When he got to Boulder, things didn't go as he had envisioned his first year, and he redshirted 2002. Then a lower leg injury in August 2003 kept him out all but last season's final two games.
"A kid like him, when he came out of high school, there were high expectations," receivers coach Ted Gilmore said. "And the pressure of that and not being ready to play as a true freshman may have scarred him a little bit from a mental psyche standpoint. There was a lot of pressure put on him and he wasn't ready for it."
Expectations mounted as 2004 approached. But through spring and preseason practices, and even through the first few games this fall, Mackey hadn't quite won his coach's trust.
"He's always shown us flashes," Gilmore said. "As a coach, you want someone to be consistent. When you're in the course of a ball game and you have different circumstances that come up, you want to put someone in that you know what they can do. You can't have hesitation."
Mackey admits he began to question himself. His confidence had taken a beating.
"I was down on myself after our first three or four games," he said.
And there were the constant phone calls from friends and family asking why he wasn't playing more, why he wasn't catching passes the way he did in high school. Especially since CU's pass offense had struggled in 2004 and Mackey, with a 4.39 40 time (run this summer), is the fastest receiver on the team.
Gilmore decided going into Saturday's game with Oklahoma State that Mackey would get a chance.
"It was one of those deals where earlier in the week we said let's put this kid in the position and see what happens," Gilmore said. "The only thing that's stopping him right now is himself. He's got to get the confidence. In order to get the confidence you've got to be put in those positions to be successful. And when you have success, that's when it comes.
"To his credit, he took advantage of it. Hopefully he can build on it."
Mackey's six catch, 129-yard performance was one of the few bright spots in CU's embarrassing 42-14 loss to the Cowboys. Mackey knew going in that the offense was going to look his way some.
"We had a couple plays drawn up in practice," he said. "I had the feeling I was going to get a couple of deep balls. I was excited about that."
Gilmore said he saw Mackey's confidence grow, even in the midst of the game.
"When he caught that first ball, you could see it all over his face that, ‘Hey, I can do this,'" Gilmore said.
Still, Mackey wasn't satisfied. He said Monday that he thought he should've broken free for a big run after he caught an out rout and was spun to the ground by an OSU defender too easily.
But if he continues to play the way he did in practice last week, and in Saturday's game, he should continue to be a part of CU's offense as the year progresses. That could be good news for a passing game that's been mired in mediocrity much of 2004.
For now, Mackey's glad to get the monkey off his back and start living up to expectations.
"I finally got out there and did what people were expecting, what people were waiting for," Mackey said. "I was kind of waiting for it too."
Quarterback Controversy Brewing?
Junior Joel Klatt didn't practice Mondday, still suffering from the sprained neck he got when he took a shot from a defender in the second quarter of the Oklahoma State game.
Sophomore James Cox played in the second half and sparked the CU offense, leading them to two scores. He also threw two interceptions.
Except for the first half vs. CSU and the entire North Texas game, CU's offense has struggled this season with Klatt under center.
After practice Monday, a reporter asked Gary Barnett, "Injury not withstanding, is Joel Klatt still your starting quarterback?"
The head coach responded, "You know, I don't know."
Then Barnett quickly added, "The injury is the issue right now. We're going to see if Joel can practice tomorrow and go from there."
However, both Klatt and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson told reporters that Klatt was still No. 1 on the depth chart.
Other Injury Notes
J.J. Billingsely's exploratory surgery on his knee is scheduled for Tuesday. There's a chance he could miss the rest of the season and apply for a medical redshirt, depending on how th surgery goes.
Running back Bobby Purify (shoulder) was limited at practice Monday, as was receiver Evan Judge (back spasms/thumb).