BOULDER – Junior safety Nick Fisher is establishing himself as an essential piece of the Colorado Buffaloes defense in 2017. The athletic defensive back flashed disruptive potential in relief snaps last season, and now he gets a shot at silencing the doubters on Saturdays as part of what was a vaunted CU secondary.

An explosive performance against Washington State last season (one that earned him Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors with six tackles and a pass defended), set the tone for everything that Fisher is capable of. Now, the rising junior is striving to become an even bigger contributor to the Buffs defense.

For Fisher, that means hard work and continuous improvement; and it all starts with his coverage.

“Coming down and covering the slot, or just strictly man, I want to get better in that,” Fisher said. “And definitely tackling, too. If I can do those two things, I feel like playing in the middle of the field is easy for me.”

Fisher’s emergence as a starter could be crucial to Colorado’s defensive success this season. He is a big, physical, athletic piece of a secondary that has enormous shoes to fill (they are, after all, attempting to replace three NFL-caliber defensive backs). But the new members of Money Gang aren’t looking to the past – they are ready to write their own legacy at CU.

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“We know that we lost good players, but we feel like we have good players to replace them,” Fisher said. “We’re just keeping that culture of ‘we can do it,’ and keeping a good mindset.”

Though the defense appears, at first glance, to have lost a significant amount of leadership, the next men up are all veterans – athletic, talented and familiar with the defensive system at CU.

“Afolabi (Laguda) is obviously one of the guys who’s stepping up,” Fisher said, “and we also have other guys, including myself, Ryan (Moeller) and Isaiah (Oliver) who speak up.”

All seniors except for Fisher, the secondary boasts plenty of experience. Laguda will start at safety across from Fisher, while Oliver starts at corner and Moeller at the hybrid ‘Buff back’ spot. All four have played a role in the evolution of CU’s defense, and they say their just getting started.

Yet the loss of sophomore Anthony Julmisse for the time being due to legal issues has forced the hands of new coaches ShaDon Brown and D.J. Eliot. Either Fisher, Trey Udoffia or JUCO transfer Dante Wigley will have to occupy a spot that was played by Ahkello Witherspoon last season.

But their eyes are still on greatness. The Buffs defensive backs are striving for another dominant season in 2017.

“Our main focus is just being a good defense,” Fisher said. “We want to play hard, fundamentally sound, not make mistakes and get takeaways. If we can do those things that we talk big about – takeaways, creating plays for our offense – then that translates to W’s for us.”

The Buffs are on the cusp of regaining their status as true competitors in the world of college football, and Fisher is standing on the brink of a breakout season.

“I think I have more to come,” Fisher said, “and I’m becoming a better player. I don’t think I’ve played my best football yet.”

The continuation of the Rise in 2017 relies on the evolution of the Colorado’s defense. If Fisher’s best football is ahead of him, and Oliver and Laguda are as good as advertised, this year’s secondary could be just fine.

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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