A new era of CU football officially kicks off this Saturday against the Hawaii Warriors.
A fresh new coaching staff is looking to re-establish the program and build it back up into the powerhouse it once was. This process starts with Jon Embree, who is restoring a tradition implemented by his coach, Bill McCartney. The tradition was carried on until it was discontinued and covered up by former head coach Dan Hawkins’ staff.
The tradition is simple yet powerful: Every time the Buffaloes win a big game, they paint a brick in the Dal Ward Center to commemorate their victory. And Hawaii is the game Embree and his staff have targeted to “bring back the bricks.”
Not only is it the new regime’s first game, but it also holds significance because of the Buffs’ recent road woes. The Buffs have not won a single road game since 2007, meaning only five players on the roster have felt the experience of traveling back to Boulder with a road victory under their belts.
Although those statistics belong to the previous staff, they still hold weight with the current team. A win against the Warriors would be priceless for the Buffs. However, getting that win will be much more difficult than restoring old program traditions.
Last year the Buffs beat Hawaii, but the game was played at Folsom Field, giving the Buffs a significant advantage considering Boulder’s elevation and the distance the Warriors had to travel. The Buffs also had two three-year starters and future NFL players at cornerback in Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith.
Hawaii, while a relative unknown to casual football fans, boasts a high-powered offense that makes any defensive coordinator cringe. Known for passing the ball early and often, Hawaii returns their starting quarterback, Bryant Moniz, who threw for more than 4,000 yards and 36 touchdowns last season. That high-powered offensive attack will present problems for defensive coordinator Greg Brown and his players.
“Anytime you go against a team that’s that explosive on offense, that’s going to be a challenge,” said senior safety and co-captain Anthony Perkins in Tuesday’s press conference.
To compound this fact, the Buffs lack depth and experience at the cornerback positions, and they will need relatively unproven players to step up against Moniz, who is considered a dark-horse Heisman trophy candidate.
Fifth-year senior and converted safety Travis Sandersfeld and true freshman Greg Henderson will start against the Warriors.
However, the coaching staff and fellow players are confident in the pair’s ability.
“I have a lot of confidence in [Sandersfeld and Brown],” Embree said.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Buffs will need repeat performances from quarterback Tyler Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart. Hansen threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns against Hawaii last year, and Stewart ran for two touchdowns.
A win in Hawaii will not immediately resurrect the Buffaloes, but it would be a great positive step forward for this new coaching staff and would go far in restoring the team’s confidence.
Embree recognizes the game’s importance, but he realizes a lot has to change at CU.
“As far as setting the tone for the program — yes and no — [bringing back the bricks is] big in that manner,” he says. “What the guys will find out, every game is a big game if we want to accomplish things we say we want to accomplish as a team and as a program. … You can’t put too much importance on one game.”