At its apex, the Colorado football program found some of its best players in Texas.
It was like that when Buffs coach Bill McCartney recruited the H-town boys — Kanavis McGhee, Alfred Williams and Arthur Walker — to spearhead a run of nationally-ranked teams.
And now, as the Buffs once again tap into that pipeline — one that has produced two of the program’s biggest stars of the past three seasons in Laviska Shenault and Jarek Broussard — they have an opportunity to make further in-roads into the Lone Star State by playing in the Alamo Bowl on Tuesday.
Not only are they playing in one of the biggest bowl games in Texas, they’re also playing Texas, the state’s flagship program.
“Playing Texas, back in our own home state, it’s an exciting feeling. Everybody’s locked in,” said left tackle Will Sherman, a Texas native. “The California guys have our back because (playing Texas) is kind of like their USC or UCLA. All of the Texas guys are fired up.”
It’s the respect factor that’s important for recruiting. Especially in a state as football crazy as Texas. And right now, Colorado doesn’t have much of it.
The Pac-12 hasn’t been represented in the College Football Playoff since the 2016 season, and the CU Buffs’ last bowl game came that same year. One Texas football player, starting running back Bijan Robinson, said he didn’t even know Colorado was once in the Big 12.
Re-establishing the Buffs in the Lone Star State is something Darrin Chiaverini made his mission since being hired away from Texas Tech in 2016 to be a wide receivers coach and later recruiting coordinator for his alma mater.
“We were heavily involved in recruiting Texas back in the ’90s in the Bill McCartney era, Gary Barnett era, that was always a focal point. Even with Coach (Rick) Neuheisel,” Chiaverini said. “We recruited Texas very well so I was really surprised when I got hired in 2016, I looked at the roster, I noticed there weren’t a lot of players from the state of Texas.”
Almost immediately, the Buffs went from having one coach recruiting Texas to eight.
And the results were dramatic, as that pipeline quickly produced the likes of Sherman, Shenault, KD Nixon, Chris Miller and Alex Fontenot — all players who have started for Colorado since 2017.
The number of Texans on CU’s roster has more than doubled from 10 in 2016 to 22 this season. Six of them will be starting in the Alamo Bowl, five on offense. That, of course, includes redshirt sophomore running back Broussard — the Pac-12 offensive player of the year who hails from Dallas.
The pitch, according to Chiaverini, is proximity. Colorado is a relatively short flight from Texas, getting from gate to gate in around two hours. And Chiaverini said that once the recruit realizes how close it is, the facilities and the surroundings of Boulder, it becomes an easier sell.
Chiaverini admits that Texas recruits have been worried about living in a colder climate, but he tells them about the 300-plus days of sunshine in Colorado and when it’s 45 degrees out, it feels more like 60.
“When we get them on campus and they come to a game in the wintertime or in the fall,” Chiaverini said, “they’re really blown away by that.”
Karl Dorrell and his coaching staff have continued to recruit Texas. They currently have three 2021 signees from the state, and Dorrell believes that is only going to grow.
“It has been a good pipeline for us for a long period of time,” Dorrell said. “I want to make sure we still have those pipelines running. (Recruiting Texas) is extremely important. It’s a good piece of what we are in terms of our program.”
In the Buffs’ Big 12 glory days, it might’ve been easier to go into Texas and sell Colorado because recruits knew they would be playing all of the nearby schools, and beating them. It’s a lot different now, but Chiaverini believes that he can use that to CU’s advantage.
“I feel like we have an advantage being the closest Pac 12 team in the West,” Chiaverini said. “And we have to dive into that and be consistent, and build these relationships with these high school coaches in those areas.”
Despite playing in the Pac-12, they have still shown a desire to play games with programs in Texas. CU will play Texas A&M at home in 2021, and has a home-and-home series with TCU in 2022 and 2023 followed by a home-and-home with Houston in 2025 and 2026.
When they step on the field at the Alamodome Tuesday, the Buffs will be ready to make a statement in more ways than one. They’ll be looking to gain some respect.
“This is going to be a big game for not only us but the program as well,” Broussard said. “And also the Pac-12. I feel like we deserve some respect as a conference. Just having this opportunity is a good thing overall.”
Texas athletes at CU
The Buffs have made steady gains in the Lone Star State since Darrin Chiaverini arrived on campus. Here’s a look at the number of recruits on CU’s roster by year.
* Coach Darrin Chiaverini takes over as recruiting coordinator
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