In recent years the NCAA has shown promotional advertisments to throw out the figure of student-athletes that will “go pro in something else.” Those astronomical numbers can also be used as a reminder of how rare the opportunity of playing Division I sports can be, let alone advancing to play at the next level.
Juwann Winfree had an unconventional journey to Colorado. He was the first player from Dwight Morrow High School to play football at an FBS program in eight years when he hit the field for Maryland, but that destination was short lived for the New Jersey native. A suspension during his freshman season led to his eventual dismissal at Maryland. Winfree’s road to redemption started at junior college powerhouse Coffeyville C.C. in Kansas. It’s a road still being traveled at the foot of the Flatirons.
Winfree tore an ACL in August of 2016 and the drawn out rehab process weighed heavy on his mind. Along with being sidelined came the frustration of not being able to suit up. But it all made the talented receiver sharper, both mentally and physically. The years of setbacks kept Winfree focused on the opportunity to play a premier role for the Buffs. One that Winfree was ready to fight for.
“I feel we’re going to make the headlines a lot because we’ve been working hard this whole offseason together as a group— so we’ve got a lot to prove and a lot to do,” Winfree said.
After being used sparingly with Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross in front of him in the rotation, Winfree’s breakout came by way of an injury to Fields against USC. What started out as a warmup quickly turned into a career-best effort against the Trojans’ secondary with five catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns, including a 79-yard touchdown on a pass from quarterback Steven Montez.
“The USC game was big for me,” Winfree admitted. “I had my parents there. It was the first game they were able to attend that year along my brother and three of my really close friends. They had no idea I was going to be playing, but still made the trip to support me. It’s was crazy how it all worked out. Shay went down and it was unfortunate to see my teammate and brother go down— but I was ready. I was prepared knowing my time was going to come. Once they called my number, I knew what I had to do. If I didn’t take advantage of it who knows where I would be right now.”
Winfree appeared to return at full strength with his breakaway speed unharmed by the injury. However, some critics would disagree with that assessment despite Winfree feeling differently.
“I definitely have that explosiveness back,” Winfree said. “I’ve been lifting hard in the weight room this entire offseason— a lot of leg and single leg concentration— So, I definitely feel I have my explosiveness back. I felt I was back last year, but some people don’t believe they saw it that way—in terms of speed and quickness— I take that as criticism and use it to my advantage to motivate me even more.”
The wide receiver position looks to be quite strong for the Buffaloes heading into the 2018 season. The steady work of offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini is about to pay off in a major way with one of the most talented groups to ever be assembled on Folsom Field. Thus why three of the seven captains for next season are representing the receiving corps.
Winfree, Jay MacIntyre and Kabion Ento are the elder statesmen for a young group. They’re joined by Texas Tech transfer Tony Brown, Jaylon Jackson and Desoto High School teammates K.D. Nixon and Laviska Shenault. MacIntyre has the most experience with three season under his belt and now has the chance to step out of the shadows into a starting role in 2018. Ento elected to redshirt in order to be in a position to start this season. Brown and Jackson were highly-touted four-star recruits coming out of their respective high schools.
Brown played as a true freshman for the Red Raiders and ultimately decided to follow Chiaverini to Colorado after being recruited out of the Southern California area by the coach. He sat out last season due to an outdated transfer rule, but has two years of eligibility remaining. Jackson, a redshirt freshman from Cedar Hill, TX., is a speedster who has yet to see game action after recovering from a broken ankle he suffered in last year’s scrimmage. Nixon and Shenault were both tantalizing in their freshman years and they look to build off of that, and then some.
“We can win anywhere we go. I see a difference since I’ve been here,” Winfree said. “This group (of receivers) loves to work, we’re all about the work and god—putting god first through everything. Just the attitude. The whole attitude has changed completely. We didn’t live up to expectations last year and those of us who got to sit there, including Tony Brown who transferred, got to sit there and watch not being able to play. This whole new class year, we’re not too experienced. We could of played more and should have played more, but the fact we got to sit there and watch we got to see where we lacked last year that made us even more hungry. We’re all going to share roles wherever Coach Chiaverini puts us. I feel the production is going to be better this year.”
Chiaverini is the common link between all of them.
“He holds us to a high regard because he feels this is one of his best classes and we’ve got to prove it,” Winfree said. “We feel we have the potential to be one of the best classes he has ever worked with because of our attitude and work ethic. “Chiv” being there with us every day and seeing how he believes in us— that’s big. Especially with him playing in the NFL, and for me being a senior, he wants to get me to that level and to hear his critique and advice is big. He has showed his support before he recruited me here, before I tore my ACL and he’ll be after I leave Boulder. He knows what I’m capable of and is one of my biggest fans.”
With fall camp reaching the mid-way point, the Buffaloes are looking ahead to August 31st and the Rocky Mountain Showdown with Colorado State, but nobody has prepared more for the season opener than Steven Montez. Winfree has fostered a better relationship with his quarterback by finding time for Montez to throw to him at CU’s practice facility. Even when that hasn’t been a possibility due to construction near the Champions Center, Winfree and Montez have used Stadium Drive as the place to stage a mock practice.
“Last year was big for (Montez) as a young quarterback being able to step in and take control of the offense,” Winfree said. “We’ve been working hard every day. He’s become more comfortable with all the receivers. We’ve all been out there working with him and being patience with him and in return he’s been patience with us. We’re holding each other to higher standards this year. His goal is to play in the NFL one day—just like all of us. As close as we are now, that’s only pushing us harder.”
Winfree is determined to leave a lasting impression on his senior year at Colorado. He’ll also become a mentor to the younger receivers below him in the process. Alongside his athletic goals for next year he’s also close to graduating with a major in Sociology. If Winfree hear’s his name called in next April’s NFL Draft, he’ll join Paul Richardson as the second CU receiver to accomplish that feat in the past seven years. Yet another testament to the hard work Chiaverini has done in the trenches with Winfree.