In GB's first actual class which he had a little under three weeks to put together he found current starters Phil Jackson and Derek McCoy when Phil was about to go play basketball for Metro State and McCoy was most likely on his way to Wyoming on a football scholarship despite also having some basketball prowess. Both have played a ton for CU and McCoy has turned into a possible NFL draftee and an all-Big 12 type receiver. It was moves like these that gave Barnett a lot of credibility when he first came on at CU and many thought that he had the ability to find those diamond-in-the-rough types. He was proving that there was a lot of unfound talent in Colorado. The biggest name in GB's first actual class was tight end Bo Scaife who went to Texas. CU never had a shot with him anyway and Barnett was certainly not going to change that in three weeks.
It was obvious that in that first year under their belts the CU staff had mended many fences and Barnett and Co. came out of the gates fast with in their first full recruiting class. Home improvement was definitely underway. They signed arguably the no.1 player in the country at the time in Marcus Houston, and a top five national quarterback and linebacker in Craig Ochs and Sean Tufts. Not to mention other major contributors like Clyde Surrell, Matt McChesney, Bobby Purify, and Marques Harris.
While many of those players have not lived up to expectations, guys like Harris have exceeded what many ever expected from him. He had been Colorado's most consistent defensive player over the last few years up until his injury versus UCLA this year. The underrated Purify has also done more for CU than the great Marcus Houston ever did. In all, there were eight players from Colorado in GB's first full recruiting class out of the 24 the Buffs took.
There were also a few players in this class that went out-of-state. Nebraska did well that year in landing Jake Anderson, Martin Flaum, and Ross Pilkington. CU never offered Anderson and could have had Flaum if they did offer. But, the O-line coach at the time, Tom Cable, thought he was too soft. The Buffs never had a shot at Pilkington because he was also a top baseball player. Another player in this class the Buffs lost was Aurmon Satchell to Texas but he did not end up having the grades to get into school until after he signed with the Longhorns and the CU staff did not want to take a risk with him by offering and Aurmon not qualifying. Had they offered, he might have became a Buff. Roc Alexander out of Wasson High in Colorado Springs was a player CU never really gave a look to. He did well for former Coach Neuheisel at Washington his first couple of years, but has done nothing since. In fact, the whole class in the state that year never did much at the college level and can be considered a bust as a whole.
After the 2000 class it has been obvious that Barnett and staff are not nearly hitting the state as hard as they used to. Is it because their "blue chip" Colorado studs never worked out? Is it because other top schools have discovered there is more talent in Colorado to be had these days than previously and are hitting it harder? Or is it from sheer lack of effort and dropping the ball in many cases? The answer, it has a little to do with all three items mentioned.
In the 2001 class, the staff took seven players from the state out of 17 total signees. Part of this was because they were still emphasizing in-state recruiting but most of it was because CU was so bad the previous year, going 3-8, they could not get any top prospect from out-of-state to look at them twice. 2001 was a down year for talent in-state so nobody faulted the CU staff for any ineffectiveness in recruiting their backyard. Barnett still took the spin doctor approach with that class saying that they meant to recruit so many players from in-state.
"We have decided that the University of Colorado football team is going to be made up of Colorado football players," Barnett said. "When we got here there were five players here on scholarships that were from Colorado, and I think this will put us somewhere around 20. That's a pledge that I made when I got here, and that's also an indicator of the type of football that's being played here in this state now."
Despite their alleged best efforts there were rumblings that CU had dropped the ball on two of the state's top players in Cory Ross and Phillip Bland. There is no doubt that both of them would have gone to Colorado had the Buffs handled their recruitment better. While they have not been superstar types for Nebraska, they have contributed. Bland was starting as a true freshman at strong safety for NU and Ross has seen plenty of time in NU's offensive backfield. Colorado did not even offer Bland until after Nebraska did near signing day and by the time they decided he was worthy of a scholarship and not a walk-on position, it was too late. Ross never really knew what CU's interest in him was. The Buffs' staff went back-and-forth so many times on whether they wanted him or not. He did want to play running back and CU saw him as a corner and that had something to do with it but chances are if they would have went after him harder he would have played corner if it meant being in the black and gold. Nebraska picked up another player from the state that year in offensive lineman Gary Pike, but CU never recruited him hard.
2002 is where the real problems started arising regarding the staffs' ability to keep their best talent home. That is the year when two of the nation's top 100 players decided that CU wasn't good enough for them, they were heading to rival Big 12 schools. Colorado had recruited Kasey Studdard hard since his junior and even his sophomore year but in the end his ties to Texas were too strong for the CU staff to overcome. His father and other members of his family had all been Longhorns and he grew up as a huge fan.
"It just came down to family. I have a lot of family down there and we have strong ties to the Texas program," Studdard told me.
He even went on to say that when he called CU coach Jon Wristen he felt very bad when telling him he was headed south. You see, Studdard did not have the test grades he needed at first and he even had a tutor who was a student at CU who helped him pull his ACT score up to a high mark. Colorado really went out of there way to get him and they were still shunned in the end.
Studdard was not however the player that really hurt from that class. That honor went to Aurora Gateway's Zach Latimer. CU was in the midst of a great season and were really looking to recruit the out-of-state players much harder. So they started getting in on Zach a little after some other top schools like Miami came in on him. His mother was always a big fan of CU and the Buffs were his no.1 school until they started losing interest and Oklahoma started gaining interest. Where CU finally lost him was when other schools' head coaches were making in-home visits while CU's was not. Coaches can start making in-home visits with players beginning on December First of each year. Latimer had four coaches from OU at his home on the evening of December 6th, 2001. Coach Barnett had yet to even schedule a visit to the Latimer household. Do you remember in the class of 2000 when he was in the living rooms' of Craig Ochs and Marcus Houston the first possible night he could be?
CU was busy playing Texas for the Big 12 title game on the first of December that year but that is no excuse for what ended up happening. Coach Jon Embree, who was the man behind the signing of Marcus Houston, recruited Zach hard all the while. But his closer never came in to try to seal the deal. Well, come January of 2002 Coach Barnett had still not made it to the Latimer home. What happened? Barnett scheduled an in-home visit with the Latimer family on January 13th, around five weeks after Coach Stoops and Co. made their visit. Zach and his parents decided to cancel the in-home.
"I told him not to come because I really didn't want to waste his time. I didn't think it would be fair to them(CU) to have him come," said Zach.
Coach Stoops traveled from out-of-state to visit the no.31 player in the nation within the first few days he was allowed and CU's own could not make a 45 minute trip for over six weeks. While Latimer has yet to play at OU, CU is in desperate need of d-ends and there is almost no doubt he would be a starter in Boulder had he stayed, er, had the staff shown him he was a priority.
The 2002 class ended up with CU signing eight players from the state out of a possible 27, three of which currently start for the Buffs in J.J. Billingsley, Joseph Klopfenstein, and Chris Hollis. So the CU staff did not end up doing too bad but they did miss out on two of the state's top three players.
After the 2002 class, it appears that CU has recognized that they could recruit better talent out-of-state coming off of two Big 12 north championships, and a Big 12 title in 2001. So were they recruiting the state hard to begin with out of necessity because they didn't think they could get anyone else who was a top prospect outside the borders? Or were they really making a concerted effort to close off the borders?
In last year's class, five of the 25 players who signed were from Colorado. The Buffs only lost one big fish in Lendale White but they never had a shot from the beginning and they knew this so never recruited him hard. The staff did land the state's no.1 player in the 2003 class in Brian Daniels who is starting as a true freshman at CU. Something that is unheard of for offensive lineman. White was the state's no.2 player.
So it appears that CU had done a better than average job of recruiting the state since Coach Barnett and staff came on board. They put to rest some rumors that they weren't making Colorado a priority anymore after they knew they could get many out-of-state kids after their champiobships. Outside of Zach Latimer there were really no instances in where the staff had dropped the ball. That did not happen again until this year and the staff dropped two heavy, heavy balls.
Calais Campbell hails from Denver's South High and he was extremely interested in becoming a Buff soon after last signing day. Had CU offered there was no doubt he would have jumped at the opportunity to come to Boulder. When I spoke with Calais this past January he told me,"I'd say Colorado is the favorite right now. They have always been my favorite team growing up. Even more so than Florida State who I also have always liked. Some of my other favorites are Oklahoma, Kansas State, Oregon, and Ohio State."
Calais went on to state that his father really wanted him to become a Buff. Colorado did have interest in Campbell but after defensive line coach Chris Wilson worked Calais out personally the Buffs decided he was not worthy of an offer. Calais was so upset when the CU staff told him that they were not going to offer it is reported that he was on the verge of tears. Remember that Calais is a defensive end, just like Latimer, and one of the top ones in the nation at that. Since coming to Colorado, Coach Barnett and staff have not landed a top 25 national player at either the d-end or d-tackles positions and they had two of the nation's top five d-ends right in their backyard who most likley would have been Buffs, but CU decided not to pursue them hard in one way or another.
After CU told Calais that he would have to come to the summer camp to even be considered for an offer again, something strange happened. All of a sudden this player that CU said was not worthy of a scholarship started getting top-notch offers on the table including Nebraska, Michigan, and Miami, among others. CU's staff was so dumbfounded at this they called all of those school's coaching staffs to see if it was true that they had offered. Nebraska said they did, Michigan said they might, and Miami's Larry Coker said he had never even heard of him. Of course, all of the schools, and mainly Miami had offered and three months later Calais became a Cane. Miami told South Head Coach Ryan Mullaney at South that they thought he was the no.1 TE/DE prospect in the nation. This year Campbell will most likely become the state's all-time leader in quarterback sacks.
As bad as Colorado's recruitment of Calias was, their recruitment of arguably the no.1 player in the nation this year, Jeff Byers, was worse.
Jeff told me this back in February,"I really like OU, UCLA, Virginia, and Michigan State. I like Colorado a little, but not a lot. Not as much as the other schools. So far it just seems like the other schools and their coaching staffs are just more friendly."
A little over two months later Byers had offers from over 20 schools in which CU was one of, but the Buffs didn't offer until about six or seven other schools did first. If it wasn't bad enough that the nation's top lineman was a half hour from Boulder unbeknownst to CU, it got even worse.
The Byers family is one of those families that keeps track of everything with recruiting. According to Jeff's father, Gary Barnett was the 37th head coach to call the Byers home and this gave their family a sour taste regarding CU from the start. Byers did make many unofficial visits to CU including his latest one for the Oklahoma game last Saturday, but the damage had been done early on. If Barnett and Co. had made a better effort from the beginning would Byers be going to USC? No one knows, but they could have at least been in a better position for him than they were, which was somewhere close to the bottom of his top eight. By the way, not only can Byers be seen pancaking defenders all over the field this year at Loveland High, he can also be seen as a starting linebacker for his squad. And he is one of the fastest linebackers in the state.
As Colorado continues to grow and more top players come out of the area, CU can expect powerhouse schools like Miami, Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska to keep raiding the state for that talent every year. While it may be hard to recruit against these schools, CU is not doing themselves any favors by coming in late or completely missing on players in their own backyard that they should have known about since they were freshman in high school.
Again this year CU is doing okay in-state with commitments thus far from Ryan Walters and Garrett Collins but Buff fans can only hope that this year is not more remembered for the ones that got away. If Colorado really wants to close down the borders they need to keep at it more consistently and put much more energy into their efforts. Similar to what they did with the class of 2000.