Juniors ea­ger to be­come stel­lar se­niors

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Brian How­ell

boulder» In pro­duc­ing the pro­gram’s best season in 15 years, the Colorado foot­ball team leaned heav­ily on a se­nior class that may go down as one of the best in school his­tory.

Thurs­day in San An­to­nio, the Buf­faloes (10-3), who are No. 10 in the College Foot­ball Play­off rank­ings and No. 11 in The As­so­ci­ated Press poll, will bid adieu to their se­niors when they take on Ok­la­homa State (9-3, No. 12 CFP, No. 13 AP) in the Alamo Bowl at the Alam­od­ome.

There’s no doubt the Buffs will miss a group of se­niors that guided the turn­around of the pro­gram. Yet there’s ex­cite­ment and con­fi­dence that next year’s se­nior class can be one of the all-time best groups too.

“We have a good ju­nior class of three-year juniors and fourth-year juniors,” said CU’s Mike MacIn­tyre, the 2016 na­tional coach of the year. “I think it’s a strong class. I’m ex­cited about those guys.”

The cur­rent class of se­niors fea­tures four-year start­ing quar­ter­back Sefo Li­u­fau, three-year start­ing cen­ter Alex Kel­ley and start­ing tight end Sean Ir­win. It also in­cludes eight reg­u­lar starters on de­fense: de­fen­sive backs Chi­dobe Awuzie, Tedric Thomp­son and Ahkello Wither­spoon, lineback­ers Jim­mie Gilbert and Ken­neth Olug­bode and de­fen­sive line­men Jor­dan Car­rell, Sam­son Kafo­valu and Josh Tupou.

In ad­di­tion to be­ing tal­ented, this year’s se­nior class is filled with lead­ers who have gone through dif­fi­cult times early in their ca­reers and guided the Buffs to this year’s turn­around.

Next year’s se­niors aren’t much dif­fer­ent.

In fact, many of the 2017 se­niors came to CU with this year’s se­niors. They also have been a part of mul­ti­ple los­ing sea­sons be­fore the break­through this fall.

“We’re try­ing to re­store the order and make CU great again,” ju­nior safety Afo­labi Laguda said. “It’s not over. The peo­ple who don’t be­lieve, they’re go­ing to be­lieve one day. We al­ways have fire in our belly.”

Laguda is one of sev­eral tal­ented juniors on this year’s team.

It’s a group that in­cludes nine reg­u­lar or part-time starters on of­fense. Tail­back Phillip Lind­say, wide re­ceivers Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields and Devin Ross, tight end Ge­orge Fra­zier and of­fen­sive line­men Jeromy Ir­win, Jonathan Huck­ins, Ger­rad Kough and Sam Kron­shage are all juniors.

On de­fense, Laguda is joined by safety Ryan Moeller, lineback­ers Ad­di­son Gil­lam and Derek McCart­ney and line­men Ti­mothy Coleman and Leo Jack­son III.

“Peo­ple think just be­cause we have a (strong) group of se­niors that young guys can’t step up (next year), but that’s what lead­er­ship does,” Laguda said. “You mold your young guys to be those lead­ers. That’s about growth. That’s what a pro­gram is. That’s what Mac has built.”

In pre­par­ing for the Alamo Bowl, the Buffs have had a bit of an eye on next year — the prac­tices have al­lowed the younger play­ers a chance to get more reps. That’s only go­ing to help next year, Laguda said.

“These bowl prac­tices are a great time to keep grow­ing and keep de­vel­op­ing as a team and keep de­vel­op­ing as a player,” Laguda said.

Much of this year’s suc­cess has been at­trib­uted to the ma­tu­rity and lead­er­ship of the se­niors. Of the five cap­tains, how­ever, three are juniors — Fra­zier, Jeromy Ir­win and Lind­say.

“That shows the strength in lead­er­ship will still be there,” MacIn­tyre said. “We feel like our classes are good; we feel like we have them stacked pretty well to be able to keep the pro­gram go­ing. That’s the key.”

Af­ter help­ing the Buffs break a string of 10 con­sec­u­tive los­ing sea­sons, the ju­nior class has ev­ery in­ten­tion on keep­ing it go­ing next year and be­yond.

“This next year’s team, even though we’re not there right now, we’ll be great,” Laguda said.

Colorado’s ter­rific se­nior class in­cludes four-year start­ing quar­ter­back Sefo Li­u­fau. Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

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