BOULDER – As the Colorado Buffaloes edge towards the 2017 season, the weight of their Pac-12 championship goals rest heavily on the shoulders of their defense. Rebuilt after the departure of several NFL-caliber talents, the Buffs need veteran leadership on the defensive side of the ball. Enter Leo Jackson III, the seasoned defensive lineman that is determined to leave his own legacy at CU.

Jackson is now one of the most experienced players on the Buffs defensive line. After transferring from junior college, he played in 12 games as a sophomore and all 13 as a junior. His veteran status is helping not only his own game, but the development of the younger players around him as well.

“It’s helped a lot as far as me being able to be in the fire in some situations,” Jackson said. “So some of the younger guys who haven’t been in these situations, I can help them keep a calm head and make sure that they’re alright.”

In addition to leadership, Jackson is striving to improve his level of play. He racked up 16 tackles, one third down stop, one quarterback hurry and a touchdown save last season, and hopes to build on that success this fall.

“Technique is something that no matter what level I’m on, I’m always going to have to work on,” he said.

The talent on the other side of the ball is also helping Jackson become a better player. The Buffs are returning four of their five starting offensive linemen from last year, and they are challenging the defensive line every day in practice.

“The offensive line, they help to get us ready for the game and they are definitely as good as advertised,” Jackson said. “Jeromy Irwin, Tim Lynott and Gerrad Kough have all stepped up.”

More than anything, Jackson is ready for the season to start. After back-to-back blowouts to close out 2016, the Buffs are ready to prove themselves once again.

“Lining up, I can’t wait,” Jackson said with a determined look. “It’s been way too long, a year too long.”

Despite a rough ending to their season, the Buffs made tremendous progress last year. Jackson believes the team learned valuable lessons that will carry over into 2017 and help the defense succeed.

“We were the only ones who believed that we could get that far and do the things that we did last year – we surprised everyone,” Jackson said. “Now, we’re coming with the same mindset, but a different mentality – we have to get even further than we did last season. Everything’s not going to be the same, it’s not the same team. We have to create our own legacy.”

While the media may be predicting a regression on defense following last year’s Rise, Jackson thinks CU could be even better this season.

“The Buffs defense is capable of a lot of things, a lot of great things,” Jackson said with a grin. “I’ll just say that everyone should sit back and watch the show.”

Jackson is right. The Buffs have lost a significant chunk of talent, but they are also loaded in the secondary and boast plenty of athleticism and experience along their defensive line. If Jackson and his teammates can return with the same mentality that made last season’s defense so successful, the Buffs could surprise pundits once again.

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