Colorado had only 15 scholarships to give in 1987, and ended up handing out just 12. However, what a 12 it was.
Four years earlier, a group of talented in-state kids bought into head coach Bill McCartney's vision for turning around the Colorado program and decided to stay home. If that class was the foundation for what was to become of CU football, the 1987 class took things to another level.
Here is a list of some of the group's accomplishments.
1987 Recruiting Class
No. of players in the class:12
No. of starters on the 1990 National Championship team: 9
No. of first-team all-America appearances: 5
No. of 2nd, 3rd and HM all-America appearances: 10
No. of first-team all-Conference appearances: 12
Big Eight Offensive Player of the Year: 1
Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year: 2
Butkus Award winner: 1
No. ranked in the top 10 among 16 CU career statistical categories: 9
No. of CU wins from 1987-1991: 45
Percentage of players from the class who played in the NFL: 50
No. of cumulative years in the NFL: 49
Jay Leeuwenberg was a 6-foot-3, 230-pound center from Kirkwood, Mo., when he signed as a member of the 1987 class. He said it was apparent early on that the group was very talented.
Back then, the freshmen would convene for a few days of practice in order learn the team protocol, and give the coaches a chance to look at them. Typically, the freshmen class starts to feel good about itself until the veterans arrive and they get a real introduction to college football.
But a week into full-squad practices, the '87 group, which included players such as Eric Bieniemy, Russell Heasley, George Hemingway, Kanavis McGhee, Mike Pritchard, Joel Steed and Alfred Williams, were among the players turning heads.
"About the first week after the veterans came in, I think as a group, we started understanding there were an awful lot of us that weren't just holding our own with the upperclassmen," Leeuwenberg said. "They were really looking at us to come in and make a difference.
"I remember there were a couple drills in particular where you had Alfred and Kanavis, two stud outside linebackers, and they would (go against) myself and Russ, and we used to just have brawls. There were times when it seemed like practice would almost stop just to watch our drills. You instantly knew that you had the respect of some of the older guys."
Leeuwenberg teaches 3rd grade in Denver these days, and is currently writing two books; one an autobiography that details how he's dealt with diabetes as an athlete, from the time he was 12 through his NFL playing days. The other is a compilation of CU stories.
One story he recalls from his freshman year was the practice battles between Steed, his classmate, and all-conference junior center Erik Norgard.
"At the time, we had Eric Norgard as the returning all-conference center, who was a heckuva player. And you had this beast of a man in Joel Steed from (Aurora) Hinkley, and he's holding his own against a guy that's touted to be the best in the conference," Leeuwenberg said.
But rather than the upstart class creating jealousy among the upperclassmen, the veterans seemed to embrace the younger players' potential.
"Their whole message to us younger guys was the reason you're here is because we built this program up in order to get better players," Leeuwenberg said. "You're better than us, but you better go out there and prove it so that my hard work paid off."
It paid off. Colorado enjoyed a three-year run as Big Eight champs from 1989-91, and brought home a national title in 1990.
Eric Bieniemy, RB, 5-9, 185, West Covina (Bishop Amat), Calif. Best CU RB of all time?
Jon Boman, LB, 6-4, 225, Las Vegas (Chaparral), Nev. Two-year letterman.
Charles Fishero, OL, 6-6, 270, San Diego (Morse), Calif. Never lettered.
Eric Hannah, PK, 6-0, 195, Mission Viejo (Capistrano Valley), Calif. Lettered in '87.
Russell Heasley, OL, 6-4, 245, Bakersfield (West), Calif. Started on '90 team.
George Hemingway, FB, 6-2, 225, Colton, Calif. Started on '90 team.
Jay Leeuwenburg, C, 6-3, 230, Kirkwood, Mo. Consensus A-A in '91.
Kanavis McGhee, OLB, 6-6, 230, Houston (Wheatley), Texas. A-A in '89.
Mike Motley, OLB, 6-2, 230, Houston (Forest Brook), Texas. Never lettered.
Mike Pritchard, RB, 5-11, 175, Las Vegas (Rancho), Nev. All-Big 8 in '90.
Joel Steed, DL, 6-3, 280, Denver (Hinkley), Colo. All-Big 8 '90-91.
Alfred Williams, DL, 6-6, 230, Houston (Jesse Jones), Texas. Consensus A-A in '90.
Headliners: Bieniemy (2nd team USA Today A-A), Hemingway (2nd team USA Today A-A), Leeuwenberg (all-state), Motley (Houston area POY), Pritchard (Nevada POY), Williams (1st team USA Today A-A).
Played on Sundays: Bieniemy (9 years), Leeuwenburg (9), McGhee (5), Pritchard (9), Steed (8), Williams (9).
Record Book: Bieniemy No. 1 rushing (3,940), scoring (254) and all-purpose yards (4,351); Pritchard No. 9 receiving yards (1,241); Williams No. 1 sacks (35), tackles for loss (59); McGhee No. 11 sacks (15), No. 7 tackles for loss (38).
Ones That Got Away: Scott Lockwood (Fairview, USC), Brian Boerboom (Doherty, Nebraska), Tahaun Lewis (Doherty, Nebraska).
SuperPrep Class Rankings: ND (1), OU. (3), Nebraska (7), Baylor (15). CU ranked third in Big Eight behind OU and Nebraska.