No. 11 Colorado begins practice for 1st bowl game since 2007
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy, left, and Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre, right, pose for photos following a news conference, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, in San Antonio. Oklahoma State and Colorado will play in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
BOULDER, Colo. (AP) Colorado senior quarterback Sefo Liufau usually makes the same, routine walk to the locker room.
This week, it was more difficult passing through a hallway that features the only Heisman Trophy in school history and a ceiling-to-floor photo of the tailback who earned it.
Liufau and the 11th-ranked Buffaloes began on-field preparations Friday for the Alamo Bowl with heavy hearts after the passing of 1994 Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam , who was found dead Monday night in a Boulder park. The park is less than 2 miles from Folsom Field, where Salaam rose to national prominence.
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As a tribute to Salaam, the Buffaloes are looking at wearing a helmet sticker for their first bowl game since 2007.
''Just incredible, the legacy he's left here for people to strive for,'' said Liufau, whose team faces No. 13 Oklahoma State on Dec. 29. ''Just with the way he played, the way he led Colorado back in the day.''
The bounce-back season for the Buffaloes (10-3) has been one of the biggest story lines in college football this year. Picked to finish last in the conference's preseason media poll, Colorado captured the Pac-12 South title before losing to No. 4 Washington in the league's title game last week.
At the Alamo Bowl, Colorado has a chance to become the fourth team in school history to win 11 games. This group would join the 1989 team (11-1) that lost in the Orange Bowl, the '90 squad (11-1-1) which captured Colorado's only national title and the '94 team (11-1) that was highlighted by Salaam rushing for 2,055 yards.
''This is why we came here, this is what we were working for, striving for – playing for the Pac-12 Championship and getting to a bowl game,'' senior defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon said. ''We're excited to go out there and try to win it.''
These days, coach Mike MacIntyre is constantly approached about his team's resurgence. He doesn't mind in the least.
''It's just really neat, people coming up and talking to you, saying, `We're glad Colorado football is back,''' MacIntyre said.
The fourth-year Colorado coach has been on a whirlwind schedule since the Pac-12 title game. He hit the recruiting trail earlier in the week, made an appearance in San Antonio on behalf of the Alamo Bowl and then traveled to Atlanta to accept The Home Depot Coach of the Year Award on Thursday night.
MacIntyre's squad got back to business Friday on the indoor practice field as the Buffaloes prepare for the high-octane offense of Oklahoma State (9-3). A football practice in December hasn't happened in quite some time for Colorado.
''It's great to extend my time here, because it could be over now,'' said Liufau, who has broken most of the school's passing records over his career. ''I'm very happy to keep practicing.''
The recent break from practice gave Liufau's right ankle more time to heal after he twisted it on the Buffaloes' first drive of the league title game. Although he returned to start the second half, he wasn't the same and threw three interceptions, including one that was returned for a TD.
''He did good out there today,'' MacIntyre said. ''He moved around, he did everything. He wasn't 100 percent, but we didn't have to take him out.''
The next challenge for MacIntyre: balancing practice sessions with final exams, which are set to begin on campus.
''We told all these guys they have to compartmentalize,'' MacIntyre said. ''They have to really understand that and take care of that. I think they will. We won't keep them out here too long and keep them fresh.''
MacIntyre said he had a chance to talk with Salaam's family before practice Friday. Salaam's funeral was Friday at the Islamic Center of Boulder. The mourners included Salaam's former teammate Michael Westbrook.
''Like his parents said, some of the greatest days of his life were here and he enjoyed it,'' MacIntyre said. ''He did a lot for Buff Nation and for Colorado football, for sure.''
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