BOULDER – After his post-game handshake last Saturday night with longtime coaching colleague and friend Sonny Dykes, now a Pac-12 adversary at Cal, Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre found one of his players gazing tearfully into the Folsom Field stands.
Joy from the Buffs’ first Pac-12 win in more than a year had moved Parker Orms to tears, although a “stinger” prevented him from playing. And knowing it was his next-to-last Saturday in Folsom probably shook Orms as much as the ‘W’ that finally ended a 14-game conference losing streak.
This week, next-to-last becomes last. Finality awaits Orms, 14 fellow CU seniors and perhaps one record-setting junior on Saturday night when they play No. 23 Southern California. CU’s stakes in Game 11 of MacIntyre’s debut season aren’t of the championship variety, but they are plenty high.
Orms and the Buffs are dreaming large. Beat USC and go to Utah on the regular season’s final Saturday chasing a sixth win for bowl eligibility. Doubters smirk and say dream on; seniors such as tight end Scott Fernandez say, “One of our goals this week is to cancel out the noise. That’s talking about everyone outside; we know what they’re going to say. People are always going to talk . . . you just can’t pay that much attention to it.”
Orms, Fernandez and the other exiting Buffs have had a rough ride. CU is on its third head coach in five years, hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2007 and has won four games in its first three seasons in the Pac-12. “These seniors been through a lot,” MacIntyre acknowledged. “It would be great to send them out with two home wins in a row and give them something to shoot for in the last Saturday of the season. That’s what we hope to do.”
Orms and Fernandez would like nothing better. Winning out would be the stuff of legacies, although each hopes they’ve already defined themselves in previous seasons. Orms is the local legend (Wheat Ridge High School) whose has battled injuries throughout his CU career; Fernandez is a San Diego transplant who finished his prep career locally (Legacy High School) but did so without Orms’ aura.
Orms was a lock for a college scholarship, Fernandez earned his twice as a walk-on. Former coach Jon Embree rewarded Fernandez’s work ethic and perseverance with a scholarship in the 2012 fall camp, MacIntyre did the same in 2013 fall camp. Both came after “Scooter” had moved from the defensive line to the offensive line to tight end, a 2010 switch that saw him go from 280 pounds to 235 and now 250.
“It’s been a crazy road,” he said, and there’s little crazier than his first college reception, which went for a 71-yard touchdown at a position that only now has begun to feel natural to him.
Fernandez wants to be remembered as “someone who worked hard, played hard and gave everything I had to this program,” he said. “At the same time, I think as seniors we want to leave this program better than it was when we came in. That’s what we’re striving for. We’ve made big strides this year and they’re going to make even more when we’re gone. That’s the biggest deal.”
Probably given the time he’s spent sidelined with injuries, Orms, a safety who made a career-best 15 tackles in CU's loss last month to Arizona, said he “thinks a lot” about legacies. “I want my teammates to respect the way I played, to know that I gave everything I got out there on the field, and that I played with my heart,” he said. “I had some injuries and I know people are going to be looking back on that. But I hope people know I worked hard on the field and off so I could be out there and perform.”
MacIntyre’s association with this senior class has been brief but revealing and rewarding. Coaching changes can create turmoil, but CU’s latest didn’t do that. MacIntyre is close to these seniors – maybe not as close as he will be to the seniors-to-be from his first recruiting class, but still close enough to care deeply.
He calls Orms “the ultimate fighter” and likely will laugh at Orms’ concern that anyone inside or outside the CU sphere might question Orms ever leaving the field with anything left in reserve.
“I really would have loved to see him play without his knee bummed up,” MacIntyre said. “He’s really tough and quick now. I can’t imagine how much better he would be if his knee wasn’t hurt. He’d make a lot more plays . . . he literally drags his knee around all week and gets ready to play.
“I mean, most guys wouldn’t be trying to play; they’d say, ‘I’ve had enough, I’ve done what I can do.’ He loves it so much, loves this school so much and loves playing. His last game is going to be sad for him because it means so much to him.”
Technically, the USC game is merely the last one at home in receiver Paul Richardson’s junior season. But the “will he/won’t he” questions concerning Richardson’s future and where he will spend 2014 began bubbling up in August, long before “P-Rich” had become the school’s single-season record holder for receiving yards (1,201).
He reached the mark by catching 11 passes for 140 yards last weekend, and his 11 receptions tied that single-game mark for the third time in his career. He also has the school record for plays of 50 yards or longer (13) and could threaten CU’s career receiving yards record (2,548 by Michael Westbrook) in the final two games. Richardson is at 2,270.
As for his future beyond Saturday and USC, Richardson, who is on track to graduate next spring, says he hasn’t “given it much thought at all. . . we’ve got two games left to make a bowl game and then if we get a bowl game, that’ll be great. If not, it would be unfortunate and then there’s a lot of school left.”
But at Tuesday’s weekly media conference before MacIntyre spoke, Richardson did concede he’s pondered the possibility of Saturday being his final game at Folsom: “I’ve thought about it. But every week, whether it’s the first game of my freshman year to how I feel now, it’s amazing to play in Folsom Field, whether we have a small crowd or a big (crowd) . . . it’s always fun, always exciting. You get chills before kickoff. You play through the game off of all the adrenalin. I’m looking forward to it again.”
MacIntyre has no doubt that Richardson can play “at the next level.” He said he will speak with Richardson’s family after the NFL critiques Richardson before next April’s draft, “But I won’t twist his arm either way; it’s his decision.”
Right now, no one’s focus runs further than Saturday. If MacIntyre wanted “intense focus” for Cal, he wants “insane focus” for USC. The Trojans are coming to Folsom to play on what is projected to be a cold November night. The goals of the CU seniors – Richardson’s too, for that matter – couldn’t be any clearer.