Buffs Frosh CB Gonzalez Steps Into Veteran's Role
BOULDER — Technically, Colorado Buffaloes cornerback Christian Gonzalez is just a freshman, thanks to a "free" year of eligibility granted after last year's pandemic-affected season.
But Gonzalez, who started all six games for the Buffs in 2020 as a true freshman, has already taken on the role of a veteran — something that hasn't escaped the eye of CU head coach Karl Dorrell.
"The thing I've noticed of him is that he's helping those young corners, even though he's a young corner," Dorrell said earlier this week. "He's sharing his knowledge of what he's learned over the last year. He's gotten better from it and he's trying to help coach up those young players we just got in."
Gonzalez certainly doesn't fill the bill of a rookie any longer. In six games last season, he accounted for 24 tackles, four pass breakups, a quarterback pressure and two touchdown saves.
Opposing teams no doubt targeted Gonzalez when they saw a true freshman lined up in pass coverage. But he improved each week, and by season's end, he was making plays on a regular basis.
"It was definitely a hard transition coming from high school where nobody would throw to my side and then come into college and get picked on," Gonzalez said after Saturday's practice. "But i was ready for that. It's why I came here. I wanted to play early and I did everything I wanted to do. It was a challenge, but you have to more on to the next play. That's what I had to learn."
Gonzalez learned those lessons well enough that he was an honorable mention selection for the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year award.
Now, after a solid, consistent spring ball session and a summer of strength and conditioning, he's ready to step into a role as a breakout Pac-12 player this year.
"He's a quiet, confident player," Dorrell said. "You don't hear much from him vocally but he's a guy that's high on detail, doesn't like to make mistakes."
Gonzalez is also at a position at which the Buffs have built some depth, especially with the addition of some newcomers. CU coaches will be counting on him to provide some guidance and possibly help those youngsters become contributors this season.
That group includes freshman Tyrin Taylor, who enrolled last spring and got some valuable snaps in spring ball, as well as incoming freshmen Kaylin Moore and Nikko Reed.
"(Gonzalez) is sharing his knowledge of what he's learned over the last year," Dorrell said. 'He's gotten better from it and he's trying to help coach up those young players we just got in. We're looking to maybe utilize some of those guys if they can stay caught up with everyone else."
The Buffs also have some other experienced players at the corner spot, including Mekhi Blackmon (six starts last season) and Nigel Bethel.
"We have more depth now than we had a year ago, when we were concerned about who we were going to play," Dorrell said. "Now we have a solid three deep on both sides."
Speaking of three, Gonzalez is sporting that as his new number this year, dropping the 21 he wore last season.
"I wore three in high school and i'm the third child in my family so it was just a meaningful change for me," Gonzalez said. "I like number three, I like single digits."
AIR QUALITY: Day three of fall training camp for the Buffs provided coaches and the training staff with an uncommon issue on Saturday (at least uncommon in Boulder).
Thanks to forest fires across the West, air quality in the Boulder area was less than crystal clear.
But, CU's training staff kept a close eye on air quality index monitors and the Buffs were able to practice outdoors, as the number never reached critical levels.
BUFFS BITS: Dorrell said the offense and defense continue to be evenly matched, with both sides making plays. Saturday, the defense came up with a pair of interceptions. ... CU's two candidates for the starting quarterback job, Brendon Lewis and J.T. Shrout, continue to play well. Both had good team periods Saturday and were able to make plays under pressure. "They were pretty impressive," Dorrell said. "I didn't see any poor decisions today." Both are getting snaps with the No. 1 unit thus far …
While Carson Wells is the clear choice as the starter at one outside linebacker spot, the competition opposite Wells is still up for grabs. Last season, Joshka Gustav, Guy Thomas and Jamar Montgomery all saw some playing time, and Dorrell said the competition hasn't cleared up this fall. "None of them has separated themselves enough for one of them to warrant him to be the mainstay," Dorrell said. "They need to have the most consistency and the most production to match what Carson is doing on the other side. If it doesn't add up that way, we'll continue to have the rotation."
SCHEDULE: After three days in shorts and helmets, the Buffs will add "upper pads" to the equation Sunday. Their first full-pad workout is scheduled for Tuesday, with the first scrimmage of camp set for Saturday, Aug. 14.