Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre greeted the media with a smile, happy to be back on the practice fields for the first time since the Alamo Bowl.
“You can tell the program is at a point where we just keep moving forward,” he said. “It was different not seeing 'Chido' [Awuzie] and Sefo [Liufau] out there for me personally, but we have a lot of guys stepping up and a lot of guys that have played a lot of football.
“So I am excited about where we are headed. I enjoyed today. Of course when I watch film here in a little while I won't be as excited, probably, but the energy and the flow and the new coaches out there, I thought it went real well.”
After winning 10 games, a division title and a boatload of National Coach of the Year awards, MacIntyre has a much different challenge with his team this off-season. Instead of trying to get them to believe, he now has to keep them from getting complacent.
“Bill Parcells always used to say, 'When you win a championship, you don't go back and start where you left off. You go back and start from the bottom again.' What you hope is your foundation is built higher,” MacIntyre said. “It was flowing quicker today so you feel like you are a step ahead but you still have to go back and start over from square one again.”
Said quarterback Steven Montez: “I think we are more hungry this spring than we were last spring because we got a taste of what it is like to be great and I don't think anybody wants to let that go and go back to where we were two years ago.”
Each of the Buffaloes' first 14 spring practices, which lead up to the spring game on March 18, are closed to the media and public. MacIntyre did mention Montez, cornerback Isaiah Oliver, and wide receivers Bryce Bobo and Shay Fields, as players that caught his eye during the first practice.
Montez has lost roughly 20 pounds and now stands 6-foot-5, 220-pounds. He credits dietitian Laura Andersen for getting him to stop drinking sugary beverages and for getting him to start eating vegetables again. Montez also went out of his way to thank Drew Wilson and the rest of the Buffaloes' strength and conditioning staff for his new physique.
“I don't feel fat anymore, that is for sure,” he said. “I feel a little bit quicker, a little bit faster on my feet. And I am not getting as tired as fast, so that is good.”
Aside from improving his body and his mechanics, Montez said he is trying not to force as many passes as he did during his first year-and-a-half on campus. With every receiver returning from last year's team, he has plenty of playmakers to get the ball to.
“I have been working on going through my progressions,” Montez said. “Today was good. We got a big bomb to Shay, we got a back shoulder to Bryce, Lee Walker had some catches. We spread the ball around today a good amount.”
The only quarterback on Colorado's spring roster with playing experience at the college level, Montez entered spring ball with a clear advantage over Sam Noyer and Tyler Lytle. In three starts, and seven other games as a back-up in 2016, Montez show all-conference potential in terms of his physical tools. The question is, can he become a field general like Liufau was?
“Sefo was a fantastic leader and I am just kind of trying to fill in his shoes and his role and just try to act like nothing is missing from a leadership standpoint,” said Montez.
Additional notes -
*** The Buffaloes began spring ball with an assistant coach vacancy, but MacIntyre expects it to be filled “pretty soon.”
“Just going through all the H.R. (Human Resources) stuff,” he said. “He'll be one of the linebacker coaches and he'll work with the special teams, also.”
*** MacIntyre's proposed contract extension was announced by the athletic department in December but will not be voted on by the Board of Regents until after the external investigation on the handling of the Joe Tumpkin situation is complete. Predictably, MacIntyre deflected questions when asked about Tumpkin and his contract on Wednesday.
“I am not going to comment on all that stuff,” he said. “It is just nice to get on the field. We were on the road and speaking and inside and not around the players as much as you'd like. Their youthful energy energizes you. So it was exciting to meet with them, watch them run around, watching them push, and seeing how they keep maturing. It was a lot of fun.”
*** The Buffaloes will practice again on Friday and Saturday this week.