Aug. 27—If the Colorado football team hopes to turn heads and make an unexpected run at a bowl berth this season, it will require more than a few youngsters growing up on the job in a hurry.
Yet it also will require sturdy leadership from a handful of veterans who, in other seasons, would be out of college and, in many cases, exploring life after football.
Two years ago, the NCAA made an unprecedented ruling by granting all student-athletes from the 2020-21 academic year, in every sport, an extra year of eligibility due to the tumultuous and often shortened pandemic seasons.
For CU football, that means there are 14 players on the roster who otherwise would not have been eligible in 2022. That group includes key offensive skill players like Daniel Arias, Brady Russell and Alex Fontenot; veteran defenders Terrance Lang, Quinn Perry and Isaiah Lewis; and transfers like former Baylor receiver RJ Snead.
"I think when I first got here it was not in my plan to stay here for six years," Lang said. "Everything happens for a reason. When they told us we could have an extra year because of COVID, that's when I was like OK, I have more opportunity to put more stuff on tape at the college level. I figured I'd take advantage of that opportunity."
"We have something to prove. It's our time basically. Everyone here is experienced. We've got older guys and we've all been putting in the work. It's time for the results to shine. We want to leave with a feeling that we've been repaid for our work. We've got something to prove with this year. That's the biggest thing. I think this year, as far as the culture of Colorado, this is the first year I feel like we have a culture. As a team, we have a standard. And everybody is held to that standard. I think this is the year."
Lang, Lewis, Fontenot, Russell, Maurice Bell and Jaylon Jackson all arrived at CU in 2017, on the heels of the program's best season in over a decade, and they remain the final links to Mike MacIntyre's coaching tenure. Their six-season run in Boulder also has coincided with monumental changes across the NCAA landscape, beyond the COVID-shortened 2020 season and the socially-distanced meetings and workouts that preceded it. Besides the advent of the NIL era, transfer rules have been loosened to allow for easier player movement.
That route was followed by several classmates from the 2017 recruiting class. Yet for those who remain at CU for their extra season, the goal of getting the program turned around hasn't changed.
"I want to finish what we started," Bell said. "Coming in, we all had a goal to really just bring Colorado back to the top of the map. I'm a guy that likes to finish what he started. I don't want to take the easy route and transfer. Everyone has their own reasons for transferring, but for me, I really feel like there's a reason I'm supposed to be here. It never really crossed my mind to go anywhere else or transfer. I have unfinished business here."