Of all the things Jon Embree learned in his first year on the job as Colorado's head football coach, this might be near the top of the list: When talking about your school's "recruiting footprint," think big, then go bigger. If you normally wear a 12, go for a size 13.
In a word, be expansive.
Embree and his staff initially might have been reluctant to step into the Washington, D.C., area to recruit, but that changed Wednesday and perhaps forevermore with the signing of "The D.C. Three" - a trio of highly rated defensive prospects from Washington's H.D. Woodson High School.
Corners Kenneth Crawley and John Walker and defensive linemen De'Jon Wilson were among 28 signees Embree announced in his Class of 2012, a group he promised "will make the Buffaloes better."
Critics will chirp, "Better than what?" And after a 3-10 finish in his first season, Embree would agree the only route available is up. But he believes the players in this class will help address glaring needs on defense, primarily in the secondary and line.
Last season, Embree quipped Wednesday, "I felt bad for the opposing teams' cheerleaders, having to do all those pushups (after scoring on the Buffs). I'm hoping we can slow them down."
CU rarely came close to that in 2011, allowing 36.5 points a game and yielding 40 or more points six times. The Buffs' points allowed was a Pac-12 worst, as were their 60 touchdowns allowed.
Maybe this class can help apply the clamps. It includes nine corners/safeties and nine defensive tackles/ends, with the nine D-linemen the most ever signed by CU in one class. Embree estimated that all of those defensive recruits - along with four incoming tight ends and three receivers - have better than average chances of playing in 2012. In fact, he said "75 or 80 percent" of this class is capable of immediate playing time.
If that estimate holds, and given how many freshmen (a Pac-12 high 15) played last season, the Buffs again will be a very young team. Embree isn't opposed to that (as if there was a choice), but noted any questions on his team's youth and productivity were better asked/answered "after the (2012) season. The thing about young players is that they grow up. It's good and bad; the good is that they don't know any better. There's no (bad) habits. At the end of it, it's still football . . .
"There's not just youth in this class, there's talent. Hopefully the youth shows up in practice and the talent shows up on Saturday."
After signing his first CU class a year ago - an intensified process because of his December hiring - Embree had said he and his staff preferred to stay within the school's traditional "footprint" to recruit. Far flung stops such as New Jersey, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C., might be targeted only if prospects merited such attention - and maybe only if they showed the initial interest in CU.
Scratch that thought. "Our footprint expanded," Embree said. "Now D.C. is an area we're going to be going into regularly. So, good luck Kanavis (McGhee, defensive assistant). You'll be in that middle seat (flying to Washington), mad at me . . ."
California and Texas - historically prime recruiting areas for the Buffs - produced 17 of Wednesday's 28 signees, CU's largest class since 1978. D.C. and Colorado produced three each, with five other states yielding one each. And there could be another late signee; Embree said one scholarship was being "kept in our pocket. You never know what happens down the line - somebody not qualifying or somebody slipping through the cracks."
Embree wasn't happy with the low instate yield (three) and shouldered the blame for that. "There were three areas that we wanted to reestablish ourselves," he said. "We got it done in two (Texas and California). The third area was Colorado and we didn't do a good enough job. We got three kids. We missed on some. A couple of them wanted to leave state and that's always going to be the case.
"The ones that weren't quite sure what they wanted to do, we didn't do a good enough job - and I say 'we,' it's me. I've got to continue to figure what it is that we need to do . . . I have to do a better job of getting them to understand what this place is capable of."
Assembling his second class went smoother than the first simply because there was more lead time to identify and evaluate. But the CU staff also went into this cycle having to fill specific needs (read: defense) based on last fall's shortcomings.
Said Embree: "Next year we can recruit - I don't want to say normally - but maybe like other schools in that you're taking a couple at each position every year instead of having to load up at a few positions to provide depth and players."
The offensive line, which recently lost promising sophomore-to-be Paulay Asiata, picked up just two recruits. That was by design, said Embree: "We feel good with where the O-line's at; we had other pressing issues. There's not great depth, but it's just after the initial 10 or 11 that you get a little thinned out. That first couple of groups I feel good about."
CU used one scholarship for a quarterback and Embree sounded sure about Shane Dillon, of El Cajon, Calif., being the right choice. The 6-5, 200-pound Dillon has the physical ability - size, footwork, strong arm - as well as the commitment the position now demands.
"To play this position now," said Embree, "you have to be a gym rat. You have to be that guy who's in here all the time. Last night about 5 o'clock Connor Wood (QB transfer from Texas) was in the staff room watching tape. I was teasing him, asking, 'You sure you know how to work it?' He said, 'Did you guys change the pass word?' . . . I was just messing with him. To be effective now at that position you have to have those qualities and (Dillon) has those qualities."
With two recruiting classes signed, Embree has reference points he can use to plan for 2013 and beyond. He said he was pleased with "the direction we're going and how we're doing it from a staff standpoint. We're able to get a head start now. I was able to evaluate some 2013s instate and some other areas - and some 2014s. I feel like we're kind of catching up . . . not only is recruiting year round, identifying (prospects) is huge for us when you're talking about the number of kids you're getting from out of state. We have to get that Colorado brand out in front of them.
"We're going to sit down as a staff and talk about our areas. Some guys felt like they had too much of an area to do an effective job. Other guys I think wanted a little bit more. We'll go through that. I thought we did a good job of team recruiting. Each kid back in August, we assigned three coaches to each kid, so that we could effectively recruit him. I thought that worked well for us."
CU's Class of 2012 was ranked No. 29 by Scout.com and No. 33 by Rivals.com. It was the highest ranking for a CU class since 2008, and was a breakthrough of sorts if you subscribe to ranking recruiting classes. Embree doesn't . . . then again he does.
Asked if he put much stock in having a Top 25 or 30 class, he answered, "I think all coaches when they finish in that (number) they say yes, and when they don't, they say no . . . I wish we could rank the classes after four years to see who stayed, who performed. Sometimes due to academics or injuries people don't make it.
"But (rankings) give you a barometer of kind of where you are. I think it's great for your fans. It keeps excitement up, keeps people involved in your programs. Another thing, I've never heard a coach get up and say he had a bad recruiting class on signing day. You've got to take it all with a grain of salt."
And think about this: If coming off a three-win season Embree and his guys fashioned a No. 29/33 class, what might be possible when the Buffs reach the postseason? Embree promised it will get better, but added there's no choice.
"The dynamic in our conference has changed," he said. "UCLA has done a great job. Washington, what they did, taking some coaches from Cal . . . I mean, there was a lot of carnage in this conference recruiting, to say the least. You have to improve; it's going to be very competitive. But I feel good about our staff . . . a lot of our guys have longstanding relationships in this conference."
He called CU's location a plus, being able to recruit Texas comfortably, Louisiana and now the D.C. area. And California remains a prime destination as well. "They can't take all of them (from California), the same with Texas . . . I think our location and our past history allows us little bit of an advantage over the other schools," Embree said. "But I hope that translates into kids wanting to stay home, first off."
More than the recruiting rankings, Embree was buoyed by the way his returning players assisted in this class' recruitment even though they know he signs players who can supplant them on the depth chart and in the starting lineup.
"That's the job of recruiting; you want to bring in players who are better than what you have," he said. "That makes your team better. I think this class can do that."
CU-CSU GAME SWITCHED TO SUNDAY: The Cinch Jeans Rocky Mountain Showdown, the annual in-state battle between Colorado and Colorado State, will kick off the season for both teams on Sunday, September 2; the game had been scheduled the day before (September 1), but will move to accommodate an expected national television audience on either ESPN or Fox Sports. Thus, the game time won't be known until television arrangements are finalized; it once again will be played in Denver at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. This will be the 84th meeting between the two, as Colorado leads the all-time series by a 61-20-2 count. It will mark the 18th straight year the rivalry will be televised on either a national or regional basis (10 day games, eight night games) and it will be the 12th time the two will play in Denver, where CU owns a 7-4 advantage, including wins in the last four played in Colorado's capital city.