Every year, shortly after signing day, I make Colorado signee predictions in eight different categories. Without further adieu, introducing my 2014 picks:
Top Offensive Signee: Shay Fields
The Buffaloes' lone four-star signee, Fields is the type of athlete that is so fluid and explosive that he simply makes playing wide receiver look easy. But it hasn't always been easy for Fields, who was told early during his prep career that he would never be an elite receiver because of his size. He is not a tiny receiver, at 5-foot-11, 165-pounds, but is not the prototypical 6-foot-2, 195-pound wide receiver that is becoming all the rage in college football. Still, Fields developed his skills and became a top five wide receiver recruit in California during his senior season at Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco. He committed to Boise State initially, switched to USC, de-committed from the Trojans, then switched his pledge to the Buffs late in the process.
"Of course on offense with Paul Richardson leaving, we were trying to find a guy or two that could run like Paul and we definitely feel like we found one in Shay Fields," Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre said on signing day. "He comes from a great program, they won the state of California's highest classification and were ranked No. 2 in the nation and he was the go-to receiver. I feel like he can really run. I'm really excited about Shay."
"He has very good hands and he's very elusive," he added. "He's a really good route runner for his age. He had a really good high school receiver coach, Brian Treggs, who played at Cal. He really has taught him a lot of good receiving skills and he understands that. They had a good passing game for high school, a really good passing game. And their quarterback is a really good passer so, he was able to run a lot of the routes. A lot of the time in high school your quarterback is not as good so you can't run as many routes. So he was able to do that and that was good for him."
Runner-up: Cade Apsay
Previous picks for Top Offensive Signee - 2013: Sefo Liufau, 2012: Shane Dillon, 2011: Nelson Spruce, 2010: Nick Hirschman, 2009: Jack Harris, 2008: Darrell Scott, 2007: Ryan Miller, 2006: Wes Simon, 2005: Maurice Greer*
Top Defensive Signee: Michael Mathewes
When asked which signees he expects to make an instant impact, MacIntyre said they will need one of their defensive end signees, Mathewes or Terran Hasselbach, to play immediately. Mathewes is a prime candidate to get on the field as a true freshman. He has a college ready, 6-foot-4, 240-pound, frame. Mathewes was named first-team all-state and the South Coast League Defensive Player of the Year after recording more than a sack per game during his senior campaign at Mission Viejo (Calif.) High. Oklahoma, Arizona State and Vanderbilt all came close to offering late in the process, but he told them he was solid with Colorado.
"I am a man of my word and I know Colorado is living up to their word so I always told the other colleges that I am already committed and I am not backing off of it," said Mathewes. "My family and I are real pumped about Colorado. Colorado has said I have a chance to start my freshman year as a defensive end if I rush the passer there like I did in high school. I think maybe in a year or two down the line they might be able to move me in to defensive tackle, depending on how big I get."
Runner-up: Grant Watanabe
Previous picks for Top Defensive Signee - 2013: Chidobe Awuzie , 2012: Yuri Wright, 2011: Juda Parker, 2010: Chidera Uzo-Diribe, 2009: Nick Kasa, 2008: Jon Major, 2007: Drew Hudgins, 2006: Marquez Herrod, 2005: Maurice Lucas
Most Underrated: Dylan Keeney
While he is a three-star prospect on Rivals.com, and traditionally the pick in this category has been a two-star signee, Dylan Keeney looks like a blue-chip tight end recruit on film. He did not earn that recognition, however, and was only offered by non-power conference programs, aside from Colorado. He averaged nearly 20 yards per reception as a senior, his first year starting as a tight end after playing linebacker earlier in his prep career at Granite Bay (Calif.) High, and had a team-high 13 touchdown catches. At 6-foot-6, 215-pounds, Keeney will have to gain weight to be a well-rounded tight end in college but he could make a big impact as a pass catcher early at Colorado.
"We feel like we have a tight end that can stretch the field, and we really are excited about Dylan Keeney and his ability to do that," MacIntyre said. "When he played outside linebacker [as a junior], I was like, 'wow, that guy can move.' Then this year they moved him to tight end. Well, we had him come to our camp and we put him at tight end before that. He ran and caught the ball and we go, 'oh, my gosh, this is Ryan Otten all over again.' Ryan was an all-WAC player who broke every record at San Jose State and he's playing for the Chargers now.
"[Keeney] goes to another camp in the Seattle area or something and there is another tight end there that is a four-star and he was offered by everybody. They go through all the drills and everybody goes, 'who in the world is Dylan Keeney? They completely forgot about the other kid."
Runner-up: Josh Kaiser
Previous picks for Most Underrated - 2013: Michael Adkins, 2012: Donta Abron, 2011: Brady Daigh, 2010: Cordary Clark*, 2009: DaVaughn Thornton, 2008: Rodney Stewart, 2007: Chris Perri, 2006: Wes Simon, 2005: Kevin Moyd
Top Athlete: Lee Walker
Walker is technically considered a transfer by Rivals.com because he signed with the Wildcats last February, but he never enrolled at Arizona. He is now academically eligible, enrolled at Colorado, and ready to compete during spring practices. Walker accounted for 755 receiving yards, 549 kick return yards and 481 punt return yards while helping San Diego (Calif.) Madison to a state championship in 2012. Like Fields, Walker will add speed, legit 4.4-second 40-yard dash speed, to the Buffaloes' wide receiving corps.
"I have been told I have pure instincts and speed. And I am a playmaker so that is what they say they need on the Colorado offense," Walker said. "Not saying that the guys there aren't playmakers, every guy is different on the field, but they said my playmaking ability is something they really need on the offense. I am sure there are a lot of colleges that don't know I signed with Colorado. Hopefully I can catch them by surprise, especially Arizona."
Runner-up: Donovan Lee
Previous picks for Top Athlete - 2013: Devin Ross, 2012: Gerald Thomas, 2011: Rashad Hall*, 2010: Donnie Duncan*, 2009: Andre Simmons, 2008: Rodney Stewart, 2007: Markques Simas, 2006: Sherman Lang*, 2005: Gardner McKay
Most Ready to Make an Instant Impact: Ahkello Witherspoon
It is almost a given that long snapper signee Wyatt Smith will step immediately into a starting role, so picking him for this category would feel like cheating.
Witherspoon's growth spurt made him a Pac-12 recruit, and now the long and versatile defensive back is on campus at Colorado for spring practices and ready to battle for a starting gig in the Buffaloes' secondary. Witherspoon was 5-foot-8 beginning his senior year of high school and had grown to 6-foot-2.5 by the end of his freshman campaign at Sacramento (Calif.) City College, where he played both cornerback and safety. He will have four-to-play-three with the Buffs.
"We signed some big corners (Witherspoon and Jaisen Sanchez, who is 6-foot-1) that we think can help us," MacIntyre said. "Receivers are getting bigger and bigger, and they're faster, so you have to get bigger and faster. We felt good about that area."
Runner-up: Evan White
Previous picks for Most Ready to Make an Instant Impact - 2013: Bryce Bobo, 2012: Kisima Jagne*, 2011: Will Oliver, 2010: Tony Jones, 2009: Edward Nuckols*, 2008: Shaun Mohler, 2007: P.T. Gates*, 2006: Jimmy Smith, 2005: George Hypolite
Most Versatile: Donovan Lee
As his coach at West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade, Ed Croson, put it, Lee was just a couple inches short of being a "national recruit with offers from everyone, including USC and UCLA." The 5-foot-8, 167-pounder was named the Mission League Defensive Player of the Year as a cornerback and accounted for 2,800 all-purpose yards in 2013. He is categorized by Colorado as an athlete, and could factor in on either side of the ball, as well as a returner on special teams, once he arrives in Boulder.
"There are some schools that are going to regret that they did not offer him because he is that good," Croson said. "Colorado is getting a good one. He has great change of direction, he runs well and he is tougher than nails for a [small] guy."
Runner-up: Jay MacIntyre
Previous picks for Most Versatile - 2013: Kenneth Olugbode, 2012: Marques Mosley, 2011: Kyle Washington, 2010: Harold Mobley, 2009: Josh Moten, 2008: Ray Polk, 2007: Anthony Wright, 2006: Nate Solder, 2005: Riar Geer
Most Personable: Christian Shaver
Candid and funny, if Shaver becomes a starter for the Buffaloes, he will be a popular interview request. It was important for him to play for a coaching staff that he felt matched his personality, and Shaver said he found that at Colorado.
Shaver, from Sandy (Utah) Jordan, made an unpopular pick in his area by committing to the Buffaloes and shunning interest from the in-state Utes. He will play outside linebacker, or a hybrid rush end role, at Colorado.
Runner-up: Terran Hasselbach
Previous picks for Most Personable - 2013: Phillip Lindsay, 2012: John Walker, 2011: Sherrard Harrington, 2010: Evan Harrington, 2009: David Bakhtiari, 2008: Tyler Hansen, 2007: Mike Iltis, 2006: Quintin Borders*, 2005: Reggie Foster*
Biggest Surprise: Jay MacIntyre
The only 2014 signee that was not on the commitment list going into Wednesday was the son of Colorado's head coach. Jay announced at 7:30 am on signing day that he was choosing Colorado over Wyoming, among other offers. In the aftermath of the Dan Hawkins and Cody Hawkins melodrama that took place at Colorado, it was a topic that generated much discussion among the Buffs' fan base, and still does. The younger MacIntyre will not play quarterback at Colorado, however.
"We're excited about Jay. That was a hard decision for Jay, but when it came down to it he loves Colorado, he wants to be a part of what we're doing, and he's excited about doing that," the elder MacIntyre said. "He's a young man that can really run fast, he's really quick, and he can play multiple positions."
"I had the staff watch him four separate times without me in the room, and had them debate and talk about it," he added. "And every man, they all came and said he can play for us. He can play slot receiver, he can return punts, so they did it all. I said, 'ya'll got to tell me, because I'm not going to bring my son in here to a situation where he can't help us.' I said, 'he's got other offers, he can go play other places,' so then we started recruiting him. I let [special teams coach] Toby Neinas do most all the recruiting with him."
Runner-up: Sully Wiefels
Previous picks for Biggest Surprise - 2013: Tedric Thompson, 2012: Christian Powell, 2011: Stephane Nembot, 2010: Kirk Poston, 2009: Andre Simmons, 2008: Darrell Scott, 2007: Sione Tau, 2006: Cody Hawkins, 2005: James Lewis*
*Indicates signee did not end up playing at CU