BOULDER – You see his hair first – when he walks into a room, when he paces on the sidelines holding his helmet or when he hypes up the team in the pregame huddle. But Colorado Buffaloes running back Phil Lindsay is so much more than his dramatic crown of curls – he is a leader in the locker room and a juggernaut on the football field.

Lindsay has already made his mark at CU and his legacy will extend far beyond the ‘Rise,’ but his career as a Buff came dangerously close to never happening at all. As a senior in high school, Lindsay tore his ACL and was unable to afford the rehab he desperately needed. He arrived at CU as a freshman and the staff was unsure of his athletic future. But Lindsay made the best of a bad situation and chose to grow rather than fold.

“Everybody needs to go through something to stay humble,” Lindsay said. “Going into high school, I was pretty dominant and didn’t think anything about it. At some point, I just thought I was invincible. But once that [injury]happened, it was one of the hardest times of my life. It wasn’t a breeze where, like everybody says, you just go into rehab and you just wait. It was to the point where they didn’t know if I was even gonna be able to play football. That right there was a wakeup call from God himself saying ‘hey, I’ve given you these abilities but I can take them away as fast as I give them to you’.”

The injury that nearly cost Lindsay his athletic career was also instrumental in shaping his outlook on life. He emerged as a leader, with a newfound appreciation for football and for brotherhood. Lindsay is wholeheartedly invested in his teammates, bringing the Buffs offensive line into a post-game press conference last season so that he could deflect all praise and credit back onto them.

But no matter how humble he is, the Buffs boast one of the nation’s top backs in Lindsay – he currently sits fourth in the FBS in total rushing yards and atop CU’s list of career all-purpose yards. Lindsay is an offensive weapon in every sense of the word, excelling both on the ground and through the air, and as a blocker for his teammates. He has next-level talent and should hear his name called in April.

Though NFL teams will be drawn to Lindsay’s statistical accomplishments –  1,334 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns through 10 weeks this season – they will quickly learn his value as a leader is equal to his talent on the ground. Lindsay’s ability to inspire his teammates is unmatched at CU, and his “dawg” mentality reverberates through the entire offense. He is one of the most passionate and dedicated players the Buffs have ever had, partly because his greatest motivations are all homegrown.

“I come from the state of Colorado,” Lindsay said. “I represent not just for myself, but for my family, for the fans, for the state in general. I feel like I’ve been able to do a lot of good things and I’ll continue to do that. I hope everybody is proud of what I’ve accomplished and there’s more to come.”

With his final game at Folsom on the horizon, Lindsay waxes sentimental. The Buffs host USC on Saturday for senior night, and it will mark an afternoon of lasts for Lindsay and his classmates – the last time he runs behind Ralphie in his home state, the last time he takes the field in the shadow of the Rockies and the last time he pulls on black and gold in that locker room.

“It’s already starting to hit me a little bit,” Lindsay said. “I feel like I’ll really start to feel it at the end of the game and stuff. But for me right now, I’m just focused on winning this game and all the other seniors deserve it. So I’m gonna go out there and put it all on the line like I do every week and see what we can come up with.”

A disappointing season for the Buffs has not slowed Lindsay’s success at all. An all-around talent, he has etched his name in CU history as a leader of the program and of the ‘Rise.’ On senior night, Lindsay will look to send his teammates outright in the last home game of his career.

“You’re gonna always have an obstacle in front of you no matter what,” Lindsay said. “So for us, it’s just about moving forward. Learning from the mistakes we made – we didn’t put a whole game together and we know that. It’s gonna be myself and a lot of seniors last night at Folsom Field and it’s hard to beat us at Folsom Field. So we gotta go out there and use that to our advantage and play ball.”

No matter the outcome on Saturday afternoon, or of the draft in April, Lindsay’s days at Colorado have been well spent.

“Hopefully, I have a chance for the NFL,” he said, “but at the end of the day, as a man in general, I think CU has prepared me well. I came in here a boy and I’m coming out a young man. It’s an exciting feeling and it’s a nervous feeling because you never know what’s in store for you after this. But I feel like I’ve used my time wisely here and I’m ready.”

Sam is a sports writer and photographer from Austin, Texas. She covers the Colorado Buffaloes for BSN Denver and the NFL for SB Nation. Twitter and Instagram: @SamanthaNWeaver