As an 18-year-old in 2020, Christian Gonzalez was thrown into the Colorado Buffaloes’ starting lineup.
There were some bumps along the way, but the 6-foot-2, 200-pound cornerback showed enough promise that his own teammate, junior cornerback Mekhi Blackmon said, “He’s gonna run the conference. There’s no doubt, he’s gonna run the conference.”
Gonzalez, who turned 19 over the summer, smiled when he heard about that comment, but knows he can’t get caught up in potential or expectations as he prepares for Friday’s season opener at Folsom Field against Northern Colorado (7 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Networks).
“It’s just an everyday thing,” he said of maintaining his focus. “I’ve got to come in and obviously … it’s a goal (to be the best in the Pac-12). I just tell myself, that I’m working for my family and working for everybody back home. And that’s just what drives me to keep going every day.”
Following a stellar career at The Colony (Texas) High School, where he starred on offense and defense, Gonzalez came into CU loaded with confidence. Earning – and keeping – a starting role last year only enhanced it.
“That definitely boosted it a lot,” said Gonzalez, who had 19 tackles and a pass breakup during the five-game regular season. “It was hard transitioning, but not as hard as I thought. Just playing last year and going through the spring, it gave me so much confidence and I’m super excited to unleash it.”
Gonzalez has matured physically since last season but has also developed his mental game.
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“I’ve learned how to watch (film), how to pick up on offensive tendencies and seeing plays develop a lot quicker than when I did last year,” he said. “I’m definitely being more confident in mental strength.”
Technically still a young player at 19 years old, Gonzalez is becoming a leader. He’s on CU’s leadership council has spent part of this month helping CU’s talented trio of freshmen corners – Kaylin Moore, Nikko Reed and Tyrin Taylor – acclimate to college life.
“With the playing time and spring and meetings and learning so much more football, I feel more as a leader on the defense and in the corner room,” he said.
Getting Clayton ready
Throughout preseason practices, Ashaad Clayton’s name hasn’t come up too much, but running backs coach Darian Hagan said the second-year freshman and former four-star recruit will be ready to go Friday.
“He’s doing really good,” Hagan said. “He’s got some nagging things going on with him right now, but he’ll be fine. The thing about him is he’s so talented, we’ve just got to keep him interested. I was the same way as a player. You’ve got to keep him interested.”
That is perhaps the toughest task in front of Hagan. CU’s running backs room, led by Jarek Broussard and Alex Fontenot, is deeper and more talented than it has been in years. That makes it tough to spread the ball around to the backs, but Hagan is excited to see what Clayton does with his opportunity.
“As long as he’s getting carries and as long as he’s out there practicing and doing the things that he’s supposed to do, he’s fine,” Hagan said. “I just can’t wait till next Friday and unleash all these guys because they’re all scratching and clawing to get out there and prove what they can do.”
When the Buffs went looking for a quarterback in the transfer portal last winter, one of the players they scouted was Dylan McCaffrey, who played at Michigan from 2017-19 before opting out of the 2020 season.
McCaffrey wound up at UNC to play for his father, Bears head coach Ed McCaffrey. Dylan McCaffrey is expected to start for the Bears on Friday night, so the Buffs’ coaches are going back to the work they did in scouting him last winter.
“We did have a chance to watch what he’s done in Michigan, and obviously that’s a different system,” head coach Karl Dorrell said. “Who knows what the system of offense they’re doing right now (at UNC), but he’s obviously a very capable player, a very talented kid. It’s a very athletic McCaffrey family.
“We’ve got to do a good job of defending him and the offense and their skill and just keeping our eyes in the right position and just running to the football. Those are the things that we’ve got to kind of focus on and settle in as the game goes.”
At Michigan, McCaffrey was 18-for-35 for 242 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 166 yards and two touchdowns on 23 attempts.
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