BOULDER — The battle to decide who will enter the fall as Colorado’s starting tailback is all but over.
Unless something dramatic happens in Saturday’s spring game, sophomore Hugh Charles will start practice next season as the man to replace former CU back Bobby Purify, although it appears the carries next season will be split among two — and possibly three — players.
According to offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, Charles’ exceptional speed is too much of a factor to overlook, and as long as he
continues to prove himself in practices, he has an edge over crafty sophomore Byron Ellis, who has come on in a big way the past two weeks.
“I think both of those guys are starting to get it; they’re starting to figure it out,” Watson said. “They’re making the type of progress you hope they would. Every day, they’re becoming players.”
Although Charles will get the bulk of the carries next season if he is named starter, head coach Gary Barnett hinted that there will be a committee approach to the position, with Charles and Ellis at the front.
“They’re both going to play a lot,” Barnett said. “They’ve rotated in and out with the first team all spring and taken almost all of the reps. They’ve been great.”
Watson’s biggest running back problem next spring will be to find a clear No. 3. Junior Brandon Caesar entered the spring with a chance to start but hasn’t progressed from last year’s knee surgery as well as hoped.
“He hasn’t been healthy enough to show us what he’s capable of. In the fall, he was a much better player than what he is now,” Watson said. “He’s still a little tentative.”
Even if he is healthy next spring, Caesar will be pushed by incoming freshmen Maurice Greer — if he can surprise everyone by becoming eligible academically — and Kevin Moyd.
“The fall should be big for Brandon,” Watson said. “It’s going to have to be, or somebody is going to pass him up.”
Perhaps the fastest player on the team, Charles earned the coaches’ attention by rushing for 51 yards on seven carries and a touchdown in the Houston Bowl.
“I think that game put me in a good place to come out here and try for the No. 1 spot,” Charles said.
Although his quickness is apparent to the most casual observer, he hasn’t displayed much ability between the tackles this spring.
Not as flashy as Charles, Ellis is a more strategic runner. His fluid motions and smart decisions remind coaches of Purify, who gained 1,016 yards last year.
“I know it’s going to come down to both of us stepping up to see who’s going to take that major role,” Ellis said. “I’m not worried about it. If Hugh happens to take the starting spot, I know I’m still going to have to go in there and do my job.”
Ellis started the spring quietly but has improved steadily to the point where he has made the bulk of the big runs in practice the past two weeks.
“He’s a good, tough running back, and both he and Hugh are going to be a good combination for us,” Barnett said.
Goodbye, Jack: Interim athletic director Jack Lengyel had a farewell meeting with reporters Wednesday to discuss his five months in the position before he returns to his retirement home in Surprise, Ariz., next week.
During the meeting, Lengyel announced Dr. Eric McCarty as the director of sports medicine and that Steve Willard, the former director of sports medicine, has become the head trainer specifically for football.
Lengyel also became the first CU official to say publicly that Barnett’s contract extension will not be addressed until the school gets the results from an IRS audit on his summer football camps.
“I think that’s the position of the university,” Lengyel said. “Once that audit clears, I think the statement has been made that they will address Gary’s contract.”
Under Lengyel, the department has hammered out the budget, boosted morale and laid the groundwork for a ticket-marketing strategy that is intended to dwarf anything developed by former AD Dick Tharp.