Returning: Isaiah Oliver, Anthony Julmisse (suspended), Trey Udoffia, Ronnie Blackmon, Derrion Rakestraw
Departing: Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon
Incoming: Dante Wigley, Kevin George, Chris Miller
College football is an inherently bittersweet game. The cycles of the sport demand it be so. You can fall in love with a player or a team or a coach, and odds are that in three years it won’t be the same. The player leaves, the team gets worse, or the coach leaves. Of course, that doesn’t stop us from falling in love with a player or a team or a coach, and we fall in love again and again and again.
All of this to say that I miss Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon. Awuzie transformed from a bight spot, few and far between, to a freaky good player on an improbably good team. He got better, but he was always good; it was just fun to watch the team grow around him, too. Chido was fast, physical, and fearless. He relished tackling more than any sane CB would, and he was legitimately one of CU’s best pass rushers in his four years here. He was a jack-of-all-trades and a specialized weapon. Put him anywhere, and he succeeded, but him around the ball and he THRIVED. Ahkello Witherspoon may have been the most emblematic player of The Rise. A lightly recruited prospect out of high school, he sprouted another half a foot in junior college and was still lightly recruited. MacIntyre found him, as he has found so many other studs, and developed. His first year, he was afraid of contact and stiff. But he kept working and working. He showed flashes his junior year, but he was still inconsistent. Then, he exploded. Witherspoon attacked his senior year. He was a nightmare to throw against. His long arms swatted away balls like King Kong knocking down planes. His physicality at the line disrupted timing and allowed his 6’3 frame to dominate the receiver. He just blew up. He was fun to watch, and he will be fun to watch in the NFL. But the sport demands he moves on, and we watch the next group with just as much interest. Lucky for us fans, there’s already a stud in that group.
If you are going to talk about the 2017 cornerbacks for CU, or the 2017 defense, one name has to come up every time. That name is Isaiah Oliver. The Arizona native has flashed for two years, but last year felt more like paparazzi. Oliver just shined when he was on the field. In a secondary shared with Ahkello, Chidobe, and Tedric Thompson, Oliver was the most athletic and most tantalizing. Think about that for a second. Isaiah is an 11 sport athlete (his other sport at CU is the decathalon) and he is extremely successful in both. His present and future in football is at the boundary corner position. He is all of 6 feet, thick, and an absolute freak athletically. He can run with anybody, jump with anybody, and cut with anybody. The fact that CU was the only PAC-12 school to offer him boggles my mind, but it shows Coach Mac’s natural ability to pick a corner. But I’m getting off track. Oliver will play outside corner, and will shut down his guy more often than not. If he gets thrown to. And he’s only a junior. If he stays for his senior year, he will be unreal.
Starting across from him is... someone? We don’t exactly know yet. In the spring, it was a three horse race between sophomores Anthony Julmisse and Dante Wigley and redshirt freshman Trey Udoffia. Anthony Julmisse is now suspended until his court date on September 1st, at the earliest, so now it is between Wigley and Udoffia. Wigley comes to CU from Georgia Tech by way of junior college. He is a physical, large corner, who can play press coverage but may get beat deep. He is great run support. Like all of Coach Mac’s corners, he is tall as well, standing around 6’1. We don’t know much about Wigley’s game, as he has never played a snap for the Buffs. But he is not a true freshman, and he will be counted on to provide got snaps for CU. Trey Udoffia, the other competitor for the job, is a homegrown talent. He redshirted last year, packing some pounds on his still slight frame, and is now ready for a breakout year. Udoffia is extremely athletic, playing both sides of the ball coming out of Northern California. Now that he’s focusing on just corner, you can see some of the receiver traits make it into his game. He has great ball skills, and generally knows route trees pretty well. He has been getting rave reviews all fall camp from both the offense and defense. Given that Oliver is on the other side, whoever plays this position will get lots of balls thrown their way. While we can’t expect them to replace Ahkello Witherspoon, they should still be solid most of the time.
Now we get to the reserves. The first man off the bench will be the loser of the Wigley/Udoffia battle obviously. But beyond that, there are some intriguing options. Ronnie Blackmon will most likely play true nickel back when he comes in, but don’t let that fool you. He is still very important to this defense. Blackmon is completely different from every other cornerback on this roster. He is on the shorter side at 5’8 (at best), but he is electrifying. A quick-twitch athlete, Ronnie is solidly built and has some pop. His physicality and quickness make for a perfect nickel, as he can fight with the receiver for the first five yards and close on the ball quickly. To get an idea of his athleticism, he may take over the punt returner job, if allowed. Next up will most likely be true freshman Chris Miller. Miller was a huge get in the 2017 recruiting cycle. He is long, lanky, and a freak athlete. He needs to work on getting a little more physical and bulking up a bit, but the potential is obviously there. The best case scenario would be a redshirt for Miller. A redhisrt would also fit Kevin George quite well. The incoming transfer from Georgia Military College is almost a clone of Ahkello Witherspoon - he’s a 6’3 sophomore who is skinny, but plenty long and athletic. George is arriving late to fall camp, putting him behind a bit, so a year to catch up and build strength would be the best case scenario.
This group can’t replace Chido and Ahkello, but it doesn’t have to. It has a bonafide star in Oliver and plenty of young potential. This unit will get better over the course of the year, and once the second half of the PAC-12 schedule hits, they should be just fine. But the face of this unit is Oliver. It will be fun to see what he can do.