You Make the Call — Return Specialists

The following are BSN's top five Colorado return specialists of the modern era (1960-present), listed in alphabetical order. Follow the link at the bottom of the page to a poll where you can vote your No. 1 and/or make a case for a player left off the list.

Note: If this list were to include players from prior to 1960, Byron White would definitely be on the list, and Kayo Lam and Carroll Hardy would deserve honorable mention.

Jeremy Bloom
5-9, 175
2002-03
Loveland, Colo.
The first time Bloom returned a punt as a freshman, he took it 75 yards for a touchdown. Displaying his knack for charming the spotlight, the return came on national television vs. instate rival Colorado State at Invesco Field. Bloom handled both punt and kick returns for two seasons at CU before leaving to pursue professional skiing. In that time he averaged 14.2 yards per return on punts and 25.1 per kick return – both among the top 5 CU marks in the modern era. Though he never made any postseason conference first-team lists, Bloom quickly earned the respect of opposing teams for his abilities. He ended his career with two PR TDs and one KOR TD. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2006 NFL Draft as a receiver/return specialist.

Cliff Branch
5-10, 172 pounds
1970-71
Houston, Texas
Branch played just two seasons in a Colorado uniform after transferring to Boulder from Wharton Junior College. But his impact was huge: Branch, who had world-class speed, scored a touchdown every nine times he returned a punt or kickoff. His eight career punt/kick returns for scores (6 PR, 2 KOR) is still a CU and NCAA (tie) record. Branch was named first-team All-American by Football News following his senior year in 1971, when he was also voted team MVP. That was one of the best seasons in Colorado history, as the Buffs finished 10-2, and ranked No. 3 in the country behind Nebraska (No.1) and Oklahoma (No. 2). Branch played 14 years as a wide receiver with the Oakland Raiders, winning three Super Bowl rings and earning four Pro Bowl selections.

Roman Hollowell
5-6, 165 pounds
1998-2001
Denver, Colo.
Hollowell earned first-team all-Big 12 and Sporting News first-team All-America honors as a kick returner his senior season, the only time a CU returner has ever earned first-team All-America honors. That year the quick return man took two punts to the house for scores, and amassed 953 yards in returns – a single-season high for CU players. He finished his career with three PR for touchdowns. By the time Hollowell left CU he joined Branch as the only Buffs to gain at least 600 yards receiving, returning punts and returning kicks.

Ben Kelly
5-10, 190 pounds
1997-99
Cleveland, Ohio
Kelly combined great lower-body strength, uncanny balance with deceptive speed and electrified fans at Folsom Field for three seasons as a return man. He returned two punts and three kickoffs for touchdowns in his career. In 1998, as a sophomore, Kelly averaged 20.8 yards per punt return, best by a Buffalo in the modern era. He was best as a kickoff return man, and his 1,798 career yards are tops in CU history by 600 yards. Also, his career KOR average of 28.1 yards is second on the all-time list. Kelly, who also starred at cornerback, was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year in '97, and earned first-team all-Big 12 as a freshman, sophomore and junior. He earned AP third-team All-American honors as a junior. He left CU after his junior season for the NFL Draft, and played last season in the CFL with Calgary.

Bill Symons
6-0, 195 pounds
1962-64
Nucla, Colo.
A tough, speedy three-way player, Symons played running back, defensive back, punter and punt and kick returner during his three varsity years at CU. Often one of the few bright spots for the Buffs during his tenure, Colorado managed just six wins from 1962-64. Symons' 1,051 kickoff return yards is still No. 4 all time on the CU list. Symons had a stellar post-college career. He was drafted by Green Bay in 1965, and made the roster as a running back alongside Paul Horning and Jim Taylor. He blew out his knee that season, was cut by the Packers in 1966, but went on to become one of the all-time great running backs in the Canadian Football League, earning the CFL's Most Outstanding Player award as a Toronto Argonaut in 1968.

Honorable Mention:
Howard Ballage, Jeff Campbell, Charlie Greer, Dave McCloughan, M.J. Nelson, Walter Stanley, Billy Waddy.

Vote for Colorado's best returner of the modern era in Ralphie's Den: MESSAGE BOARD

Previous Top 5 Lists:
Top 5 CU Offensive Tackles

Top 5 CU Running Backs

Top 5 CU Centers

Top 5 CU Cornerbacks

Top 5 CU Interior Defensive Linemen

Top 5 CU Tight Ends

Top 5 CU Inside Linebackers

Top 5 CU Punters

Top 5 CU Wide Receivers


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