The 2014 Colorado Buffaloes Signing Day ended yesterday but started the college dreams of 19 young men and 4 additional signees that began their college careers by enrolling in January. The primary focus of the staff appeared to be in 3 main areas:
1. Add playmakers on offense due to the departure of Paul Richardson and the pass heavy high scoring Pac-12 style football
2. Add offensive linemen knowing that two starters will depart for the third year in a row after the 2014 season.
3. Address the deficiency in numbers on defensive line and in the secondary, especially amongst the underclassmen.
The Buffs addressed those needs getting three wide receivers in Donovan Lee, Lee Walker and Shay Fields. All three are shorter receivers but can fly with Fields being the most touted recruit of the 2014 class with offers from across the Pac-12 and being CU’s only 4-star recruit. Fields was a USC commit but a change in staff and attention from the Trojans pushed Fields in the direction of Boulder. He had big numbers against top competition playing for California powerhouse St. John’s Bosco. Donovan Lee could end up anywhere from slot receiver to corner to return man. Lee Walker was set to be at Arizona in 2013 but test scores kept him in the classroom and rather than enroll in a JUCO, he worked to attain the test scores necessary to play BCS level ball and CU got him while others looked at 2014 seniors.
Also amongst the playmakers added was Dylan Keeney. Keeney is 6’6 and with only a year of playing tight end under his belt. While he’ll need some weight to be an all-around tight end, he already has the hands and speed that today’s tight end requires. Hayden Jones was also added at tight end with a thin group at that position. Jones appears to be more well-rounded and with size but doesn’t have the speed or hands Keeney does.
Colorado lost its only running back commitment when Jomon Dotson made a late switch to Washington and the hope in-state stud would flip to CU Kalen Ballage did not get fulfilled with his late signing with Arizona State. The Buffs have depth here but losing out on the guy they had committed for the entire season and the in-state stud hurts at a position CU fans laud heavily.
Cade Apsay was the only quarterback signed in this group. He is currently a bit undersized, weight wise, and is looking like a sure redshirt candidate. He is only one of 3 scholarship QBs so his arm will be used and needed for fall camp.
On offensive line, the Buffs lost their most prized OL recruit when Elijah Rodriguez switched to Texas less than a week before signing day. Colorado’s staff had an ace in their back pocket and got Sully Wiefels to commit to CU late. Wiefels can play immediately after playing Junior College ball the last year and not needing to develop his body like almost every FBS level freshman offensive lineman must. Isaac Miller fits the tradition of the mountain high local kid at 6’7 and 250 lbs and was CU’s first verbal commit for the class. He will likely redshirt until he can add weight to his frame but hopefully will follow the lines of Solder and Polumbus. Josh Kaiser played LT for highly regarded Mission Viejo High School. Delayed grayshirt signee John Lisella II of Columbine joins this offensive line class. He and Kaiser are both in the 6’4 to 6'5 range and around 270 lbs which means they most likely will spend a year practicing their squat, clean and eating techniques while playing scout.
At defensive line, the Buffs got six commitments but will only see five of them over the next two years. Sam Bennion is on his Mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints in 2014 and 2015 and will be enrolled in January 2016. In the meantime the Buffs will have Eddy Lopez at defensive tackle, a 6’-4" 300 lb lineman. Lopez will have to work on his pad level since he tends to "pop up" at snap but he is a big body that is tough to find at the freshman level. The group at defensive end are Jase Franke, Terran Hasselbach, Michael Mathewes and Christian Shaver. Franke got some late offers from across the Pac-12 but stayed strong and he appears a good candidate to end up playing a DT/DE hybrid. Mathewes got late attention after his CU commitment and his highlights showed why with sound technique and great tackling skills. Hasselbach had no game tape before this season and in only one season he showed his bloodlines (his father played for University of Washington and then played for the Broncos). Shaver switched from MLB to DE and continues to grow into his frame. This group needs at least one or two guys to push the existing group of defensive lineman and show the ability to do what CU lacked greatest at last year, getting to the quarterback.
The Buffs only signed two linebackers in Grant Watanabe and Rick Gamboa, but both are tackling machines and leaders. Both were the field generals for their teams that both made the state title game in their respective divisions. They fit the mold Mike MacIntyre likes, leaders that run the defense and are sure tacklers. CU graduates four scholarship players at the LB position in 2014, so while these two may or may not see the field in 2014 they add depth to a position that needs it after this season.
In the secondary, the Buffs got Jaisen Sachez, a 6’1 190 lb corner from St. Louis in Honolulu, Hawaii, Evan White, at 6’3 and 190 lbs, of Cherokee Trail and Ahkello Whitherspoon, 6’2 and 180 lb, junior college early enrollee. The things that these young men share are what many Denver Broncos fans noticed in the Super Bowl from Seattle's secondary: big, tall thumpers with ball hawking skills. All of their highlights include multiple interceptions, pass break ups and some mean hits.
The other early enrollee was Wyatt Smith, a long snapper regarded as the second best recruit at that position in the country. Much needed after having 12 years in a row where CU had three 4-year starters at long snapper.
The last of the commitments that was kept quiet until the last day was Jay MacIntyre and may be the most talked about in the next 6 months. Forever known as the son of CU coach Mike MacIntyre, Jay is a talented athlete that will most likely play at DB, but may also be a slot receiver candidate or kick returner. While CU has a bad history with coach-son combos in recent memory, Jay will not be put in place to be a controversy seeing as Mike MacIntyre has made it clear he will not play at quarterback.
So Who Will Have the Immediate Impact?
That’s always the major question after signing day wraps up. Looking at this group, it appears Fields would have the best chance to play at receiver with the Buffs needing to add speed and playmaking ability at wide receiver, though Devin Ross and Bryce Bobo may look to help take over that role. It won't be just one, because as Richardson showed, it takes a couple years to take over the show typically.
Dylan Keeney may be lean but with his height and speed and a summer hitting the weights and eating, a tall speedster that slices through the middle is a great weapon.
Sully Wiefels can play immediately and will challenge the group that bided their time last year.
Lee Walker is a year older than the group and CU was anemic in their return duties. Either he or Donovan Lee will end up at punt return and/or kick return.
Mathewes and Hasselbach have the most pure pass rush skills. Franke may be able to provide pressure from the middle. One or multiple of these guys HAVE to show the knack for getting to the quarterback or someone from the team last year. This cost CU often in games that got out of hand.
Wrapping up Signing Day
While Jay was not recruited heavily by the BCS level schools, he had offers from Wyoming and Air Force. He is a lot like his fellow commits in this 2014 Buffs class with good rating but not extensive offer sheet many fans yearn to see. Many in this play for top programs in their respective states, so they know how to win and they all have very productive numbers. The tape doesn’t lie, these guys do what you are looking for from their respective positions. MacIntyre has recruited based off ability and he and his staff seem to have a knack for getting that diamond in the rough others don’t notice until they are making plays against them as evident by his recruits that played at Duke, his San Jose State program turnaround and 2-star contributors like Chidobe Awuzie, Michael Adkins II and most notably Freshman First Team All-American Addison Gillam.
The biggest positive of the MacIntyre signing is what it appears it does for the future of Mike MacIntyre. A concern for many Buffs fans that believe MacIntyre was the right guy was CU was a 3-4 year stop for Mike MacIntyre until he shows some success at CU and then heads off to a more lucrative offer. The hope here is that that success comes in the next couple years as hoped and that having his son on the team keeps Mike MacIntyre committed to the Buffs for years to come as he builds CU into what it once was, a Top 25 program and annual bowl game participant that is in the top third of its conference and occasionally makes noise in a BCS level bowl.