BOULDER, Colo. - Stephane Nembot has been on quite a journey the last four years. The latest test for the CU freshman has been to learn the nuances of offensive line play.
Nembot's athletic potential was initially discovered in 2008 in his home country of Cameroon by an American high school basketball coach. He convinced Nembot to move more than 8,200 miles away to Los Angeles.
"He was looking for tall guys and I happened to be at the right spot at the right time," recalls Nembot, who now stands 6-foot-8, 305-pounds. "The coach told me I have potential to be a great basketball player so he helped me in the process of coming to the U.S. to start playing in California. It wasn't something I had planned."
Nembot arrived in the United States with every intention of making a name for himself as a basketball player. Heck, he didn't even know how to play football.
"We never played football in Africa so I always played basketball," Nembot said in a previous interview with BuffStampede.com. "A coach in California that teaches little kids how to play football told me, 'dude, you are huge. What are you waiting for? If you play football, you can buy your mom and dad a house.'"
Nembot went out for the football team at Montclair Prep as a junior, but looking back, he admits that he did it for fun and thought he would give up the sport after a short trial period. When opposing teams started double teaming Nembot that fall, however, he started to realize he should take football seriously. Initially a defensive end, Nembot earned second-team all-league honors and recorded 36 tackles in his first year playing organized football.
Nembot also lettered in basketball, soccer and volleyball during his junior year of high school. He was named his league's top defender in hoops, but decided to stop playing basketball before he began his senior year.
"I decided to focus just on football," Nembot said.
Nembot was named the Alpha League Lineman of the Year as a senior after recording 61 tackles and 11 sacks. Rivals.com tabbed him, "the most intriguing prospect in the west." During his recruiting process, he received scholarship offers from USC, UCLA, Stanford, Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona State and of course, Colorado.
Nembot declared his college decision on signing day, proudly putting on a Buffs hat. His parents got to watch a video stream of his announcement over the internet in Africa.
Because Nembot attended his freshman year of high school in Cameroon, it took a while for the NCAA Clearinghouse to receive the necessary transcripts to approve him academically last summer. Frustrated, Nembot waited anxiously to join his new teammates in Boulder. He finally received clearance in mid-July.
Knowing that he needed further development as a football player, Nembot asked the CU coaches to redshirt him. He also asked to move from defensive end to offensive tackle, a request that was granted.
For the last 11 months, Nembot has tried his best to be a sponge, absorbing as much information from his coaches and teammates as he can.
"Stephane is doing well," Buffs head coach Jon Embree said this week. "Every time he does something, it is kind of his first time a little bit. There are a lot of moving pieces with our defense, all the fronts and schemes. Sometimes a guy runs scot-free, but for the most part he has a good feel for it. He is getting a lot better with his technique. He is such a competitive kid, such a conscious kid and it is important to him. I know he'll be successful."
Nembot has been working exclusively at right tackle since he made the move to offense last September. He was listed third on the pre-camp depth chart at the position.
"Progression is good. I can't complain yet," Nembot said. "Sometimes I get frustrated but it is a learning process. Everything does not come in one day. [Offensive line] coach [Steve] Marshall tells me that whenever I know what I am doing, I am dangerous when I am doing it. So I have to mostly learn technique and the playbook.
"There are times when I am supposed to help my guy and double block for a little bit and leave. I always like to stay there and help him until that guy is knocked down before I leave but Coach Marshall told me when we are doing that, I just have to go. It is hard because I like to always give extra help."
It has been four years since Nembot last saw his parents, older brother and younger sister. He is not sure if they will get a chance to visit him while he is at CU.
"The plane ticket is very expensive," Nembot said. "I can't believe how tall my sister is getting. She is way taller than she is supposed to be, just like me. I like to focus while in training camp but usually I call home every Sunday."
Nembot hopes to obtain a starting job on the Buffaloes' offensive line down the road, but in the meantime, he is content just trying to get better every day.
Thursday practice notes -
When asked if the vibe out on the practice fields has changed at all since Jordan Webb was named the starting quarterback on Wednesday, Embree said the team has "had a good vibe" all camp.
"It is good we have been practicing with a certain attitude, a certain mindset from the beginning," Embree said. "We had a real good practice today. They had good energy. We are starting to take shape as a team on both sides of the football."
The Buffs will practice in shells Friday morning before Saturday's scrimmage. Embree said a lot of jobs are still up for grabs.
"We are going to see what happens up front on the defensive line, we'll see what is going on in the back end [in our secondary]," Embree added. "Offensive line is pretty much set. At receiver, we have to get a feel for what that rotation looks like and who is going to be in it. So, yeah, there are guys playing for stuff."
The back-up quarterback spot might also be decided on Saturday.
Linebacker Kyle Washington has returned to practice after suffering a concussion earlier on during camp. Embree is not sure if either wide receiver Gerald Thomas (groin) or linebacker Brady Daigh (concussion) will participate in Saturday's scrum.
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