In February, head coach Gary Barnett was put on paid administrative leave until April 30, and a panel has been formed to investigate whether or not CU has used sex and alcohol as a tool to lure high school recruits, a charge stemming from a lawsuit by three women who claimed they were sexually assaulted at a party in 2001 attended by football players and recruits. No sexual assault charges were ever brought in the case. Also, a number of allegations of sexual assault have been leveled at unnamed CU football players in recent months. However, no one has been charged, much less convicted of any wrongdoing.
Friday's event was due to the work of several organizations and individuals, including, Lawrence Gray and Kim Moss. They both said Friday's rally was intended to show the CU student-athletes that they have support in the community, and was a call for due process in the ongoing investigation proceedings.
They said they were "ecstatic" with Friday's turnout, which began at the Millennium Harvest House near the CU campus, where roughly 500 supporters gathered at 1:30 p.m. The crowd was treated to speeches by former CU great Darian Hagan, and current Buffalo Jeremy Bloom.
Hagan, who was hired as support staff for the football team this winter, said, "Adversity hits you in all areas of life. But you have to be strong and you have to fight through it. This is a team built on strong character."
He said that during his playing days in the late 1980s, the team survived adversity when teammate Sal Aunese succumbed to cancer. Just as then-coach Bill McCartney rallied the team with the idea "One Team, One Heartbeat," the Buffs have a slogan these days.
"It's called ‘Face to Face, Back to Back, Shoulder to Shoulder,'" Hagan said. "Face to Face, you can look at a man in the eye, and you can trust him. Back to Back, when that guy goes away from you, can you trust him to do the right thing? We believe you can. And Shoulder to Shoulder, we can't be stopped."
Bloom, who is awaiting word from the NCAA on whether he will be allowed to play next season after deciding to take endorsements for his skiing exploits in pursuit of an Olympic Gold Medal in moguls skiing, said the CU team has drawn close together during the recent ordeal.
"In the past, I'd always come back after I got done with a ski competition and check in with the guys," Bloom said. " This group is closer together and there's more of a family feeling for Colorado football than there's ever been."
Whenever either speaker said something about Barnett, the crowd erupted in supportive applause, and the coach's wife, Mary, also said a few words of appreciation at the rally.
At 2:30, the group began the trek to the practice fields. By the time they got there, the number of fans had nearly doubled. There were enough people to line both sides of the walkway all the way from the fence at the Dal Ward Center all the way down to the practice field entrance. In many spots fans stood several people deep as players and coaches descended for practice.
Ten banners from different parts of the state and country, some signed by well-wishers, hung on the fence near the practice field. One banner had made it from England. Ten more banners are said to be on their way to the Dal Ward Center as well.
|Banners were hung|
Coaches and players were visibly appreciative of the turnout.
"To come out and see the tremendous amount of support, that really meant a lot to our players," said interim head coach Brian Cabral. "I was overwhelmed."
Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, in his first practice back on the CU staff since 1994, also said he was touched by the display.
"It was very emotional for me to see the support," he said. "It was a special feeling. Almost like going out and coaching a game."
|And the players appreciated it.|
Organizers, as well as athletic department officials, had concern that protestors might show up at the rally. But none ever did. At one point near the end of practice, a CU football office employee saw a group of college aged women approaching the field from across the parking lot and scurried to see what their business was. But it soon became apparent that it was a group of 25 or so female student-athletes from various CU athletic teams who had come to show their support for the football players.
They went on to the field and joined in the team's final huddle, which ended with a rousing version of the CU Fight Song.
Junior quarterback Joel Klatt explained that being a CU football player hasn't been a walk in the park in recent months.
"All of us here are just trying to grow up to be strong men of character," Klatt said. "And what happened here this winter was just bad circumstances. I feel bad for this program, I feel bad for Coach Barnett and we look forward to getting him back.
"It has been hard to be a student on campus; it's been hard to be associated with the football team," he continued.
But, at the end of a spirited practice, Klatt said there wasn't any place he'd rather be.
"As you can see by the way we get along out here, we don't want to be on any other team in the nation, and I don't want any other guys on my team but the guys out here," he said.