BOULDER - For Sam Zimmerer, there wasn’t one hit, one block or one play that served as a “Welcome to College Football” moment on the field this season. Instead, the freshman defensive end had a drawn-out initiation that spanned weeks, broke him down and, eventually, built him back up. Zimmerer, a graduate of Air Academy High School, has not played a down for Colorado this season and, though he has traveled with the team to Orlando, Fla., will not play in Tuesday’s Champs Sports Bowl against Clemson. He is redshirting, leaving him four years of eligibility with the Buffaloes. But his play during practice has improved throughout the year. “It is hard to stand on the sidelines (during games), because you’re used to being the star, playing both ways in high school,” Zimmerer said. “And then you get up here and everybody’s good, so you have to wait your turn. . . . (But) I expected that I’d have to serve my time before I could play.” What Zimmerer did not expect was a “Welcome to College Football” moment that took place off the field. The ouster of coach Gary Barnett earlier this month showed Zimmerer the often harsh business side of the game. “I was really surprised to hear it,” Zimmerer said. “I don’t think Barnett deserved it.” Zimmerer was recruited by Barnett, who once coached at Air Academy, and he called the coach “the main reason I came” to Colorado. But, as of now, Zimmerer said he has no plans to transfer. “I still like the school,” Zimmerer said. “I like Boulder in general. I like the academics. . . . I’m going to see how it goes in the spring and then make a decision. I don’t have any idea of transferring yet unless something really bad goes wrong and things aren’t working out.” Zimmerer said he was impressed by Dan Hawkins, Colorado's new coach, who will take over officially in the new year. Still, he said, the regime change is unsettling. “Your whole reputation starts over again,” Zimmerer said. “Coaches don’t know you. You have to prove yourself again.” Zimmerer had proved himself to Barnett and his staff with his work on the scout team. But it took some time to adjust to the college game. Zimmerer said he was repeatedly “blown up” by veteran offensive linemen Clint O’Neal and Brian Daniels during two-a-day practices in August. “Two-a-days, I kind of had the cat eyes,” Zimmerer said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is a lot different.’” It took Zimmerer nearly half the season to get adjusted — to the size and strength of offensive linemen more than the increased speed of the game, he said — and begin to feel like he could hold his own in the trenches. “Now I’m getting my confidence back, because your confidence level goes way down,” Zimmerer said. “You think you’re not good, but you are.” By the end of the season, Zimmerer was showing it. He was tough to block and consistently made plays in practice by using his athleticism — his top trait, according to defensive line coach William Inge, along with what Inge called Zimmerer’s “awareness.” “He understands football,” Inge said. Zimmerer was given the team’s defensive Scout Award for his play in the weeks leading up to the games against Kansas State and Iowa State, Colorado’s eighth and 10th games of the season. The award is given to the offensive and defensive scout team player who performs the best in practice. “He’s one of the guys that I think the (offensive) line might sometimes wish he would slow down,” said senior defensive tackle James Garee, who graduated from Mitchell High School. “I think he works them pretty hard down there, and he does well. He’s one of the freshmen I’m definitely proud of.” During the season, Zimmerer was up at 6:30 every morning so he could get to the Buffaloes’ 7:15 “Breakfast Club,” a mandatory morning meal for freshmen. And on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he lifted weights at 7:30 a.m. Zimmerer had classes in the morning — three on Tuesdays and Thursdays — followed by mandatory “Study Table.” He had football meetings from 2:15-3:30 in the afternoon and then practice, which often went to about 6. After that, there was studying. Zimmerer actually lost weight this season — about 15 pounds — and weighs about 230. He said he is more explosive and quicker but that coaches want him to get up to about 250-255 pounds by next season. Putting on weight and getting stronger are two keys to Zimmerer playing next season. But he still might have another year of mostly battling on the practice field before he contributes in games. The three defensive ends who started games this year — juniors Alex Ligon and Abraham Wright and freshman Mo Lucas — all will be back next year. “Hopefully I can get into that rotation,” he said. “But definitely the year after that I’ll be in there.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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