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Anthony Hankerson provides boost to Colorado Buffs’ backfield

BOULDER,CO-September 24: University of Colorado Boulder's ...
CU’s Anthony Hankerson finds room against UCLA during the game on Saturday in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

On the second carry of his collegiate career, Colorado running back Anthony Hankerson was hit at the line of scrimmage and somehow kept his balance.

He was hit three yards later and still remained on his feet. Then, he stiff-armed a UCLA defender to extend the play and eventually dove forward and stretched the ball across the line for a first down.

That 10-yard run on third-and-10 kept a drive going for the Buffs and helped set up a field goal. It wasn’t a game-changing play in what would become a 45-17 loss for the Buffs last Saturday at Folsom Field, but it offered a glimpse into the talent Hankerson brings to the backfield.

“I feel like I showed effort (on that play),” he said. “It was third down, but shout out to my O-linemen. They were making some moves up front and I was able to kind of just put my extra effort in, as well, and was able to dive for the first down. So, that’s a good win.”

In a season that has been sour to this point, the Buffs (0-4, 0-1 Pac-12) are clinging to signs of hope for the present – and the future. Hankerson could be one of the young players to provide a spark for CU, which visits Arizona (2-2, 0-1) on Saturday in Tucson, Ariz. (7:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).

A 5-foot-9, 190-pound true freshman from St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High School, Hankerson is physical and fast, but missed the first three games of the season with an injury. He didn’t get full clearance until about a week before the UCLA game.

“It felt amazing,” he said. “I kind of handled what I had to handle, controlled what I could control, put God first and I was able to get back fast.”

Hankerson has dealt with a lot of adjustment this year.

At St. Thomas Aquinas, Hankerson rushed for 3,420 yards and 43 touchdowns and helped the Raiders to three Class 7A state titles. He topped the 1,000-yard mark in each of the last three seasons, including 1,057 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior.

Playing at one of the nation’s top prep programs, he received 29 scholarship offers, including 17 from Power 5 schools. His options dwindled, however, and he wound up choosing CU over Florida International. He signed with CU in February, despite the Buffs’ plans to grayshirt him and delay his enrollment until January.

At the time, CU had a verbal commitment from Sam Houston transfer Ramon Jefferson, an FCS All-American. In May, Jefferson changed his mind and picked Kentucky for his final season of college football. Jefferson’s decision changed CU’s plans for Hankerson and he arrived on campus in June.

“I just kept working out, kept praying and everything kind of worked out how we wanted,” Hankerson said. “It kind of kept me on my heels, but it wasn’t really hard to adjust. I came in and all the older guys kind of took me under their wing. I just fell along right into place. I came to play ball.”

An injury in preseason camp put him on the sideline until last week, however. Then, with senior Alex Fontenot and sophomore Jayle Stacks both out with injuries, Hankerson got a chance to play against UCLA, finishing with 25 yards on seven carries.

“I definitely left a lot of plays on the field,” he said. “We kind of talked about that in the meetings and fixed all the little things because that’s really what hurt not just me, but everybody with the little things. We kind of fixed that up after the game and we’re ready to take it on to the next opponent.”

This week, Stacks could return, but Fontenot will miss third consecutive game. Dorrell said Hankerson will once again be in the mix with junior Deion Smith and walk-on Charlie Offerdahl, as well as Stacks. The Buffs will use a committee approach to the run game.

“All four of those guys are doing really good jobs but it’ll go more to whoever’s playing the best,” Dorrell said.

Hankerson is now in that rotation and said he and his fellow backs are eager to help the Buffs’ sputtering offense get on track.

“As a running back group, we kind of put it all on ourselves, like we’re gonna put this team on our back,” he said. “That’s how it is with a lot of other positions on the offense – as well as the O-line. They feel like they gotta put it all on our back, because we know there’s no offense without the line.”