BOULDER - Last season, the Colorado Buffaloes made 'The Rise' real in Boulder. While a stout defensive front was key to the Buffs' success, they would have been nowhere without their high-powered offense, the bulk of whom are returning for the 2017 season.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Steven Montez is set to take over the offensive reins, and senior running back Phil Lindsay, a perennial team captain, should continue to dominate on the ground, in the receiving game and in a leadership capacity.
But it is the rising class of veteran receivers who will pave the way for Colorado's success in 2017. Colorado's receivers Seniors Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross were the heart of the Buffaloes' offense last season, racking up jaw-dropping touchdowns and big chunks of yardage with help from Jay MacIntyre, Kabion Ento and others. While the receivers had moments where they truly shined as a unit—the matchup at Michigan, for example—they never managed to consistently come together as an offensive juggernaut. This season will be a different story.
The Buffs know that of Pac-12 championship to . With so much turnover on defense, the largely veteran receiving corps will be tasked with carrying the Buffs to new heights.
"I think the thing that sets our guys apart, there’s a lot of other great receivers in our league who can make these same plays, but when you talk about great receivers, they make hard catches," head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "And our guys, all four of our starting wide receivers, have made those catches in big games."
It's not just their skill set that makes the Buffs receiving unit one of the best in college football. They also have a togetherness dynamic that has helped propel them to a higher level.
"They really care about each other," Colorado co-offensive coordinator and receiver's coach Darrin Chiaverini said. "I’ve been places where the receivers are the selfish group and it’s all about me. What I like about this group is, yeah, they’re all competitive and they want to catch footballs, but they care about the guy next to them. When you care about your teammates, when you care about the guys in your room, that’s when special things can happen. These guys care about each other and that’s why they’re playing well."
For the Buffs, it all starts on the outside with the speedy deep threats of Fields and Bobo—one of whom was responsible for one of the best catches in college football last season. The duo is capable of turning the tide of a matchup, and both have compiled hefty resumes as they enter their senior seasons.
Fields is something special. His ability to effortlessly break out 50-yard touchdowns sets him apart among college wideouts. His speed, route-running, and penchant for creating separation make him a true deep threat. If he can put together a senior season that builds on his past success at Colorado (leading the team in receiving and potentially earning a career touchdown title), Fields will be NFL-bound in April.
He also sincerely believes in the talent of his teammates.
"Honestly, we don’t have one or two guys that can get in the end zone," Fields said. "We have multiple guys that if one were to go down, god forbid, that next person can step up and it won’t change a thing.”
One of those guys is Bobo. Posted opposite of Fields, he played in 13 of 14 games as a junior, racking up 494 yards and two touchdowns in 2016. Coaches are saying he's having the best fall camp of his career. His size and speed give him an advantage in most matchups, and his evolution has been key to the Buffs' offense.
But CU's talent isn't all on the outside. Ross has been a truly versatile weapon in the slot, churning out short downs and big plays alike. With 543 yards and five touchdowns last season, Ross was second on the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. In his own words, Ross considers himself a multi-dimensional asset to the team.
"I think I add speed to the offense, and I can open up defenses and make them focus on me downfield so we can have running lanes for Phil and for the quarterbacks," Ross said. "I feel like I’m a good possession receiver as well as a deep threat."
Add MacIntyre, who has proved essential and effective in short yardage situations, and has been a key piece of the Buffs versatile receiving attack, to that list. He has stepped into crucial downs and converted for Colorado time and time again.
And that's just the starting four. Highly-touted transfer Juwann Winfree is returning from a season-ending ACL injury that cost him his entire junior campaign, senior Ento has shined in his limited snaps and junior Lee Walker has flashed playmaking potential as well.
With so much talent on their roster, the guy at the helm of it all doesn't believe that defenses stand a chance at containing the Buffs this season.
“It really makes it hard on the defensive guys,” Montez said, “because they’re looking around seeing Bobo, seeing Shay, and they look inside and see Devin Ross, they see Jay Mac, who’s extremely efficient on third down, they see Phil Lindsay in the backfield, coming out of the backfield. I mean, honestly, I’m not sure how defenses are gonna stop it.”
CU's head coach knows exactly how special his depth and versatility at receiver is.
"It’s kind of funny, it seems like it’s a different guy every week," MacIntyre said. "They’re not over there pouting if they don’t get enough balls, they just keep playing. I think that’s a credit to their mentality - they don’t get selfish."
At least part of that mindset can be traced back to their "Black Out Boyz" nickname, which they each embrace in a unique way.
For Fields, it translates to points on the board.
“Black Out Boyz means touchdowns," Fields said. "Honestly, anybody that catches the ball - they can go for six with this receiving corps.”
For Ento, it's motivation for excellence.
"Black Out Boyz is a brotherhood," he said. "It's somebody that you want to work hard for."
Ross considers it the mark that this group will leave on the university.
"Black Out Boyz to us is just the legacy that Colorado has left in the past with receivers, and we wanted to give it a name for us and for them," he said. "We just come in every day ready to play, ready to make plays. That’s all it’s really about - playing for each other and making plays when the opportunity presents itself."
That tradition won't stop when this crop of seniors graduates - the younger Buffs have the talent and ambition to succeed in their own right. Freshmen K.D. Nixon and Laviska Shenault have both been impressive through fall camp, while Maurice Bell and Jaylon Jackson will both look to validate high expectations upon recovery from their respective injuries.
"I’ve been impressed with their ability to come out here against the veteran guys and make plays," Chiaverini said. "They’re a talented group - Laviska Shenault has stepped up and made plays and so has K.D. Nixon, and they have a bright future if they continue to work and stay committed to what we’re doing."
With their legacy yet to be written, the Buffs wideouts know that they need to improve on last year's performance. If the offense is going to lead the charge to the college postseason, the 'Black Out Boyz' have to be even better.
"You gotta work even harder when you have some success," Chiaverini said. "You have to work twice as hard to get to that level and then to get past that level. We didn’t play well at the end of the year and it was evident in those last two games, so there’s a bad taste in my mouth, there’s a bad taste in a lot of these players who played last year, in their mouth. It should motivate them to hold themselves to a higher standard this year."
The influence of the Rise and the end of last season are apparent. The Buffs receivers know exactly what this offense is capable of in 2017, and they are radiating confidence.
"The sky is the limit," Ross said. "There’s no team on our schedule that we can’t beat, just like coach Chev (Chiaverini) preaches to us every day. We saw a little glimpse of that last year - nobody in the Pac-12 can beat us and no one can beat us at Folsom. So that’s the mindset we take with us - we want to go undefeated, but we gotta take it one game at a time."
The Black Out Boyz are blocking out any whispers of regression - it's conference champions or bust in Boulder.
"We’re trying to be the best in the country, but more importantly we want to be the best for this team," Ento said. "We want to help our team get to Pac-12 champs, national champs. We don’t play for second."
This Colorado offense has all of the tools in place to dominate their division. The desire to vindicate themselves after last season's disappointing finish, to prove the Rise was not a fluke and to answer the call of the NFL should propel the Buffs' receivers to the top of college football's ranks and potentially earn CU another trip to a bowl game.