DENVER-The Colorado Buffaloes football coaching staff knew this day was eventually going to come.
Eventually the true freshmen of their most recent recruiting class would see significant playing time and would have to prove themselves.
And while it was apparent that the freshmen made their share of mistakes in their first collegiate game during CU's 22-17 loss to Colorado State on Saturday, they also contributed in key spots and in key situations on both sides of the ball for the Buffs.
"The young guys played well, with this being their first game," coach Jon Embree said. "We will just keep feeding them to the fire."
Much of the attention during summer drills and fall training camp was put on freshman cornerback Yuri Wright, but it was another frosh corner-Kenneth Crawley-that found himself atop the depth chart prior to the opening game with Colorado State.
Crawley had an immediate impact for the Buffs as he finished with 10 total tackles, which tied for the second most by Colorado in the game.
However, the Washington, D.C., native's duties weren't just in the secondary, but also on special teams as he was the team's leading punt returner.
After the game, he admitted that he was a little nervous after CSU went three-and-out on their first drive.
"I was getting the jitters," Crawley said of his first punt return. "I was kind of nervous at first, but I was able to get that out of the way."
In his first return, Crawley immediately showed his versatility and his impact on special teams as he returned the punt for 14 yards-matching Colorado's longest punt return from all of last season by the now-graduated Rodney Stewart.
Crawley ended up returning three punts in the contest for 38 yards, including a 24 yarder at the end of the third quarter that set up a CU scoring drive in the fourth.
Another freshman that saw significant time on the field was wide receiver Gerald Thomas.
Thomas' first collegiate game concluded with him catching three balls for 26 yards and one run for 17 yards. He also started the game and became the first true freshman to begin a season opener at wide receiver since 1972 when true freshmen again became eligible to play.
Like Crawley, nerves also hit Thomas.
"It was real nerve-racking," Thomas said after the game. "Just all the people, the fans and family in the stands-I was nervous at first playing in front of all of those people."
But also like Crawley, Thomas' nerves subsided which was something that his teammates took notice of.
"Gerald I know on offense, being split out with me, he was calm," said fellow wide receiver Nelson Spruce. "You saw him make some plays."
One of those "plays" that Spruce mentioned was a spectacular juggling catch in the first half. After tipping the ball several times in the air between CSU players, Thomas was finally able to get his hands on the ball and hold on to it as a Ram defender attempted to pull it loose.
"The ball got away from me, but I was able to then concentrate on it and make the catch," Thomas said of his juggling act.
Overall, nine true freshmen saw action in the 2012 season opener, with the others being tailback Donta Abron, defensive tackle Tyler Henington, tight end Vincent Hobbs, safety Marques Mosley, fullback Christian Powell, defensive tackle Josh Topou, and Wright.
Next up for these young Buffs: it will be focusing on getting better and learning from any of the mistakes they might have made before Sacramento State comes to Boulder next Saturday.
And hopefully when the Hornets come to town, these Buffs won't have the same jitters and nerves that came with playing their first college football game.
Crawley seems to think so.
"The nervousness is out the window," he said. "Now we just need to step up and be leaders and just keep our team going."