Daily Camera (Boulder)

Hol­low­ell’s big re­turns sparked up­set win

Buffs’ spe­cial teams starred in 2001 vic­tory over No. 12 K-state

- By Pat Rooney Sports · Colorado · University of Colorado at Boulder · Kansas · Nebraska · California State University, Fresno · Big 12 Conference · San José State University · San Jose · University of Denver · Colorado Buffaloes · Manhatten, KS · Mullen, NE


That was writ­ten on the tape bands se­cured to Ro­man Hol­low­ell when he and the Colorado Buf­faloes took the field at Kansas State 19 years ago this week.

Up to that point, a ta­lented Buffs teams that would climb into the na­tional top five by the sea­son’s end — adding a his­toric thump­ing of Ne­braska along the way — was find­ing re­spect dif­fi­cult to come by. A sea­son-open­ing let­down against Fresno State had knocked the Buffs off the na­tional radar, and three wins in a row against mid­dling op­po­nents had not re­paired the dam­age.

How­ever, on Oct. 6, 2001, the Buffs had an op­por­tu­nity to change that. Backed by two crit­i­cal punt re­turns from Hol­low­ell, CU pro­duced a key road win that re­asserted the team’s con­fi­dence that it could play with any of the top teams in the Big 12 Con­fer­ence, or even the nation. Years later, Hol­low­ell would earn re­spect by car­ry­ing on the busi­ness ven­ture dream of his late mother, yet on that day it was Hol­low­ell’s re­turn skills that helped bring re­spect to the Buffs.

“Know­ing how ta­lented we were that year, I knew if we wanted to ac­com­plish our goals that we had set at the be­gin­ning of the year, I knew we had to go to K-state and some­how get a vic­tory,” Hol­low­ell said. “Af­ter that win I feel like we were start­ing to get the re­spect that we de­served. Ev­ery­one in that locker room, we knew what kind of team we were ca­pa­ble of be­ing. I think that game in Man­hat­tan prob­a­bly so­lid­i­fied it a lit­tle bit and gave us some re­spect.

“I had ‘re­spect’ writ­ten on my tape bands. I think that game was one of my main fac­tors in at­tain­ing re­spect not only for my­self, but for my team as well.”

CU had reeled off con­sec­u­tive wins against lightweigh­ts Colorado State, San Jose State, and Kansas to take a 3-1 mark on the road against the 12th-ranked Wild­cats. In a back­yard brawl-type bat­tle against Kansas State, two long punt re­turns by Hol­low­ell set up two of the three field goals con­verted by Jeremy Flores.

Hol­low­ell’s final big play, a 53yard punt re­turn, set up Flores’ final field goal, a 22-yard boot that gave CU a com­fort­able 10-point lead with un­der three min­utes re­main­ing. Hol­low­ell re­turned two punts for touch­downs that

sea­son and three dur­ing his ca­reer, yet those non-scores against K-state proved as valu­able as any of his re­turns into the end zone.

De­spite a set­back at Texas two weeks later, the Buffs climbed all the way to No. 3 late in the year af­ter a 62-36 rout of Ne­braska fol­lowed by a win against Texas in a re­match in the Big 12 ti­tle game.

“I was re­ally dis­ap­pointed I didn’t get into the end zone on that sec­ond one,” Hol­low­ell said. “But just know­ing how stiff that Kansas State de­fense was that sea­son, I knew a cou­ple punt re­turns would def­i­nitely be help­ful. I knew that field po­si­tion would help us out quite a bit.”

A Colorado na­tive who played at Mullen High School, the di­rec­tion of Hol­low­ell’s life changed when his mother was di­ag­nosed with can­cer in 2011. Hol­low­ell had earned a grad­u­ate de­gree at the Univer­sity of Den­ver and was work­ing in col­lege ad­min­is­tra­tion when his mother passed away less than a year later. Her dream was al­ways to open an af­ford­able day care cen­ter for preschool age chil­dren, and Hol­low­ell has made that a re­al­ity over the past decade. He still owns and op­er­ates the fa­cil­ity on the near west side of Den­ver.

“Very, very unique sit­u­a­tion,” Hol­low­ell said. “I de­cided to segue from what I was do­ing work-wise to keep her legacy rolling. I was scared to death. Didn’t know what I was do­ing. Didn’t know if it would be suc­cess­ful or not. But I have a great staff and I’ve been do­ing it ever since. I know we al­ways talk about find­ing your pas­sion in life, and this was her pas­sion.”

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