Colorado could be without one of its best offensive players for a while.
On Monday, it was revealed running back Alex Fontenot, the Buffaloes’ leading rusher in 2019, will miss Saturday’s season opener against UCLA (5 p.m., TV: ESPN2) with an undisclosed injury.
On Tuesday, head coach Karl Dorrell said there’s no guarantee the 6-foot, 205-pound junior from Richmond, Tex., will play this season. Fontenot was injured in practice late last week.
“It’s unfortunate that he’s dealing with an issue but it’s not surgical, which is a good thing,” Dorrell said. “He’s gonna have to heal up. This is a short season and no one’s losing eligibility this year, so we hope to have him back at some point this year and if not, then we’ll have him ready to go next year in the fall.”
As a first-year starter in 2019, Fontenot led the Buffs with 874 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, while handling 57.6 percent of the running back carries. He also caught 27 passes for 122 yards.
“He’s obviously very disappointed,” Dorrell said. “He was counting on himself coming back from a pretty good sophomore year, coming in and playing this year.”
CU is now without two of its top three backs from last season, as sophomore Deion Smith suffered a knee injury this summer. It’s unlikely that Smith, who rushed for 68 yards on 23 carries in 2019, will play this season.
Despite those losses, the Buffs are still loaded with talent at running back. Sophomore Jaren Mangham was second on the team with 441 yards and three touchdowns last season and sophomore Joe Davis is back. The Buffs also have two true freshmen in Ashaad Clayton and Jayle Stacks. Clayton, a four-star recruit, was the highest-rated player in CU’s 2020 class.
For now the leader of the group is Jarek Broussard, a redshirt sophomore who was exceptional in practice the past few weeks and has earned the starting nod for Saturday. Broussard missed the 2019 season with a knee injury and has yet to play in a game at CU.
“He came in to camp and really continually got better day after day after day and didn’t miss a practice,” Dorrell said. “Just stayed in great health, and he had a couple of scrimmages where he just played very, very soundly and did some very efficient things as a runner. Really good in protection. You can’t underestimate his size because he’s strong and he’s got great balance.
“I’m just so excited for him, because that’s a pretty tough road to overcome. He deserves it. He had the most consistency in our camp.”
Wells leading OLBs
Outside linebacker Carson Wells missed just two games in 2019, but he spent the majority of the season in pain with plantar fasciitis. This year, the junior is healthy and ready to roll.
“(The injury) kind of slowed me down throughout the whole season,” he said. “This offseason I focused on getting more limber, did some yoga, a lot of stretching and just made sure I stay loose and feel good.”
One of CU’s most experienced defenders, Wells had 57 tackles and a sack last year after posting 34 tackles and 4.5 sacks as a freshman in 2018.
“He comes out to practice every day with, number one, leadership and experience, which is great in our room right now,” outside linebackers coach Brian Michalowski said. “But he plays with high effort, high energy. He’s physical at the point of attack. His development has been great, to be able to coach him going into year two and work specifically on some of his pass rush moves. We had great opportunity this offseason, despite the pandemic, to really focus in on a lot of the little things and the details within our calls.”
Outside of Wells, the Buffs lack experience at outside linebacker, but junior college transfer Guy Thomas sits atop the depth chart at the spot opposite Wells. Junior Jamar Montgomery and redshirt freshman Joshka Gustav have also played well in practice.
True freshman Christian Gonzalez earned a starting job at left cornerback with his consistency and ability to learn the defense.
“He’s one of those, I think, rare kids that really came in and digested our system,” Dorrell said. “There’s not a lot of true freshmen that can do that. He’s a very talented kid. I think he’s going to be a good player. He’s got great size and speed. He has the right mindset in terms of least the core of what he needs for his development, and he’s going to continue to get better as he gets older.”
Gonzalez is one of only two true freshmen listed among the top two on the depth chart for offense or defense, along with Brenden Rice, who is listed second at one of the wide receiver positions.
Freshman walk-on dual threat quarterback Mike Chandler has done his best to emulate UCLA’s talented quarterback, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, in practice, but it’s not easy to do. “Dorian’s a really, really good player,” Dorrell said. “He’s a dynamic player. He’s obviously a tremendous athlete. I think he’s one of the better ones in our conference, for sure.” … CU did not practice on Tuesday, as student-athletes were given an NCAA-mandated day off for Election Day.
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