Much of this season has been about the youth on the roster for the Colorado football team.
First and second-year players have filled important roles all season for the Buffaloes.
As the Buffs (1-10, 1-7 Pac-12) prepare for Saturday’s finale against No. 14 Utah (8-3, 6-2), however, interim head coach Mike Sanford is focusing on the veterans playing in their final game.
“I think it’s important for us as a staff, us as an entire group of players, support staff, everybody, to just rally behind these players and do everything in our power to make sure that we’re at our best,” Sanford said.
CU and the Utes will square off on Saturday at Folsom Field (2 p.m., Pac-12 Network). It’s the perfect setting for the collegiate finale, senior tight end Brady Russell said.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I was really excited that we get Utah one last time at home. It’s probably the team I like the least in the conference, which is fair; I never have beat them, so (we’ll) hopefully go change that this week. I love that it’s at home at Folsom, and with my family here and everything.”
Russell, in his sixth season, is one of several players slated to go through senior day festivities. In all, 16 players are in their final year of eligibility. A few others, including guard Tommy Brown, snapper Derek Bedell, offensive lineman Frank Fillip, safety Jaylen Striker and cornerback/kicker Mac Willis, could come back next year, but will go through senior day.
Brown is one of the undecided. A transfer from Alabama, he is the only lineman who has started every game in the same spot.
“I haven’t come to any decisions yet. It’s a big decision,” said Brown, who has one year of eligibility remaining. “I go out every football game knowing it could be my last so that’s just what I’m going to do again this week.”
Whether players have been here one year, like Brown, or six years, like Russell, it’s been a rough road. CU has had one winning season (4-2 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign) in the last six years.
Each of them has gone through a dismal season this fall, with the Buffs not only losing, but getting blown out week after week.
Despite that, it’s been a remarkably close team.
This week, Sanford has remembered listening to then-Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien speaking during a coaches convention a few years ago.
“He talked about the absolute worst thing that you could do is create sheer drudgery – he used those two words sheer drudgery – in your practice environment, in your meeting environment,” Sanford said. “That really kind of hit home for me, because I’ve been a part of programs that were winning a ton of games and it was sheer drudgery in the building. And, it was awful for everybody: coaches, players.
“For me, it’s been, what can we do to make this an enjoyable week with each other, for each other?”
On Tuesday, that meant a post-practice penalty kick shootout, in honor of the World Cup taking place this month.
And, on Saturday, regardless of the outcome, CU will honor each of those Buffs playing for the last time.