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Nigel Bethel Jr. back in action for CU Buffs

Junior cornerback missed several months with knee injury

Colorado's Nigel Bethel works during a recent practice in Boulder. Bethel is fully recovered from a knee injury that cost him most of the 2021 season. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
Colorado’s Nigel Bethel works during a recent practice in Boulder. Bethel is fully recovered from a knee injury that cost him most of the 2021 season. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
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Nigel Bethel Jr. played only 17 snaps in Friday’s season opener, but that was enough to put a smile on his face.

“I got a feel for it again,” said Bethel, a junior cornerback for the Colorado Buffaloes. “I’m excited and just happy to be back. Happy to get the rust off.”

A year ago, Bethel was excelling as CU’s No. 3 cornerback and part-time nickel back. But, in the sixth game, he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

“It was terrible, man,” he said. “I mean, I kind of got down mentally, but it didn’t last too long. I got back up because it happens to everybody. You’ve just gotta get better.”

Following Friday’s 38-13 loss to TCU, the Buffs (0-1) are hoping Bethel can continue his progress. They face Air Force (1-0) on Saturday at Falcon Stadium (1:30 p.m., TV: CBS).

Prior to the TCU game, Bethel had played only 202 career snaps on defense, but he’s already had a long journey.

A Florida native, he played his true freshman season at Miami in 2018, seeing action in one game. Then, he left for CU, but at the time the NCAA didn’t have the one-time transfer exception, so he had to sit out the 2019 season.

Playing a backup role to starting cornerbacks Mekhi Blackmon and Christian Gonzalez, Bethel began to carve out a role for himself during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He gained an even bigger role last year before his injury.

The injury caused Bethel to also miss CU’s practices in April and he was out for most of preseason camp in August.

While missing the final six games of last year was tough, Bethel said the more difficult aspect of the injury was “not being able to compete for a spot this offseason.”

Shortly after the 2021 season, Blackmon transferred to Southern California and Gonzalez transferred to Oregon. That instantly made Bethel the veteran in the room, but he spent the offseason watching his younger teammates compete.

True sophomores Kaylin Moore and Nikko Reed won starting jobs and played well against TCU. The Buffs also have a talented quartet of true freshman corners: Simeon Harris, Keyshon Mills, Jason Oliver and Joshua Wiggins.

Bethel has been impressed by the young group.

“A lot of them are like way ahead compared to when I came in,” he said.

Still, it was Bethel getting the call off the bench Friday. Behind Moore and Reed, Bethel and Oliver (seven snaps) were the only other corners to play.

Despite missing months of action, Bethel said he is an improved player and hopes to prove that throughout this season.

“I felt like a better player, for sure,” he said. “The little bit of experience I got last season helped a lot. I can see everything coming faster now.”

With more practice and game time, he expects to get even better. But, simply being back in action is exciting.

“I feel great, man,” he said. “I can’t really complain right now.”

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