CU’s Stephane Nembot speaks with new Buffs coach Mike MacIntyre during spring practice.
CU's Stephane Nembot speaks with new Buffs coach Mike MacIntyre during spring practice. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

Stephane Nembot made a lonely post-practice walk up the steep hill to the Dal Ward Center on Tuesday night after staying late to pick his new position coach's brain and then granting an interview request from a reporter.

And what an unusual sight it was as the 6-foot-8, 310-pound offensive tackle from Cameroon gracefully disappeared into the thick snowstorm.

This unique gentle giant from Central Africa is making a great sacrifice to play football at Colorado.

"I haven't seen my parents for five years. I left when I was 16, and I'm 21," Nembot said. "It's rough. Every day I'm calling back home. My mom hasn't seen a picture of me for four years, she doesn't know how I look right now. She's probably going to be scared when she sees me."

Nembot is the first player Mike MacIntyre would choose to get off the bus to intimidate an opposing team. CU's first-year head coach is a fan of the redshirt sophomore's Paul Bunyan build and work ethic.

"He is coming along well. He's really working hard, and you see it every day," MacIntyre said. "He has really learned and asked questions and he wants to do good. He's a pleasure to be a round."

Four years ago, American football was a completely foreign concept to Nembot. He came to this country as a high school exchange student hoping his height and skills in the low post would lead to a college basketball scholarship.

At Montclair High School in Van Nuys, Calif., an assistant football coach talked Nembot into becoming an unstoppable force/immovable object on the defensive line.

Soon the athletic Nembot, who lettered in soccer and volleyball in addition to basketball, was receiving scholarship offers from Pac-12 football programs.

Jon Embree and his staff flipped Nembot from a verbal commitment to Washington and then changed his position from defensive end to offensive tackle while redshirting the talented project in 2011.

Nembot saw his first action last season on special teams against Colorado State, played on the offensive line for the first time at Fresno State, and made his first start against Washington State.

The Pac-12 All-Academic second team selection made seven starts and finished with five direct touchdown blocks on an offense that didn't get into the end zone very often.

"I have to work on my footwork and stuff like that because the defensive way of playing and the offensive way of playing are very different," Nembot said of the ongoing adjustment. "This year I'm actually excited because of the improvement. I've just got to get a little more violent with my hands. Last year I would just go hit guys, that's all I knew to do."

Nembot was used primarily in the running game and substituted out for obvious passing situations in 2012. This spring he is one of only 10 healthy offensive linemen providing the quarterbacks with protection in MacIntyre's pass-happy version of the pistol offense.

"I think he needs reps and just playing football. He didn't grow up playing Pop Warner football, flag football, and all those things," CU offensive line coach Gary Bernardi said. "That's why staying healthy is so important to him because he's getting reps. He's just playing football. ...

"It's interesting when you stop and think about a guy who hasn't played football (growing up). But everybody has a clean slate with me."

Considering his physical attributes and the program's recent history of sending offensive linemen to the NFL (Nate Solder, New England; Ryan Miller, Cleveland; David Bakhtiari, preparing for April's draft), Nembot certainly has a chance to develop into a professional over the next three seasons.

Right?

"I know I have the size, I just don't like talking about it," Nembot said. "Most people play football for the NFL. That wasn't why I played football. I played to get a scholarship and go to school because my mom and my dad were after me like crazy. They don't mess around with education, and I wanted to prove to them that I can do it. That's what I'm doing. I'm getting good grades."

Nembot, an international affairs major, is listed as CU's starting right tackle on MacIntyre's "pencil" depth chart.

During last Friday's scrimmage at Folsom Field, CU's quarterbacks put up video game statistics, completing a combined 39 of 58 passes (67.2 percent) for 517 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

The offensive line paved the way for 7.5 yards per rush attempt and two more touchdowns, but the struggling defense did get credit for seven sacks.

"Sometimes what you see physically walk through a door is not what happens when the ball is snapped because there is a lot of stuff moving," Bernardi said. "(Nembot) has to continue to develop his physicality in a game-playing mode."

The Buffs roster includes players who arrived in Boulder from Hawaii to New Jersey. Most of them go home during breaks and are followed closely by their families on the Pac-12 Network.

Nembot's journey is a lonely one.

"I'm really homesick, but I can't let it bring me down," he said. "I'm an African warrior and I've got to keep fighting. One day the day will come when I see my family again."

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanThorburn