2010 Defensive Line: Returning Players / Recruits
If there was a unit on the 2009 Colorado football team that actually exceeded expectations, it would have to be the defensive line.
Not because ranking 80th in the nation in rushing defense is a spectacular feat—it’s not. Rather, the Buffs’ defensive line did better than expected because so little was thought of the group last August.
A quick trip back to fall drills reminds us that the Buffs were trying to replace three of four defensive line starters from the 2008 season: defensive tackle George Hypolite, nose tackle Brandon Nicholas, and defensive end Maurice Lucas. All three started every game in 2008 and had been fixtures at their positions for three years. The group had started 88 games in their careers, and had been in for 79 percent of the defensive snaps in 2008.
To make matters worse, there was little depth—and even less experience—behind these three long-time starters. Junior defensive end Marquez Herrod had the most experience of those players returning, having participated in 258 plays over two seasons (all three seniors mentioned above were in the lineup for over 640 plays apiece in 2008 alone). Sophomore defensive tackle Curtis Cunningham had 145 plays under his belt as a true freshman, and senior Taj Kaynor had 107 for his career...and that was about it. No other player on the roster had as many as 100 career snaps on his resume.
To make matters all the more bleak, the group that included three three-year starters—you know, the group with all the experience—was not all that great. In 2008, Colorado ranked 86th in rushing defense nationally, giving up over 165 yards per game and was ranked 53rd in sacks.
To the surprise of many, the 2009 defensive line—the group with little or no game experience—went out and posted better numbers than their 2008 counterparts. Colorado edged up to 80th in rushing defense, 41st in sacks. Assisted by a trio of true freshmen, the Colorado defensive line held its own.
The Buffs, which spent most of the season lined up in a 3-4 set, had the same three starters for every game. At the defensive tackle spot was sophomore Curtis Cunningham, who led the line with 41 tackles, including two sacks. At the defensive end position, junior Marquez Herrod posted 38 tackles and a team-high six sacks. Right behind Herrod on the tackles list was redshirt freshman Will Pericak. The Buffs’ nose tackle had been projected as a tight end in 2008 before moving to the defense where he registered 36 tackles and three sacks.
Unlike previous years, though, the starters were not the only players to see action, with three true freshmen contributing. All-everything Nick Kasa, who spurned Florida for a chance to be a Buff, was hampered by injuries, and his participation was limited to 47 plays on the season. Kasa sprained a knee early, keeping him out of most of fall practice. Kasa was inserted late in the game against West Virginia, then played sparingly in the next three games, before a case of mononucleosis sidelined him for the rest of the fall, (in case you were wondering, Kasa saw too much action to qualify for a medical redshirt. He will play as a sophomore in 2010). This left it to fellow true freshmen Forrest West and Nate Bonsu to fill the void, with both players seeing action in every game in 2009. Bonsu, who played tackle, registered 15 tackles in 184 plays, while West, in for 192 plays at defensive end, posted 10 tackles.
In 2010, the Colorado defensive line will return almost entirely intact, as the Buffs lose only senior defensive tackle Taj Kaynor (38 plays, three tackles in 2009). The starting lineup, if it remains the same as in 2009, would include a senior (Herrod), a junior (Cunningham), and a sophomore (Pericak). These three will certainly be challenged by the now more-seasoned trio of sophomores who played as true freshmen—Nick Kasa, Nate Bonsu, and Forrest West. In addition, there are returning contributors Josh Hartigan, who will be a junior in 2010; Conrad Obi, who will be a junior, and Eric Lawson, who will be a senior next fall.
One potential future star along the defensive line never made it to the field. Just behind Nick Kasa in accolades last signing day was defensive line recruit Edward Nuckols, from San Marcos, Calif. Nuckols was a four-star recruit, considered to be the 23rd-best defensive tackle in the nation. Nuckols actually made it to Boulder before his transcripts failed to make the grade with the NCAA. He was going to be a grayshirt for Colorado, enrolling in January. Instead, this fall Nuckols was on the roster at Seton Hills University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The 2,000-student Catholic University plays in the Division II West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. After a 10-3 campaign in 2008, the Griffins fell 1-10 in 2009. No word on whether Nuckols would someday still like to be a Buff.
So, with the Buffs Flush with Young Depth (and, Hopefully, Talent), How Many Defensive Linemen Will Sign with Colorado in February?
There are two defensive linemen who have given their verbal commitments to Colorado to date. The first to commit, back in September, was Chidera Uzo-Diribe, a 6′4,″ 227-pound prospect from Corona, California. A three-star defensive end, Uzo-Diribe had 70 tackles this past fall, including seven sacks. Quite the athlete, Uzo-Diribe also caught eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Other schools were interested in moving Uzo-Diribe to linebacker, but Colorado wants him as a rush end. “I’m very athletic and fast coming off the edge,” said Uzo-Diribe. “I have a high motor, too. I like to get after it.”
Uzo-Diribe is ranked as the 36th-best defensive end in the nation by Rivals.com but might have been ranked higher if he had a more extensive resume—he only has two years of football under his belt. In order to get ready for the Big 12, Uzo-Diribe is not going to play basketball this winter. “I want to spend a lot of time in the weight room instead,” Uzo-Diribe told BuffStampede.com. “I’d say the biggest thing I need to do is work on my upper body strength. I want to get that squared away before I get to Boulder.”
The other known verbal commitment along the defensive line came from Kirk Poston from Houston, Texas. Poston is 6′2,″ 235-pounds and is listed as a three-star defensive end prospect, who had offers from Kansas State and Baylor from the Big 12, as well as from Georgia Tech, Duke, Arizona, and Houston. “I really liked (defensive line coach Romeo) Bandison,” Poston told BuffStampede.com. “We talked about me playing outside, or gaining weight and playing inside. I like playing outside better, but it really doesn’t matter much to me.” In his senior season, Poston registered 13 sacks in 12 games for Houston’s St. Pius X High School. Another player from that school is still being recruited by the Buffs: three-star athlete Venric Mark, who has offers from at least 14 schools. “I guess I’m going to have to start talking him up about Colorado,” said Poston.
Poston and Uzo-Diribe Seem To Be Solid Commits for the 2010 Class. Anyone Else the Buffs Might Sign?
One player Buff fans would like to have on campus—for his name, if nothing else—is Foi Foi, a defensive tackle prospect from Kapolei, Hawaii. While only a two-star prospect in the eyes of the recruiting services, Foi reports offers from a number of schools, including Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon State, and Utah. Foi is 6′2,″ 278 pounds and ranks the Buffs highly, thanks to Colorado linebacker coach Brian Cabral. “Some of the players on the team call me Foi Cabral, Jr.,” Foi told Scout.com. Foi has seemingly narrowed his choices down to Arizona and Colorado, with January trips to both schools a possibility. One concern might be Foi’s grades—he is reporting a GPA of only 2.2.
The only other player out there with a known offer from Colorado is another Hawaiian, three-star defensive tackle prospect Sealii Epenesa. The 6′2,″ 300-pounder is considered to be the 47th-best defensive tackle in the nation by Rivals.com. Unfortunately for Buff fans, Epenesa has three official visits planned—and none are to Boulder. Epenesa has trips scheduled for Baylor, UCLA, and Oregon State. Colorado would have to be considered an outsider at this point.
That’s it for defensive line prospects for the class of 2010. The recruiting services list no other offers to defensive lineman who have not already made commitments elsewhere. Then again, Troy Jones, the running back from New Jersey who committed to Colorado Jan. 5, wasn’t on the list of known Buff prospects.
We’ll just have to wait until Feb. 3 to know for sure how many new defensive linemen will join the returning crew of young—and hopefully improving—Colorado defenders.