When an opportunity presented itself last week, Jayle Stacks was ready.
Colorado went into Oregon State on Saturday night with a short-handed backfield, and lost another option less than two minutes into the game.
Given his first opportunity as a key ball carrier, Stacks responded with 50 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. Those were all career highs for the third-year sophomore from Cherry Creek High School.
“It’s kind of like practice, but those dudes on the other side are trying to bang you up, get you out of the game,” said Stacks, CU’s biggest running back, at 5-foot-11, 235 pounds. “But it was a great, great opportunity. I was just trying to go out there and do what I could for my team.”
Senior Alex Fontenot, who started the first two games, has missed five consecutive games with a chest injury. Junior Deion Smith, who leads the team in rushing, missed the Oregon State game with an injury. Then, freshman Anthony Hankerson, who started against OSU, was injured on his third carry and didn’t return.
That left Stacks as the only healthy scholarship running back, as he shared duties with walk-on Charlie Offerdahl.
“I think there’s always someone that’s gonna step up and do what he needs to do, whether that’s Deion, Fontenot, Hankerson, Charlie Offerdahl,” Stacks said. “There’s always the next guy up, as they say.”
It had been a while for Stacks, though. A four-time all-conference player at Cherry Creek, he rushed for 2,997 yards and 39 touchdowns during his prep career. Prior to Saturday, however, he had just 12 carries for 24 yards during his time at CU.
“You just have to trust the process and understand that what you’re doing will one day, they’ll see what you can show on the field,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing for the last three years. I know the backs that are in front of me, Deion and Fontenot, are great backs and they can get it done. So you just have to go in practice every day with the mindset of you get better every day. Then one day, maybe someone will get hurt, unfortunately, but you’ve got to be ready and step up to that plate.”
Interim head coach Mike Sanford said Smith and Hankerson could both return to the lineup when the Buffs host Arizona State on Saturday at Folsom Field (5:35 p.m., ESPNU). It’s possible Fontenot will be back, too.
Stacks showed enough last week, however, that he might get more carries than in the past.
“You look at just his run after contact, he adds a different dimension, he adds a different element,” said Sanford, who added Stacks has had a different level of commitment since the bye week earlier this month. “It helps us offensively because his body type gives a different presentation to linebackers that are fitting the run gaps at the second level.”
Special teams standout
Cornerback Toren Pittman had played just four plays on defense this season, but the sophomore has become one of the best special teams players for the Buffs. He leads them with 18 special teams points (twice as many as anyone else).
“I look to make an impact anywhere I can get on the field,” he said. “Any way I can let myself be seen I’m gonna go full speed and try to make plays.”
A gunner on the punt team, Pittman’s speed has helped to force seven fair catches. That has been particularly valuable after the Buffs’ gave up a punt return for touchdown in the season opener against TCU.
“Last year we had one of the best special teams in the whole nation, so it kind of took a toll on us giving up a touchdown the first game of the season,” Pittman said. “It’s only one play. I always tell myself it’s next play mentality. I make sure to tell the special teams to keep that same mentality.”
Running backs coach Darian Hagan, a former CU star quarterback, will coach in his 150th game for the Buffs on Saturday. He will become just the fifth person in program history to coach in that many games, joining Brian Cabral (294), Frank Prentup (169), Frank Potts (167) and Bill McCartney (153). … CU has had 40 different players start on offense or defense, tied for third-most in the country this year. New Mexico has had 47 and Northern Illinois has had 41.