BOULDER - The Colorado Buffaloes are stacked on offense, boasting a near gluttonous depth of wide receivers and a potentially Heisman-caliber running back as their top offensive weapons. Now, they get another boost of talent with the return of maybe the best wideout on their roster - redshirt junior Juwann Winfree.
The explosive former Maryland commit via a JUCO transfer earned early praise in fall camp last year before suffering an ACL tear that cost him his first season with the Buffs. Instead of emerging as a dynamic piece of the offense, Winfree was forced to watch the Rise from the sidelines. Now, he doesn't take anything for granted.
"There were some games where I wanted to shed some tears before the game, just because I couldn't be out there to help my teammates," Winfree said. "So I just learned that you can't take things for granted, and now, every time I'm out there, I try to give 100 percent and be a contributor for my team."
Winfree observed the Buffs for a full season as he recovered from his injury, and he learned a lot about what CU is capable of.
"I really learned what our strengths are and all of the things that we can improve on," Winfree said. "I feel that we're a very strong team, and a lot of people don't speak of us highly, but that's just more motivation for us. I feel like that's when we perform even better - when we're the underdogs."
It's easy to see why Winfree chose to play at CU. Discipline is a critical part of his approach to football and his talent is no accident - he is one of the most hard-working and passionate players on the team.
"You got to be able to put in work outside of practice and outside of the workouts," Winfree said. "That's what changes everything."
Part of that work is continually finding ways to improve his game despite not even suiting up for a Pac-12 contest.
"Being able to make the real tough catches, that's what I really need to work on," Winfree said. "I take a lot of pride in route-running, because I'm not the fastest, not the strongest, so I have to be real good at running routes. That's an aspect of my game that I really focus on."
After losing a year to his ACL injury, Winfree feels the weight of expectations on his shoulders. But he is choosing to use it as motivation.
"I have a lot to prove," Winfree said. "I'm trying to make this my first full Division 1 season since my freshman year, so this is very big for me. People have been waiting to see what I can do. I have a lot of goals to accomplish, and I'm not going to stop until I accomplish them."
For Winfree, those goals start with succeeding in every phase of his position.
"I want to be able to have no drops when I'm out there, be able to catch everything, be able to get open and show people that I can block as well," Winfree said. "That's really my main goal - to be a complete receiver, and to do something that's never been done here at the receiver position."
His hard work is clearly paying off. Even on a roster bursting with skilled wideouts, Winfree stands out. He brings another dimension to an already top-ranked receiving group, with size, speed, and athleticism that will only make the Buffs more dangerous.
"There's a lot of talented receivers, and I think we all bring something different to the table," Winfree said. "I'm 6'3", 210, so (with me) we add somebody who is big but can move as a small receiver. I can create space and get open or go in and beat man coverage and make plays."
While each wideout has a different role (Devin Ross is dangerous in the slot, Jay MacIntyre is solid in short yardage situations, Shay Fields and Bryce Bobo are quick on the outside), the Buffs receivers are constantly working to make each other better as a unit. Despite any internal competition, the Black Out Boyz know that dominating the Pac-12 will be a group effort.
"I feel that we can be the best receiving corps in the nation," Winfree said. "Every time we're out there, I'm striving to make sure that we're all competing and we're all looking the best. Because if just one person's looking good, that's not good for us. We need everybody looking great in order for us to achieve the dreams and goals that we have."
The Buffs lofty aspirations of a Pac-12 Championship and college football playoff bid will rest heavily on the success of their offense, and the receivers have set their goals accordingly.
"As a team, we want to go undefeated," Winfree said. "I want to put up at least 40 points a game, and I feel that we can do that with this type of offense. The ceiling is very high for us and the expectations are very high, and I believe we can meet or even exceed them."
Winfree doesn't buy the idea the Buffs will experience any sort of regression this season. In fact, he expects them to take another step forward.
"I feel that the sky's the limit with us," Winfree said. "I feel that we can be in the college football playoffs if we just put our minds to it. Last year, everyone was saying our defense was our strong point, and this year, I think our offense is our strong point. I feel like we can have an offense that's top five in the nation, and with that, there's no way that we won't be in the top four in the college football playoffs. With everybody back, with me back, a new quarterback, we can go far. Very far."
Winfree's expectations for the Buffs are not as far-fetched as some people might think. CU is loaded on offense and boasts a talented, albeit young, defensive unit. The Buffs have several veteran leaders returning and enviable depth at many key positions.
While the Rise last year was something special, the most important outcome of that season was that it laid the foundation for everything that the Buffs can be in the future. If the pieces fall into place for CU this year, Winfree and the 'Black Out Boyz' could very well lead the Buffs back to another Pac-12 South Championship, or beyond.