An overtime win against rival Nebraska in 2019 might rank among the top highlights of Brady Russell’s career at Colorado.
He remembers his personal struggle that day, however, playing almost every offensive snap for the Buffs on an 88-degree day in Boulder.
“I was awful,” he said. “By the end of the game, I was playing terrible. I’ve realized over the years how important it is to have good guys behind you and a good supporting cast.”
While Russell has had a long and productive career at CU, the Buffs haven’t gotten much out of their other tight ends in recent years.
Russell, first-year tight ends coach Clay Patterson and coordinator Mike Sanford are doing what they can to change that this year and they work together to develop a group of backups that is very young.
“We definitely need them. We need them bad,” Russell said.
Behind Russell, the Buffs have four redshirt freshmen and a true freshman on scholarship and two true freshman walk-ons.
That group, led by Caleb Fauria and Erik Olsen, keeps improving.
“We talk about our room having a ceiling and a floor,” Patterson said. “Our ceiling is way up here because that’s Brady; he set it really, really high. We’re only going to be as good as our floor. We’ve got to close that gap and I’ve challenged those guys to do that because we can’t have Brady do every single thing every play.”
Fauria, in his third year at CU, has been injured through much of the last two years, but is healthy and aiming to contribute.
“He’s a natural football player,” Patterson said. “He’s a kid that understands the game and he’s still growing every rep, but he’s really done a great job and I think he’s going to surprise some people. He’s got great hands and he’s doing better in the run blocking game.”
Olsen, a former four-star recruit, is “progressing,” Patterson said, while Austin Smith continues to learn the position. An exceptional athlete, Smith went to a small high school and didn’t play much tight end until coming to CU.
“Austin has been fun because he soaks in everything,” Patterson said. “He comes in every day and then usually after practice, we’ll go sit in the creek and he’ll ask me questions. Then we look for fish and look for fishing spots and we get him right.”
Patterson added that true freshman Zach Courtney and walk-on Brady Kopetz played well in the Buffs’ scrimmage on Saturday.
“(They) probably made more progress than I would have expected (over the summer),” Russell said of the youngsters, “but also I think we still could have made more.”
Patterson said the young group is buying into the physicality of the position and the effort required to succeed.
“It’s fun to see them just keep going and getting better, getting better,” said. “What we are versus TCU (on Sept. 2) is not going to be what we are at the end of the year, because they are going to grow up and they’re going to get better as the year goes on.”
Patterson, hired on Jan. 9, is thoroughly enjoying his time at CU, in part because of how he’s improved as a coach.
A veteran coach of 16 years, Patterson has spent most of his career at smaller schools and said he’s now learning a lot from CU head coach Karl Dorrell and receivers coach Phil McGeoghan.
“They’re NFL guys, and just being exposed to the NFL game a little bit more has really, really helped me grow and to see it in a different perspective,” Patterson said.
Patterson is also the Buffs’ passing game coordinator and has enjoyed being involved in the development of the offense. Prior to his time at Minnesota, he was a head coach at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and had nine years of offensive coordinator experience at Trinity Valley Community College and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
“I was a coordinator for basically my whole career before I went to Minnesota,” he said. “Getting to script the plays and be involved with coach Sanford and what we’re doing, it brings joy to me. I have grown tremendously as a coach.”
Running back Alex Fontenot was named to the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award watch list. The award goes to the nation’s best offensive player from the state of Texas. … Russell has spent a lot of time working with quarterbacks Brendon Lewis and JT Shrout, who are competing for the starting job. He enjoys playing with both and admits he’s not sure who is leading the race. “They’re very different styles,” he said. “I’m glad that I’m not making the decision there.”