It was apparent from the beginning, this is not like previous road trips these Buffs have been on.
“A lot of hoopla, a lot of people and fans welcoming us in,” commented senior quarterback Sefo Liufau. “It's just a great feeling to finally be able to make it to something like this.
“We've been kind of hiding these past couple weeks. So to finally be here and to finally get closer to the game, that's the biggest thing. Just being able to experience and be a part of this with my teammates and finally make a bowl game, it's really special to me.”
Colorado conducted its first practice in the Alamo City on Sunday morning, Christmas morning, at the University of Incarnate Word.
“We really had our Tuesday practice yesterday (on Sunday in Boulder), we were in full pads there,” Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre explained. “We had a longer practice out here today and we were in shells. ... I thought it went well, they were focused.
"The other days when we were back home we took about 45 minutes afterward to practice with the younger guys. We're not doing that now because we're cut for time. But everyone practiced real well.”
Oklahoma State has been to a bowl game 11 straight years under Mike Gundy, while this is Colorado's first bowl rodeo in nine years. The Buffs attended the Bulls/Spurs NBA game on Sunday and they will go to SeaWorld on Monday.
“I tell the [team] to compartmentalize,” MacIntyre said. “Enjoy their time, but when we get ready for meetings and football practice they’ve got to be focused and locked in to be physical or we won't have a good game so today they did that and they’ve been doing that the whole practice time.”
Plugging the middle
Josh Tupou's senior season is proof it is near impossible to earn all-conference honors playing nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme. The heart of the Buffaloes' defense did record 49 tackles and 10 quarterback pressures this fall but each week, Tupou was focused and committed to “controlling both A gaps.”
“We do commitments in front of the team so that everybody on the team knows what you are committing to them,” Tupou explained. “As the nose guard, my job is to make sure nothing comes up the middle so I commit that to my team every week and try not to let them down.
“You just have to be unselfish. You have to know you are going to give up a lot of stats for other guys on the team, but it is going to benefit the team at the end of the day. You just have to have a different mindset. Every game is going to be rough being inside at nose but you have to keep grinding and make sure you know what you are doing it for. You have to make sure you do it for your teammates and not for other people to notice you.”
Jase Franke has served as Tupou's "back-up" at nose tackle this season. While Franke will return next season, he is undersized for the role outside of passing downs. Underclassman Brett Tonz also practices at nose tackle, and the Buffaloes recently signed Javier Edwards, who will be a mid-year transfer from Blinn College.
“Signing Javier Edwards will be really big,” Tupou said. “Javier is a big-bodied guy that moves really well. Just talking with him and hanging out with him on his official visit, he is a great kid from the South. He is humble and was really quiet when he came out, but he is going to be good for our team.”
One to watch for 2017
During bowl practices back in Boulder earlier this month, BuffStampede.com asked five offensive starters as well as co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini which defensive players on scout team impressed them the most this fall. Frank Umu's name was mentioned every time.
“Throughout the whole season our scout team has been focused on getting the offense better, giving them a good look,” Umu said, deflecting the praise his teammates had heaped on him. “We had a different atmosphere than most scout teams. We are behind-the-scenes but we took pride in getting those guys better.”
Next year, Umu will battle for the vacated starting three-technique spot that was manned by Jordan Carrell this fall. Senior-to-be Leo Jackson and recent Junior College signee Chris Mulumba will also be in the mix.
“It is always the goal to start so I have just been aiming for that, training, practicing,” Umu said. “It definitely helps knowing there are spots opening, it creates competition for everybody. At the end of the day, the coaches are going to start the best guys we have up front.”
After the bowl game, Umu plans to stay in Boulder during the winter break to workout with strength and conditioning coach Drew Wilson and his staff.
A graduate of Heritage High School in Littleton, Umu was 270-pounds when he verbally committed to Colorado. He weighed in at 308-pounds on Wednesday morning.
“I am a big body,” Umu said. “I am strong, I stay stout, so it is hard to move me.”
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