REFOCUSED

Af­ter 10 con­sec­u­tive los­ing sea­sons, the Buffs have a 10-2 record, are play­ing in the Pac-12 ti­tle game and have ig­nited their fan base.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John Aguilar

They used to scoff — even laugh — at Chase Young­man as he ex­tolled the virtues of the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado foot­ball team while guid­ing prospec­tive stu­dents on cam­pus tours.

That was last year. They’re not laugh­ing any­more.

“All of a sud­den ev­ery­one’s a be­liever,” the 19-year-old Cas­tle Rock na­tive said this week, as he pre­pared to lead a car­a­van of eight friends on an 18-hour road trip to Santa Clara, Calif., to at­tend Fri­day night’s Pac-12 cham­pi­onship game be­tween Wash­ing­ton, which is fourth in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off rank­ings, and No. 8 Colorado. “Peo­ple are start­ing to re­dis­cover CU foot­ball.”

Young­man, a sopho­more, is vice pres­i­dent of C-Unit Foot­ball, a booster club charged with turn­ing out stu­dents to Buffs games and then get­ting them to

turn up the rowdy to 11. That was a tall or­der in his fresh­man year when the Buf­faloes went 4-9, fol­low­ing nine other los­ing sea­sons in a row.

But this year, the Buffs have amassed a 10-2 record as coach Mike MacIn­tyre guided Colorado to the great­est sin­gle-sea­son turn­around in Pac-12 his­tory. This week, MacIn­tyre snagged the honor of Pac-12 foot­ball coach of the year and was voted na­tional coach of the year by his peers. Mean­while, 53,000seat Fol­som Field saw its first sell­out crowd since 2008 at last Satur­day’s game against Utah.

“We saw that there were some changes this year that were go­ing to lead to a bet­ter foot­ball team,” Young­man said.

He gave spe­cial credit to the high-cal­iber coach­ing and the se­niors on the team, which in­clude stand­out quar­ter­back Sefo Li­u­fau, and cor­ner­backs Ahkello Wither­spoon and Chi­dobe Awuzie.

At the game against the Utes on Satur­day, a thrilling CU 27-22 vic­tory in which the Buffs clinched the Pac12 South Divi­sion ti­tle, Kurt Marrs cheered on the Buffs, as he has for decades. He said he had the dis­tinc­tion of at­tend­ing CU dur­ing its foot­ball “glory days” un­der coach Bill Mc­Cart­ney. A 1992 grad­u­ate of the uni­ver­sity, Marrs got to ex­pe­ri­ence the Buffs’ 1990 na­tional cham­pi­onship vic­tory.

“I haven’t felt this type of at­mos­phere of ex­cite­ment since I went to CU,” he said of fans’ an­tic­i­pa­tion lead­ing up to Fri­day’s game. “I didn’t think it would take this long, but I never lost hope.”

Since that tri­umphant cham­pi­onship year, the Buffs have had 13 win­ning and 13 los­ing sea­sons. But Marrs, 46, never con­tem­plated turn­ing in his sea­son tick­ets, which he has owned for more than two decades. That in­cludes years when he was liv­ing in Illi­nois and Kansas.

“We held our tick­ets — we knew it was im­por­tant to do that,” said Marrs, who now lives in Ar­vada.

Long­time sea­son-ticket holder Joe McCreary, who played on Mc­Cart­ney’s of­fen­sive line in the mid1980s and was in the coach’s first re­cruit­ing class, also never con­sid­ered ab­di­cat­ing his seats at Fol­som dur­ing the lean years.

“I can’t stress how proud I am of the team,” McCreary said by phone Thurs­day while golf­ing the back nine at a course in San Fran­cisco and ea­gerly await­ing his Fri­day night en­try with friends into Levi’s Sta­dium for the mon­u­men­tal matchup.

He said lead­er­ship in the Buffs’ locker room, es­pe­cially from the up­per­class­men, was key to turn­ing around the be­lea­guered pro­gram in 2016.

“These se­niors are some­thing spe­cial,” McCreary said. “They were tired of los­ing and tired of not get­ting re­spect. I hope ev­ery­one in the coun­try starts to show Colorado more love than they have.”

Though the Wash­ing­ton Huskies hold the ad­van­tage over the Buffs among sports book­ies, CU law stu­dent Ja­cob Rhoads wasn’t wor­ried about Colorado’s chances.

“Why not? They’ve got­ten this far,” he said, knock­ing back a lo­cally brewed beer at The Sink in Boul­der this week.

Rhoads, who got his un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree at CU, said he re­mem­bered not long ago the dis­mal games when few sec­tions aside from the stu­dent sec­tion in Fol­som saw much love from fans. That was not the case dur­ing the CU vs. Wash­ing­ton State game he at­tended Nov. 19, in which the Buffs came out win­ners.

“It was ex­cit­ing — a lot of peo­ple were there with their fam­i­lies,” he said.

Fans sang the CU Fight song and Chip the Buf­falo, the Buffs’ mas­cot, led the sta­dium in a gi­ant mass clap­ping rally.

“The fan base at school is a lot big­ger, and the vibe has been bet­ter,” said Ash­ley Kooker, a sopho­more and a sis­ter at Al­pha Chi Omega soror­ity on Uni­ver­sity Hill. “Every­body has the same men­tal­ity about it. Ev­ery­one is go­ing crazy around here.”

If the amount of Buffs gear CU stu­dents were wear­ing inside Nor­lin Li­brary on cam­pus was any in­di­ca­tion of the ex­cite­ment sur­round­ing the team, it would not be an over­state­ment to say it’s ap­proach­ing fever pitch.

“Every­body is happy to be a Buffs fan,” said Brett Dobson, a CU sopho­more who was chasing down a book in the third-floor stacks this week.

Dobson has to work at his Wil­liams Vil­lage dorm on Fri­day night, but he’ll be keep­ing an eye on the tele­vi­sion as the game plays out. He’ll also be fend­ing off an­tag­o­nis­tic texts from his father back in Cal­i­for­nia, who is a diehard Huskies fan.

“We’re a di­vided house,” he said.

There was no divi­sion at Buff Stuff Mar­ket­place on Uni­ver­sity Hill, which in­dulges in all things Buf­falo. Gen­eral man­ager Alex Lut­trell said any­thing in black — T-shirts, sweat­shirts, hats — has been fly­ing off the shelves. He was ex­pect­ing a ship­ment of Pac-12 South Divi­sion cham­pi­onship gear to hit his shelves Satur­day.

Lut­trell is thank­ful for the late-sea­son busi­ness — a phe­nom­e­non he hasn’t been fa­mil­iar with in quite some time.

“Gen­er­ally by this time in the year,” he said, “they’re not in com­pe­ti­tion.”

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

oct. 1, 2016 • at­ten­dance 46,839. Colorado fans get fired up against Ore­gon State at Fol­som Field.

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

nov. 1, 2014 • at­ten­dance 35,633. The crowd was thin the last time CU played Wash­ing­ton.

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

nov. 19, 2016 • at­ten­dance 48,658. Fans swarm the field af­ter Colorado de­feated Wash­ing­ton State.

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