DENVER – Mike MacIntyre arrived in Boulder last December preaching commitment. If his Colorado football players tired of hearing it through their off-season conditioning work, through the summer and into preseason camp, the weariness never showed.
Instead, the Buffs bought in. More commitment was asked of them, and finally on Thursday night in the Dal Ward Athletic Center auditorium, MacIntyre asked each player to put their personal commitment for Sunday’s opener against Colorado State in writing.
It didn’t stop there.
When they were done writing, MacIntyre had each player stand and read their commitment to the team. Then, one-by-one after reading, they filed to the front of the auditorium and dropped their sheets of paper in a black metal tool box.
MacIntyre’s plan: Have one of his six captains carry the box into Sports Authority Field at Mile High and keep it on the sidelines. For road games, that week’s commitments will go into the box and onto the Buffs’ charter.
“It’s a great idea,” said senior center Gus Handler, who was among the seniors addressing the team before the game then speaking again at halftime. Handler’s commitment for Sunday centered on communicating with his O-line mates.
“Even before the season we kind of committed to certain stuff, but when you put it down on paper you’re more likely to achieve it,” he said. “And saying what you’ve committed to in front of the whole team, hey, then it’s out there.”
Many commitments were position-, assignment-, or technique-specific. Many players further down the depth chart committed to simply being good teammates.
Senior left tackle Jack Harris, one of CU’s captains, committed to not allowing a sack. And how’s this for honoring that: Quarterback Connor Wood spent no time on his back en route to completing 33-of-46 passes for 400 yards and three touchdowns in the Buffs’ 41-27 win.
“Those guys up front did a great job,” Wood said. “They worked their butts off for me and that’s awesome.”
Wood’s written commitment for the opener: “Be keyed in to their blitzes and the coverages they bring. We’ve been studying them for two weeks or so, but be ready. It’s the first game of the season and they may have put in some different things. Just be ready for the blitzes and coverages.”
He was more than ready, showing new-found poise and the ability to keep plays alive when necessary. On an 82-yard scoring pass to Paul Richardson, he scrambled to his right, stepped up while scanning the field and spied “P-Rich” as alone as he might ever find himself.
“I was really, really impressed with Connor today,” MacIntyre said. “I knew he had the ability to do it, he just had to go do it. I’m very, very proud. He’s got to regroup and do it again Saturday (against Central Arkansas). We’ll find out if he can put it back-to-back, which I think he can. I think we’ll have a really good quarterback, but today he was excellent.”
Richardson, playing in his first game back after missing last season following knee surgery, caught 10 of Wood’s passes for 208 yards, including TD catches of 82 and 75 yards. But “P-Rich’s” commitment wasn’t about making big plays. “I committed myself to being a good decoy and making plays without the ball in my hand – which is being a good decoy and blocking,” he said. “I felt like I did my role as a decoy, but I could have blocked a lot better. But I’m so proud of my receiver corps. It was a great win.”
It also was great to be back, Richardson said: “It feels great. What better game to come back to than your in-state rival? You couldn’t write a better story, you couldn’t write a better story.”
Junior cornerback Greg Henderson committed to “being very disciplined with my eyes and don’t let anything go over the top of me. I feel like I did my job . . . I lived up to my commitment.” And then some; Henderson delivered a game-changing 53-yard fumble return for a fourth-quarter touchdown when CSU had crept back into the game.
Senior linebacker Derrick Webb, another of the Buffs captains, pledged to his teammates that he would “leave everything on the field.” Consider it done. He and his defense stepped up and stood out when needed, stuffing the Rams on two late possessions and securing the first win of CU’s MacIntyre era.
The Buffs could have shrunk after a pair of special teams coverage mishaps – one a 74-yard punt return for a TD by CSU’s Joe Hansley, the other an 84-yard kickoff return by Thomas Coffman that set up the Rams for a three-play scoring drive that produced their only lead of the afternoon (24-23).
“I felt like everybody on the sideline was saying the same thing – keep your head up and let’s go, let’s fight, pick it up,” Webb recalled. “It’s over with, let’s get the next play. Everyone was on the same page. We knew it was going to be a fight to the end. We were prepared for adversity going into the game. It sucks that they got those two returns on us; we were upset about it. But no one went in the tank.”
Instead, they stayed committed, as did their teammates on the sidelines. On Thursday night, many of those players who knew they might not leave the sideline committed themselves to staying mentally involved and offering support.
All of the Buffs throughout camp have worn wristbands reading “CARE,” and MacIntyre reminded them again in their Thursday night team meeting, “You all help each other control our destiny, no matter how big or small a role it is.”
When it was almost over Sunday, after his defense had strangled any CSU hope with a fourth-down stop, a jubilant MacIntyre pumped his fist on the sidelines and celebrated. What was he thinking? Only the obvious, he said: “We won . . . just we won. I was so happy for those kids.”