On the first day of class last year, Juwann Winfree walked into the wrong classroom. He was in room 140 on the ground floor, not 1B40 in the basement. He slowly realized his mistake as he looked around the classroom to see a room filled with twenty Middle Eastern students — eighteen Arab, two Iranian-American — and one white kid, plus the Iranian teacher with a thick, almost unintelligible accent. Adorned with dreadlocks that were (and still are) cool as hell, Juwann had a beaming smile and a hint of a chuckle as he asked the class if he was in the right room.
I was there, I was that white kid, and I was so excited for Juwann to be in my Persian-language class. It was easy to recognize him, even though he hadn’t yet suited up for the Buffaloes after transferring from Maryland via Coffeyville Community College (Kan.). Only a week prior, he had torn his ACL in practice and would have to take a medical redshirt. I thought I recognized Juwann by his dreads and smile, but it that was his massive knee brace that tipped me off for certain that it was him.
“It’s been a long process,” Juwann explains about his recovery, “I want to thank the [medical] trainers and weightlifting trainers. I don’t feel limited anymore.”
After his arduous rehabilitation, Juwann says he’s basically the same player, but admits he may have lost a step of speed. In his eyes, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Instead of focusing and trying to maintain breakaway speed, he has improved his game in just about every other way. He emphasized his hands and his route running as essential tools that have since improved. He mentioned working on his blocking and running after the catch, having learned from CU’s other receivers who are among the best in the country at those underrated skills. It’s the bits of nuance that make good players great, and it’s the little things that power promising teams.
At 6’3, 210-lbs. (he looks bigger), Juwann has always been more of a physical receiver than a speed demon. At his size with his skill, he lives for the contested catch. He can box out, muscle up, and otherwise physically dominate most cornerbacks. But still, Juwann says physical corners give him the most problems. Luckily for him, he plays for CU, and with Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon last year and Isaiah Oliver and Dante Wigley this year, Juwann isn’t lacking physical opponents to refine his skills against. These elite corners CU pumps out are invaluable to his development. By the way he speaks about them, it’s easy to tell he has a deep reverence and thankfulness for his positional opposites. Everyday he goes up against an all-conference talent, and everyday he improves his game.
Going into 2017, Juwann will likely be the fourth option in the Buffs’ ridiculously stacked receiving corps. He won’t get as many targets as he warrants, but he’ll have his chance to show how promising he is. According to Juwann, the Buffs will play up-tempo and use tons of 4- or 5-receiver sets, meaning everyone will be involved. The passing game will be electric, and as Juwann is quick to point out, that will open up the run game and help the team stay balanced. Finally, he let loose that beaming smile once again as I goaded him into imagining the Buffs playing with only four linemen so they could have five receivers with Phillip Lindsay still at running back, an offense no one could stop.
Juwann Winfree wants to be the best receiver in the nation. Even if he never gets back that breakaway speed, he’ll continuously work to make that goal a reality. In the meantime, the Buffs have themselves the most overqualified fourth receiver in the nation.