BOULDER - Nick Kasa's football legacy at Broomfield's Legacy High School was about as glitzy as possible - an All-American on the pages of a couple of national recruiting publications, a U.S. Army All-Star Game participant, all-this/all-that all over the Western U.S., and this state's top 2009 recruit.
Three years ago in Colorado high school football, Kasa was "the man." Three years later, he's one of several strung along the University of Colorado's defensive front.
But he's planning on distinguishing himself once more - and the Buffaloes are counting on it.
Last spring, after a severe knee sprain sidelined him in the fourth practice, Kasa soul-searched. It was his second knee injury in two years, the first occurring in the first fall scrimmage of his freshman season. That knocked him out of the first three games; mononucleosis shelved him for the final five.
Like the old saying goes, "He's hell when he's well . . . but he's sure sick a lot."
Disappointed in himself as much as the Buffaloes' 5-7 record last season, Kasa approached CU's new director of strength and conditioning and, recalled Malcolm Blacken, "Get me right; I don't want that (the injuries) happening again. I've got to step up and perform."
Said Kasa: "I knew he was the top dog in weight training, so he knew what I needed to do. I just told him, 'I don't want to be that same guy, what do I need to do?' He got me lifting and doing the right kinds of lifts; he's helped me so much."
Under Blacken's direction, Kasa went about getting himself right - with the first step, of course, being identifying what was wrong.
"Injuries set me back a little, but just myself set me back a little bit, too," Kasa conceded. "It wasn't just all the injuries. It was some decisions I made, too. This past off-season and this season, I'm taking things a lot more serious and trying to just get down to football."
That was the mindset the members of CU's new coaching staff had hoped to see from Kasa when they arrived last winter. Kasa's reputation - that glitzy legacy from Legacy - all but flashed in their faces when they stepped inside the Dal Ward Athletics Center.
"When we came in here, it was like, 'Whoa, he's going to be a great asset,'" recalled Kanavis McGhee, a former Buffs defensive end who now coaches Kasa at that position. "We came in looking right at him - 'Hey, we heard about you, we know about you and your potential, a guy your size with your speed.'
"But the (knee) injury hit him in the spring. Normally, you want to come out of the spring having a good idea (about abilities) but we didn't in his case because of the injury. He was one of those question marks out of the spring and going into this camp."
And Kasa realized that's how it would be. At the end of the spring semester, coaches were assigned to have individual "exit" meetings with players. The assignments were made by class rather than position, but it turned out that McGhee was one of the staffers meeting with the juniors-to-be - Kasa's class.
"They were heart-to-heart conversations," McGhee recalled. "He said he didn't perform to his own expectations last season (and) he was looking to refocus and get himself into a position where he could be major contributor. The changing of the guard provided him the opportunity to do that.
"He's a huge guy in our whole scheme of things. We're expecting a lot of things from him. He's an older kid and everybody knows who he was (at Legacy). We let him know, 'Hey, man, it's your time. You're going into your third year and we're going to give you every opportunity to show us what you have.'"
So far, it's been a pretty good show.
"I've done OK," Kasa said. "The last couple of days I've been fighting that 24-hour flu or whatever it was. But overall I've had a pretty good camp."
At about 265 pounds, the 6-foot-6 Kasa is leaner and stronger than he's ever been. He's playing mostly outside for McGhee but moves inside for tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo as an interior speed rusher in passing situations.
In fact, Kasa's speed pleasantly surprised Blacken, who recalled, "When we ran this summer, I had to change his running group. He'd been running with the O-line and D-line, but he was too fast. I put him with the running backs, linebackers and tight ends. And that's a guy who's nearly 270 pounds. He can really get going."
Blacken said Kasa has "re-proportioned some weight and lowered his body fat. He looks like a ball player; he passes the eye test. When I first got here, he was a tall, big guy; now he looks like he's ready for some physical activity. I see no ill effects from that (knee) injury. He's going 100 miles an hour straight ahead."
On paper, Kasa's 2010 season didn't appear that bad. He played in all 12 games (one start against Texas Tech) and contributed 12 solo tackles (18 overall), including a couple for losses and one QB sack.
"I had some good stats, but it wasn't what I wanted to do; I was really disappointed with myself last year," he said. "I know I can do a lot better than that, and that's what I'm shooting for right now - getting to the level I know I should be at. I've been working really hard on and off the field, in the weight room."
Blacken believes the payoff is approaching. "I told him I was counting on him to stay healthy and play 13 games," Blacken said. "He's taken that to heart; he's done a good job of preparing this summer."
If Kasa was "the man" in Colorado high school football in 2009, Blacken predicts, "The man is still in there . . . let's go find him and take him on the road with us to Hawaii."
BUFF BITS: The Buffs move to Folsom Field for the first time on Friday for their second camp scrimmage (noon-3 p.m.). It is closed to the public . . . . Starters are expected to be named at several positions, including cornerback and punter, after Coach Jon Embree and his staff review the scrimmage and release the first depth chart of camp . . . . Saturday is "Photo Day," with no practice scheduled. And with the team taking Sundays off as it will once the regular season starts, the Buffs have their first weekend off since camp began on Aug. 4. Fall semester classes begin Monday, with practices shifting to 4-6 p.m. (closed).