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It’s been a short 97 days since the University of Colorado’s loss at Utah ended an overall gratifying season — the team’s best since 2010. The three-month break was enough to bring about significantly higher expectations, a strong new recruit class and a now seasoned head coach. All of those elements, minus the entirety of the incoming freshman and walk-on candidate roster, converged under the Buffaloes’ practice bubble for the start of pre-spring drills and workouts Friday.
“I thought we got after it well,” said head coach Mike MacIntyre. “The first [practices] are a little rusty, but I thought the quarterbacks threw well. The timing with them and the receivers is good, which shows they have been throwing on their own. That’s very encouraging. I was pleased with the effort, and we got a tremendous amount done.”
The Buffs are coming off of a 4-8 season, sitting sixth out of six in the PAC-12 Southern Division. The pardoning of wide receiver Paul Richardson from the program left a large offensive gap that coaches hope can be filled by a mix of returning players, developed coaching experience and newly-found talents.
“We are much farther ahead [than last year,]” MacIntyre said. “They knew the snap count; they knew what we are doing and where to go on the drills. We talk about every day getting better, and better and better. It’s a process … you can’t put the cart before the horse.”
Officially, spring football starts April 12, which is just 36 days away, and opens with the ‘Black and Gold’ spring game.
“[It’s] important [that] we do all the little fundamentals and all the work ethic,” MacIntyre said. “Our kids’ expectations are to win every game, period. But you have to do the things here, in the classroom, [and] in the weight room… It doesn’t just happen by talking about future events – you got to talk about now. And the now takes care of the future.”
Last year’s starting sophomore quarterback, Sefo Liufau, is in contention for a starting spot with fellow sophomore quarterback, Jordan Gehrke. Also competing beside Liufau and Gehrke is spring walk-on candidate and sophomore, Trent Sessions.
“I think Sefo was throwing the ball better today than I think anytime he did last year. I think he’s feeling better and more comfortable; he’s throwing off his back leg better,” MacIntyre said. “Jordan has really improved, also. We really like a lot of the athletic ability in Jordan. One of the things we told Jordan is ball protection. So all day today he’s [been] putting [the ball] away, protecting it and all those types of things that you can tell [the players] are listening to what we are saying. I am excited about what both of those young men did today in practice, I really am.”
Last season, Liufau took charge of the offense with more than 1,779 total yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He is one of seven veteran starting offensive letterman. Feeling ready and confident about the 2014 season, Liufau holds high expectations for his team.
“I think we are capable of going to a bowl game at least this year,” Liufau said. “I think this team is mature enough to put the pressure aside and go out there to get the job done. We showed it today and just came out for the first time. Obviously there is hiccups here and there on both sides of the ball, but I think for the most part we started off on the right foot.”
On the defensive side of the ball, aside nine returning starters, is a hopeful rising-star player that was redshirted last year: sophomore defensive back Yuri Wright. A four-star recruit from Ramsey, N.J., Wright played nine games for the Buffs in 2012 and started six.
In those six games, Wright earned All-Pac 12 honors from the league’s coaches and put up 21 tackles.
“I hope Yuri makes big jumps,” MacIntyre said. “His body’s changing; he’s learning how to play and learning the game. He’s got good athletic ability. It’s just a process of his body growing into it, mentally understanding the game and how to play corner.”
“I feel good, I’m feeling a lot better than I did last year,” Wright said. “We have a lot of high expectations for the team, coming off with a better year than we did last year. Going into spring, I want to come out and play my best, compete every play, every day. I want to compete for that number one spot. I’m trying to come out here and take that starting spot.”
The consensus after day one was that the Buffs’ first spring practice went well. The youths of the team are seeing their first glimpse at what their roles are going to be, and the returning players are adjusting to the expectations and setting goals of their own.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Gavin B. Griffin at Gavin.firstname.lastname@example.org.