The Colorado Buffaloes are at an inflection point that will determine whether this program continues on an upward trajectory or returns to the bottom half of the Pac-12 Conference. With the 2017 season right around the corner Mike MacIntye and his staff are looking to replace an obvious void left from the departure of defensive backs Akhello Witherspoon, Chidobe Awuzie and Tedric Thompson.
At first glance losing the one of the nation’s best secondaries could hinder the Buffs’ plans to repeat as Pac-12 South champions in 2017. The situation raises questions like will Isaiah Oliver be ready to start full-time? Can Afolabi Laguda bring senior leadership to the “Money Gang”? How will Nick Fisher contribute after emerging last season?
Out of all of the questions that remain unanswered one at the forefront is who’s going to replace Witherspoon’s production next season? One player in that discussion is Kevin George.
The 6’3”, 180 pound JUCO transfer and Louisiana native comes to Colorado ready to compete for a starting cornerback position. George spent last season in a breakout role with the No. 17 NJCAA ranked Georgia Military College Bulldogs, gathering up 10 tackles, seven pass deflections and two interceptions.
“I want to make an immediate impact from day one,” George said. “Who wouldn’t want to be a starter at the University of Colorado? They just had three defensive backs drafted into the league and I feel I can come in and help the team out a lot.”
George’s coverage skills shined during his first collegiate season with the GMC Bulldogs. He started the season as an average coverage defender with raw talent and quickly progressed to be one of the best defenders in the conference. The lengthy corner’s determined style of play turned into a selling point for his former coach Bert Williams to MacIntrye. The two coaches have a relationship going back to the early 1990’s when both were graduate assistants at the University of Georgia.
“I didn’t know the two were close friends until coach Williams pulled me into his office and said Coach Mac likes you,” George explained. I didn’t know coach at the time. I only knew that he’d coached in the NFL. Coach Williams told me they were close friends and wanted to know if I would be interested in playing at CU. I went up there to visit and committed the following day.”
Williams has been fond of MacIntyre’s coaching style from early on.
“Mike has always been a driven and motivated coach and I was always struck with the fact that he always wanted to do it the right way,” Williams said. “That always resonated with me and we share that philosophical point – part of the reason I have spent so many years at Georgia Military College. I have a high level of respect for Mike and what he has accomplished with his teams and I expect that to continue.”
George looks at the opportunity to contribute in the Buffs secondary as a blessing. Colorado was one of two teams that showed interest last season with conference rival Oregon.
George and the rest of the Buffaloes will need to make adjustments going into next season under new defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, who will likely deploy a “hybrid” 3-4 formation. George’s versatility and knowledge of multiple schemes could become a valuable asset.
“I can come in and be that nickel guy to play in the slot, but I would rather play on the outside,” George said.
As it stands currently, Eliot and the Buffs have options in 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 packages with Ryan Moeller, Anthony Julmisse, Fisher and George being able to work inside the slot. Trey Udoffia, Dante Wigley and Oliver holding down the outside with Evan Worthington (White), Darrell Hubbard and Laguda roaming around at safety. The group led by Laguda (who was named one of six team captains) face a tough task to replace a veteran group of defenders.
Williams believes George will benefit from being involved at CU.
“I expect that Coach MacIntyre & his staff will continue to focus on Kevin’s fundamental development and I would expect to see some special things from Kevin given that continued development.”
For George, he’s tried bridging the gap with constant advise from Witherspoon.
“I talked to Akhello a few times before the draft and he was giving me some pointers on what to do and what not to do. The stuff that coaches give you; make sure it’s never enough and always do extra stuff on your own.”
The striking similarities between Witherspoon and George are noticeable. Both multi-sport athletes turned physical cornerbacks challenge opponents with speed going down the field. They both came to Colorado after a year in the JUCO ranks with similar stats. Witherspoon left Sacramento City Community College with three interceptions and seven pass deflections.
Perhaps the most difficult adjustment for George will be the transition from a humid southern climate to dry cold and snow. It was something that Witherspoon warned George about. Unlike most people who’ve never played football in brisk weather conditions, he’s looking forward to the challenge for least the next three years.