The day was December 4th, 2015 and Buffs fans felt a gut shot with the departure of Troy Walters to UCF to join Scott Frost. Walters was regarded as a key factor in CU's recruiting at the time and was the recruiting coordinator for the Buffs. Fast forward a week and a half later and the announcement of Darrin Chiaverini as co-Offensive Coordinator, Recruiting Coordinator and wide receivers coach to replace Troy Walters was a positive sign. Colorado Football got someone with an immense amount of love and respect for the school he played for and someone that bled black and gold. No disrespect to the Embree staff that bled CU deep as well, but this was not a reach hire like that staff showed, Chiaverini had worked his way up the coaching tree and been at the Power 5 conference level recruiting and coaching. His work in Texas and California along with the current staff paid off, but it wasn't seen immediately.
On January 2nd, CU lost their top commit in 4 star Safety Craig Watts, Jr. had an offer list with well over a couple dozen Power 5 schools and his loss was felt. CU was in dire need of some big time recruits with that loss and the small CU class had gone from pretty good to below average. But during that dead period Coach Chiaverini and staff put together a tactic over the next month that CU has not seen in recruiting. They began to utilize social media to build excitement, they hinted at commits that had kept solid or that they were going to visit without breaking the ridiculous NCAA no naming names rule. They got CU fans into it and in turn they got recruits to take notice.
Back up a couple days, on December 30th, the wheels started to turn, Davis Webb announced his transfer from Texas Tech. It was an immediate flag that CU could upgrade at a position they have not had a truly impactful difference maker since Joel Klatt took snaps for CU with his connections to Coach Chiaverini. It wouldn't be made a public deal for a week later and then that he was even visiting CU until after that, but the buzz began to hummm quickly after Watts Jr. decommitted.
The first impact for a coaching staff going through any changes that is the most important aspect is to keep the players that you have committed and the Colorado Football staff did that. The top priorities appeared to be keeping the Florida South Plantation duo of Anthony Julmisse and Johnny Huntley. The others were Cali guys Akil Jones and Trey Udoffia and Georgia athletes Ronnie Blackmon and Derrion Rakestraw. Past that group, the Buffs had a solid commit in Oregon QB Sam Noyer, Denver South lineman Terriek Roberts and grayshirt Hunter Vaughn. Additionally the Buffs had a late bloomer in massive OL Chance Lytle from San Antonio committed and at that time Patrick Taylor Jr a RB/LB prospect out of Texas had been a long time commit but with no P5 offers outside CU (He would eventually commit to Memphis when CUs class began to get too full to keep him). Out of that group the Huntley, Julmisse and Blackmon were the only ones with multiple P5 offers and had to be kept. Roberts, Udoffia and Jones had 2-3 offers including CU and the remaining group were 2 star or low 3-star commits with no P5 offers outside of Colorado. Kabian Ento was a JUCO wideout with good size that signed before the spring semester hit. The Buffs class was okay, but it needed a charge to get it going.
The hype really began when Sheriron Jones news broke out he was transferring from Tennessee to Colorado. It was a two week tease since Jones would elect to return to Tennessee, but it showed Buffs fans that the upgrades at CU and the upgrades in staff were getting noticed and paying dividends. The weekend of January 16th-17th would be when the Official Visits and hype around the program really began to pick up steam. Immediately following that weekend, the Buffs got a verbal from a 2-star OL that was going to grayshirt for CU. In a class with low numbers/scholarship availability the Buffs needed some diamonds in the rough that were being overlooked since they needed to grow into their body, so it was a golf clap addition. The real chips began to fall later in the week when Ca'Ron Baham, a 3-star athlete out of Louisiana committed to the Buffs on January 21st. Baham was an absolute steal due to an injury that kept him out his entire senior season and he had been committed to Mizzou and had other Power 5 offers. Less than a week later, the Buffs got a JUCO transfer in Drew Lewis on January 27th. Lewis was the immediate impact player the Buffs needed at LB with the depth issues last fall and the continued question of whether Addison Gillam will be back and the academic casualty of Grant Watanbe. Lewis was at Washington before being kicked out of the program in 2014, but had multiple Pac 12 offers coming out of high school and was being overlooked in his second recruiting go around.
On January 27th, the biggest domino fell, Davis Webb announced he had chose to commit to CU to give the coaches some momentum the last week of recruiting and hopefully help sway a couple guys on the fence. Davis Webb's High School ranking was a 5.7 on Rivals and he was a 3-4 star recruit in all publications with offers to play in Big 1G and Big XII before playing at Texas Tech. He was CU's highest rated recruited with only Huntley in his territory. Webb's comments showed the swagger the QBs that are successful and play fearless show. It was something that CU had not seen, as I had stated before, since Joel Klatt with CU. Webb could have played at numerous Power 5 conference schools but chose the Buffs!
The next domino fell shortly after on January 31st when Utah speedy LB showed his love for Jim Leavitt was stronger than the Poly connection in-state BYU was trying to create with him and he committed to CU despite multiple P5 offers. At the time he was CU's highest rated recruit. But a week or so before something interesting happened, Beau Bisharat, a 4-star RB (or LB) from Carmichael Jesuit in California announced he was no longer committed to Stanford and it gave a sliver of hope with his connection to Trey Udoffia and CU's continued pursuit when he announced he was stopping at CU for a mid-week Official Visit.
Cncern hit Buffs fans when talk began of Alabama throwing a scholarship in their late and Lamar Jackson, a friend of Bisharat and Nebraska commit began showing that he may help Beau in taking a wrong turn to Stinkin' Lincoln. Buffs fans went from hopeful to doubtful within a 2-3 day period and Nebraska fans started playing the Deliverance tune on their banjos in anticipation of Beau coming on board, site unseen. But late February 2nd, Beau crushed the corn and rode a Buffalo storm down to Colorado committing to the Buffs.
One final piece in the engine was already churning though. With rumors already abound a week before that JUCO transfer Juwan Winfree was considering to flip his long time commit from Pitt to CU, the announcement that Pitt had "pulled" his offer(B.S. Sour grapes there, he had flipped but was not making it official) the talk was well, it just needs to be made official. Buffs fans knew it was going to happen, but this morning February 3rd, Winfree put any mild concerns to doubt and signed his letter of intent to CU. Winfree was rated as high as a 4-star when he went to Maryland and played as a true freshman. Like Lewis (a Coffeyville CC teammate) he was dismissed from Maryland but his offer list out of high school with offers from over a dozen P5 schools and he was in line with Bisharat as the top prize of CUs class.
The last four commits (Winfree, Bisharat, Maka and Webb) were the four highest rated commits in CUs class and all within the last week of signing day. CU got 6 commits from guys that had multiple P5 offers in the last two weeks. The reason for this late surge, Darrin Chiaverini helped steer this staff in the right direction and his ties to Webb can not be undersold when it comes to the shaping of this class. Chiaverini's relentless use of commits, social media and showing CU is a big-time program with pictures of the private jet, the facilities upgrades they were using to fly around the country. CU finally sold the top recruits and with no disrespect to Walters, without the heart of a Buffalo and vision Chiaverini brough the last month and a half of recruiting, I don't believe that happens.
So what does this class bring CU immediately? First, CU appears to have gone after the athletes that have height at the skill positions they have missed recruiting. Bryce Bobo was CUs tallest WR in the 3 deep at 6'-2" last year. Of the guys coming back for 2016, Fields, Ross and Lee are all between 3-5" shorter than Bobo.
Juwan Winfree, Kabian Ento and Drew Lewis
CU learned what JUCO players can do in plugging in a trio of JUCO DL last year to help with depth issues. In Winfree and Ento, they get two wide receivers with good height to help a group that is looking to fill a big hole in Nelson Spruce's departure and the question on who will step up opposite Shay Fields. These two added to the current group gives CU a very solid WR corp heading into 2016. Drew Lewis provides an immediate help at Linebacker and the Buffs will lean on him heavily. Last year they played too many back-ups that did their best to fill the holes, but were just not suited to make a difference. Lewis needs to put on 10-15 lbs but if he does, he has the inside linebacker size CU has sorely been missing.
Offensive Line-Coby Pursell, Hunter Vaughn and Chance Lytle: Pursell and Vaughn are classic grayshirts. Small offer list and still growing into their bodies. Lytle will most likely redshirt but be on campus come fall. I wouldn't expect that any of these guys make a contribution until the 2018 season.
Wide Receiver-Derrion Rakestraw and Johnny Huntley: Rakestraw was not highly touted but watching his highlight tape he runs good routes and out athletes defenders. He will need to take a redshirt year to grow into his lanky frame. Huntley played in Florida and before the late wave of recruits, he was probably CUs best and most important recruit. Huntley already has the size and frame at 6'-3" and about 200 lbs to play on Saturday's. The field is crowded, but Huntley playing in Florida is a high level of competition with elite speed. He has the chance to make an impact immediately.
RB/Athlete-Anthony Julmisse and Beau Bisharat"Julmisse fell in love with CU when he camped here with teammate Huntley. He is a big back at 6'-0" and 180 but I honestly think he is closer to 190+. He is probably best suited to redshirt but to be honest, he is a bigger version of what Donovan Lee is, a dynamic playmaker that can line up at RB or WR and make plays.
Bisharat is easily the best high school athlete CU has got since Shay Fields. Like Fields, there is no doubt Bisharat should contribute immediately. The question is where?! Bisharat could fill a big hole at Linebacker but his combination of being a shifty, speedy and bruising RB style reminds me of a Toby Gerhart/Christian McCaffrey combo type of player coming out of high school and that appears to be where he wants to play. He will play immediately and will push guys that have been getting carries for the last two years!
Quarterback-Sam Noyer: Noyer is a bit lean and needs to develop but the coaches handpicked him over many guys they had their eyes on. His offer list is lean and he will need to utilize his redshirt year to challenge for playing time but considering Webb should start in 2016, 2017 may call for a very open competition.
Defensive Backs/Athletes: Ronnie Blackmon, Ca'Ron Baham and Trey Udoffia. This trio all played both ways in the past. Ca'Ron is probably the most raw playing option QB as a junior before sitting out this year. This group is very talented. All have great speed and in years past may have need to play all 3 immediately, but this group is a solid trio that needs to learn. All need to put on 10-20 pounds and Blackmon and Baham appear to have frames that support that. They are all playmakers that will help with a secondary losing at least two starters after the 2016 season. Return duty and nickel or dime play may not be out of the question for one or two of these guys.
Linebacker-Akil Jones and Pookie Maka: Jones has a linebackers body, but he needs to put on weight and get acclimated to the college game. He should redshirt with the addition of Lewis and the Buffs holding out hope some injured players come back to be productive in one of the thinnest areas of the 2015 season. He also needs to go from playing rush end to ILB. For Pookie Maka, he is much like Jones, but with a bigger frame. He is raw and needs a redshirt year but is like NJ Falo who also has amazing hair and is so dynamic you may have to get him some reps just to keep him engaged. He won't be a heavy contributor if he doesn't redshirt, but he can make a couple notable plays like Falo that makes you see the future is bright with him.
Defensive Line-Terreik Roberts: Huge and only going to get bigger. He already dwarves some college and former NFL players. The dude is raw but his work with Six Zero Strength's Matt McChesney has already shown it is paying off. A feel good story and a local CU needed to keep with ASU's ass hat Todd Graham breathing down his throat.
Wrapping It Up
This was the kind of small class CU had to get to start to turn the corner. It looked bleak heading into the last month of recruiting but the addition of Chiaverini and the focus the coaching staff showed should pay dividends come 2016 and CU BETTER go bowling in order to sustain the momentum they have created. It can not be overlooked how Klayton Adams and the 3 most recent staff hires in Chiaverini, Jim Leavitt and Joe Tumpkin provided the biggest spark in this recruiting cycle.
CU also broadened their recruiting footprint and tried to show guys from many areas what they are missing as well as use coaches previous relationships from other schools. In this group, the states of New Jersey, Washington, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Utah, California, Oregon, Texas and Colorado are represented totaling 11 different states for a smaller class. They got 18 new players including two grayshirts for this recruiting/transfer cycle when it appeared only a dozen scholarships would be open for the 2016 class. Fortunately this staff knew it needs to trim some fat and it will be interesting to see what guys leave the CU program before their eligibility wraps up to make room for this class. Here is the high impact to grayshirt wrap-up.
High Impact: Davis Webb, Juwan Winfree and Beau Bisharat. For Winfree and Bisharat I am guessing at least 400 total yards and up to 1000 total yards for each of these guys. Winfree probably starts opposite Fields and Bisharat is part of Running Back rotation before taking over in 2017 season. Davis Webb should start from the day he sets foot on campus. Montez still needs to fill into his body and another year to develop would do him well. Sefo has shown what he can and may not even be ready for fall camp. Webb is the dynamic dual threat QB with P5 level talent/offers that CU just hasn't had.
Immediate Contributor: Drew Lewsi, Kabian Ento and Ronnie Blackmon (or Darkhorse Ca'Ron Baham). I hear players say Ento looks and has shown the part of a D-I pplayer in player ran practices that he will contribute immediately. With the signing of Winfree, my guess is it isn't as much as it would have been, but he still is part of rotation. One of these guys will help on kick/punt returns and help provide depth in the secondary. My money is on Blackmon with Baham coming back from a year off football and ACL injury. Let's not undersell the need for Lewis to help out. It is unknown if Gillam will return from a long string of injuries and with Olugbode a Senior and seeing the play, we know Gamboa and Severson should be no more than back-ups/spot starters. NJ Falo may also help out forcing Lewis to be contributor and not high impact but he is in between these two areas for me.
Minor Contributions but hopefully Redshirt (in order): Johnny Huntley, Pookie Maka, Anthony Julmisse, Akil Jones and Terreik Roberts. Huntley looks like a college player already and may have been in line for significant reps but Winfree and Ento help allow him to develop his game. He still may be talented enough to get into roation. The rest of these guys may need to fill in on special teams and get reps at positions of need. All 5 hopefully redshirt if the Buffs stay relatively healthy.
Redshirts: Sam Noyer, Trey Udoffia, Chance Lytle, Derrion Rakestraw. The group above have less body development growth than this group of 4. All of them need to get adjusted to the college game, though Udoffia is a playmaking athlete that has best chance to prove my gut wrong.
Grayshirts: Hunter Vaughn and Colby Pursell-Spending the fall semester with strength coaches outside of CU and getting bigger while saving a year of eligibility will be big for these two. Vaughn will prove to be a steal IMO with his height and size. A Nate Solder like career would be fantastic!
Thank you to Darrin Chiaverini and the CU coaching staff for closing and making signing day exciting for Buffs Nation again. I hope your vat of coffee is filled (or Pepsi in Jim Leavitt's case) endlessly due to the great work you did. Coffee for these closers!