BOULDER - Jon Embree welcomed his second Colorado Buffaloes football team on Sunday night with a stark look back and a stirring look ahead.
"Who are we? Who are the Colorado Buffaloes?" Embree asked his assembled players, assistant coaches and other athletic department staffers in the Dal Ward Athletics Center auditorium. "They're the defending fifth-place team in the Pac-12 South. Sounds pretty good doesn't it? The defending fifth-place team that's predicted to finish sixth. Is that who we are?"
Embree doesn't believe it is, telling of "having the privilege" of being part of a CU team in 1984 that finished 1-10 with 20-plus point losses to Notre Dame, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas State.
But the 1985 Buffs took a huge bounce up, finishing 7-5 and laying the groundwork for incremental improvement that would carry CU to its first national championship in 1990.
"I share that with you because I've been in your situation; I've been in your seat," he said, then reminding his players that last season's team goal was to win a road game and this season's goal is to reach a bowl game, which would require at least six wins.
"This team has more talent than that one (that rebounded for a 7-5 finish)," he continued. "The difference was, we really believed it . . . You've heard me say it: We hoped to win a lot last year. We didn't really believe we could win. Part of that belief is confidence and confidence comes about through preparation."
The Buffs, who finished 3-10 overall (2-7 Pac-12 Conference) in Embree's debut season, begin preparations Monday morning for a season in which not much is expected of them by outsiders. Embree addressed that, too, asking this season's seniors to stand up and for their underclass teammates to take mental snapshots.
"What are we going to say about you guys?" he asked. "Next year's coming . . . is winning one road game in five years an impressive resume? What do we want to say about you guys (next season)? That we won a road game? That's it?
"Are you going to be about what we say we want to do? If we will be about what we say we want to do, there's no doubt we'll be doing something in December or January (at a bowl). We've got talent on this team. People outside this room don't know it, but we've got some players. And I believe we've got heart. I believe that heart's been developed. I believe that mental toughness we need to win has been developed."
Embree reminded his players that they "were chosen to be here, we chose to bring you here. You chose to be a part of it . . . you got it? And it starts (Monday). Understand this: you guys do what you're capable of doing, it'll be one of the best experiences of your life. But you've got to truly believe. You understand that? And the way I can tell if you truly believe that is by what your actions say. Are you about what we're trying to be about? (Monday) starts the first day of our journey and it's not going to end until January."
CU's second August camp under Embree will include 105 players, including 31 newcomers, who attended a team dinner Sunday night followed by their first team meeting.
Freshmen, walk-ons and several new staffers (graduate assistants, technical interns) had pictures taken Sunday, with some completing physical examinations and equipment sizing. Among the new faces was T.C. McCartney, who will be an offensive graduate assistant this fall after graduating from Louisiana State in May; he is the grandson of Bill McCartney, the winningest coach in CU football history (93-55-5 record from 1982-94).
Embree and his coaching staff, which for only the second in the last 24 seasons at Colorado remains unchanged from the previous year, signed 28 players in last February's recruiting class. Four of those players will be grayshirting, meaning they will delay enrollment at CU in January.
That foursome includes Peyton Williams, a receiver from South Lake, Texas; he suffered a knee injury (torn ACL) in the state playoffs last December and is still undergoing rehabilitation following surgery. Also grayshirting are Kisima Jagne, a defensive lineman from Phoenix (Chandler); Gerrard Kough, an offensive lineman from Pomona, Calif. (Pomona); and Derek McCartney, a defensive lineman from Westminster (Faith Christian). Kough and McCartney were ticketed for grayshirts from the outset; McCartney is T.C.'s younger brother.
The group included seven recruited walk-ons: Vincent Arvia (OL, 6-0, 285, San Diego/Torrey Pines High School); David Bagby (WR, 6-1, 180, San Diego/Torrey Pines); Trevor Carver (SN, 5-11, 180, Louisville/Monarch); Luke Hartung (OL, 6-6, 230, Danville, Calif./DeLaSalle); Jesse Hiss (FB, 6-1, 225, Bonner Springs, Kan./Bashor-Linwood); Harrison Hunt (WR, 6-0, 180, Cleveland Heights, Ohio/Gilmour Academy); and Jordan Murphy (FB, 6-1, 230, Soph., Castle Rock/Denver Lutheran). All are true freshmen except for Murphy, who is transfer from Colorado State who will have to sit out this season per NCAA rules.
The team will begin practices on Monday, first with an early morning walk-through. With CU's second session of summer school in its final week, most of the players will head to classes and will then reconvene in the afternoon for meetings and a 90-minute practice. The same schedule will hold through the week as summer school wraps up. Embree has closed practices to the public and media this year, as with so many new faces and competition at most positions being wide open, he wants to limit as many distractions as possible.
Monday's practice will be the first of 29 practices (walk-throughs do not count) prior to the season opener against Colorado State at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Sept. 1. Game time is 2 p.m., with FX televising the game nationally.
Murphy, one of the invited walk-ons, was recruited at linebacker/fullback by CSU. He appeared in the Rams' first two games last season at linebacker, but CU invited him to join the roster as a fullback.
Following the school's coaching change (Steve Fairchild to Jim McElwain) after last season, Murphy was told he didn't fit CSU's criteria for the position. Not the case at CU, which last season introduced a pro-style offense that features a conventional fullback.
CSU, said the 6-1 Murphy "moved to more of spread offense with an H-back, hybrid tight end, so they were looking for 6-5 guys and I don't really fill that role. So there really wasn't a place for me there anymore. It's a really a good opportunity at a better place."
Murphy said he was not opposed to playing either position at CU: "I have the athletic ability to do both. I'll do whatever helps the team."
But under NCAA transfer rules, he will have to wait a season for that. He admitted it will be tough: "Yeah, I've been playing football every year since I was seven, so it's going to be different. But it'll only help me learn the system and get better."
The transfer of schools and teams notwithstanding, Murphy's summer was far different than any previously. He was in the Aurora theater last month with three high school friends when the mass shooting occurred.
"I'm lucky to be alive, yeah," he said. "(But) I've been able to move past it with the help of family and friends. I really don't think about it much anymore, which is nice."
Murphy, who is classified as a sophomore and has a redshirt season available, said CU didn't recruit him out of Denver Lutheran High School two years ago. But he said the current Buffs staff "really went out their way to help me get here and get the paperwork done. They were really receptive to this."
Among the freshmen reporting Sunday was running back Terrence Crowder, of Galena Park, Texas. Crowder is expected to be prominent in the competition at that position as the Buffs try to upgrade a ground game that averaged 108.7 yards a game last season.
"At a lot of colleges, freshmen won't get the chance to compete like we will here," said the 5-11, 210-pound Crowder. "I think I'll have a good opportunity to compete and get a spot. I feel like I'm capable; I feel like I'll do what I need to do."
Arriving on campus on June 4, Crowder said two days were required to acclimate to Boulder's altitude. Once past that, he said he felt "settled in" and believed speed, strength and conditioning director Malcolm Blacken's summer program was of great benefit.
"I gained a lot of strength under Malcolm and Steve (Engelhart) - they definitely know what they're doing in the weight room," Crowder said.
CU's 2012 freshman class is among the largest in recent years, but Crowder contended the big number didn't hinder bonding in the group: "This is a very good class, a tight class; we're being held to a higher standard than everybody else. We're going along with it, realizing it's going to make us better."