BOULDER – For better or worse in college football the first Wednesday in February has become a day to dream – how big depends on your geography.
This is National Letter of Intent Day, National Signing Day. Mike MacIntyre compares it to Christmas Day, and it’s a good day for a number of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with the reality of what awaits two or three years down the road when most of Wednesday’s signees will either have done what was expected of them or made their recruiters wish they’d stopped at the next high school on their list.
In Tallahassee and Tuscaloosa, it’s perfectly permissible (in fact, it’s encouraged) to dream of national championships. Around here, the dream has been downsized. Dreamland in Colorado football is a six-win season and a bowl game; go any higher with the bar and you’re inching toward a hallucination.
But small steps precede larger ones, and small ones were taken last fall with four wins and the detection of a competitive spirit that wasn’t present in the nightmarish one-win season of 2012.
CU’s renovation is underway, or as MacIntyre memorably said during one of his first-year news conferences, “We didn’t break it, but we’re here to fix it.” His repair job’s next step was taken Wednesday with the introduction of his second recruiting class, his stage being the upper court (Boedecker Gym) at the basketball/volleyball practice facility that abuts the Coors Events Center.
MacIntyre believes his program is turning and this signing class will offer a healthy push. Hired in December 2012, MacIntyre’s first recruiting class was cobbled together on the fly before last February’s first Wednesday. Class No. 2 is the product of a full year of evaluation, interviews with high school personnel ranging from the principal to the janitor (that’s what MacIntyre said) and watching “tons and tons and tons of video . . . yeah, I think last year we were running in at the last second. I felt like we put together a good class last year, I think this is – I’m not saying better – I just felt like it’s a more conducive group, guys we want. I’m excited about that part of it. In recruiting you’re going to get some no’s, but you can’t let the no’s affect you.
“You just have to keep working and have a good enough pool. Our recruiting staff did a good job of getting us to see them, then our coaching staff did a great job. I think we do a really good job of evaluating. We watched tons, tons and tons of video on these players and do a lot of research. We just don’t call the head coach; we call the principal, the counselor . . . our coaches actually talked to janitors in the school. You want to find out what the kid’s about . . . if there’s any red flags, I tell them, ‘Walk away.’ We want the right type of young men in our locker room.”
BEING ABLE TO INVEST MORE TIME and resources in a second class, said MacIntyre, allowed his staffers to “dive into the young men more. You got to know them more, you got to know a lot of character traits of them, which is extremely important to me. It’s always been important to me to get the right guys and I feel like we definitely did. Of course, they have to be good athletes, we know that, but the right type of people . . . and I feel like we’re really working towards that.
“You want your class to be that type of young men. That gives you staying power, that gives you less attrition. You build a program over time and that’s how we’re going to win here. Good players, No. 1, then good character, No. 2. Then you keep them, build them, grow them and you start winning football games – and that’s what I feel like we did in this class and we need to do in every class.”
Wednesday’s signing of 19 high school prospects followed the early signing of three junior college players. One of the high school signees – defensive end Sam Bennion – already is on his Mormon mission and will count toward CU’s 2016 signing class. Another signee – receiver Lee Walker – already is enrolled in the spring semester.
Only one quarterback – Cade Apsay, of Canyon Country, Calif. – was signed, but MacIntyre said Apsay stood out to offensive coordinator/QB coach Brian Lindgren because of his accuracy: “That’s extremely important for us . . . coach Lindgren watched a lot of guys last May and this fall; he felt like Cade was the most accurate guy on the board of anybody we were looking at.”
Apsay’s arrival can’t come too soon. If the position was overpopulated in last August camp, this August’s camp will find only three scholarship players – Sefo Liufau, Jordan Gehrke and Apsay – as the result of attrition, the most recent being the January departure of senior-to-be Connor Wood.
An offensive priority, with receiver Paul Richardson announcing an early departure for the NFL, was signing another fleet pass catcher. MacIntyre believes Shay Fields, of Bellflower, Calif., could fill that role. The 5-11, 165-pound Fields, who caught 82 passes for 1,617 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior, had committed to Southern California before that school’s coaching change.
Fields is one of a handful of signees who could, according to MacIntyre, make an early impact. After saying he was hopeful of every newcomer showing well enough in August to play early, he narrowed his list to Fields, safety Evan White (a Cherokee Trail High School product and one of four in-state signees), JC offensive linemen Sully Wiefels, “and a couple of defensive linemen to help out . . . there’s always a guy who pops up and surprises you.”
To outsiders viewing last season’s recruiting class, that would have been linebacker Addison Gillam. But Gillam’s first-year play didn’t shock MacIntyre or his defensive staff. “I thought Addison would be ready,” MacIntyre said. “A first-team freshman All-American? No, but I thought he would start for us.”
Out of three outside linebacker/defensive end types, MacIntyre wants a solid pass rusher to emerge. “We need a couple of pass rushers need to be ready,” he said, adding that overall the Buffs needed “more speed and athleticism on defense. We got some defensive ends and defensive linemen who could run and we some got bigger corners, too.” Defense obviously was a priority; 11 of the signees play on that side of the ball.
IN ADDITION TO A SPEED RECEIVER to audition for Richardson’s role, among MacIntyre’s top offensive needs were “athletes who could make people miss in open space, catch balls out of the backfield, do different things.” A tight end with strong receiving skills would be a bonus – and MacIntyre said Dylan Keeney – a 6-6, 215-pounder from Granite Bay, Calif. – could be that guy. He played linebacker as a junior, switching to tight end for his final year and averaging 19.8 yards a catch (40 receptions, 791 yards, 13 TDs).
Keeney, according to MacIntyre, had no other offers until he attended a camp in the Pacific Northwest and was competing with a four-star prospect who played the same position. “The other coaches there forgot about this (four-star) guy and said, ‘Who is Dylan Keeney?’ All of them started coming after him,” MacIntyre said.
He also pointed out that Gillam was a two-star prospect according to recruiting services, as were freshmen Michael Adkins III and Chidobe Awuzie – both of whom wound up as first-year CU starters. “Stars are important, I understand all that,” MacIntyre said. “But I can’t worry about it. I have to evaluate our guys.”
One signee he likely had decent personal insight into was Jay MacIntyre, his son. The younger MacIntyre chose CU over Wyoming and will join the Buffs roster as an athlete. He played quarterback at Monarch High School, but that isn’t in his future at CU. Asked about Jay’s recruitment, Mike said, “He’s got a really good looking mom, I know that . . . it was a hard decision for Jay. But when it comes down to it, he loves Colorado; he wants to be part of what we’re doing here.”
Jay MacIntyre is 5-10, 185 and “can run and play multiple positions – not quarterback,” his father said. “But he can play multiple spots – he can be a returner, a corner, a safety, a nickelback, slot receiver . . . we’ll figure out where he fits in. But he brings speed and quickness.”
The younger MacIntyre’s recruitment was handled by CU special teams coach Toby Neinas, and Mike MacIntyre said he instructed his staff watch tape on Jay on four occasions. “They all came to me and said he could help us,” CU’s coach said. “He did struggle with (the decision), but he’s mature enough to handle it. He’ll do everything to help us win.”
MacIntyre played briefly for his father, George, at Vanderbilt. Asked what advice his father gave him that he might pass on to Jay, he said, “Shut up, work hard and make good grades.”
The recruitment of this class, said MacIntyre, got a welcome boost from Athletic Director Rick George and Chancellor Phil DiStefano. MacIntyre credited both men for being present on recruiting weekends and usually dining with prospects before addressing them. Said MacIntyre: “That doesn’t happen at every school.”
CU’s four in-state signees were the most since five signed in the 2009 class, but MacIntyre said recruitment of Colorado “is already ahead for next year,” with 15 or 16 prospects evaluated. He said in-state high school coaches had been impressed with his staff’s presence at their schools: “I’m hearing, ‘You’re here all the time’ . . . we’re making inroads, making a footprint.”
As for returning the Buffs to a place of prominence among the recruiting rankings and escalating those signing day dreams, MacIntyre offered a simple solution: “Win more football games . . . as we win more games it will consistently happen.”