ve all had great attitudes. Even in the tough moments of this season, it’s been a very challenging season, but they’ve been very, very positive about pushing the envelope for the future of this program to get forward and to learn from this experience this year.”
Not too long ago, Johnson didn’t think he would get the opportunity to have senior day. After the 2020 season, he opted to enter the NFL Draft. He went undrafted and unsigned, however, and eventually was granted a waiver by the NCAA to return to CU.
Although he had to miss the first four games, Johnson is enjoying the opportunity to play one last season – and to get a senior day.
“I definitely like the classic saying of you don’t have the amount of time that you think you have,” Johnson said in reflecting not only on college but his entire life of school and football. “It goes by fast. Each year has gone by faster and faster, starting with elementary school each year. Once I got to college, it’s the fastest it’s been, so you definitely gotta make sure you do what you want to do in the moment.”
In the moment on Saturday, Johnson will run behind Ralphie one last time, but he will mainly enjoy soaking up the energy provided by the fans.
“It’s glorious, sad, all in one,” he said of the last game at home. “I’m happy that I’ve been blessed to come back to do this, but at the same time I’m sad that it’s gonna be coming to an end officially.”
Game at a Glance
Matchup: Washington Huskies (4-6, 3-4 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (3-7, 2-4 Pac-12)
Kickoff: 1:10 p.m. MST
Where: Folsom Field in Boulder. Playing surface: Grass.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: KOA (850 AM & 94.1 FM)
Odds: Washington by 6.5
Series: Washington leads 12-6-1