A look back at the constantly changing leader of the Buffs
“Please, don’t ever change
Don’t you ever change
Please, don’t you ever change
Don’t you.” -The Beatles, Don’t Ever Change
Based on the consistent upheaval that has been the trademark of the Colorado Buffaloes and their quarterback position this season, Head Coach Dan Hawkins didn’t quite listen to Mr. Lennon and the gang.
“Playing quarterback, just like being a head coach, the criticism comes from being in the fire,” Hawkins said. “You have to enjoy being in the fire like that to really get things going.”
From an early season starting quarterback switch to the transfer of one to another program; from changing the position of one quarterback to changing him back again; from changing players on a near play-by-play basis to changing the depth chart, change has been the definition of “quarterback” in Boulder. The following is a look back at the trials, tribulations and changes of each quarterback on the Buffs’ roster:
Patrick Devenny: Perhaps a foreshadowing of the changes that would take place throughout the season, redshirt freshman Devenny was switched from quarterback to tight end in March’s spring camp. At the time, the Buffs had senior James Cox, junior Bernard Jackson, junior Brian White, and freshman Cody Hawkins all creating a log-jam at the position. After making the change, Devenny saw limited action at tight-end throughout the season. However, after Cox broke his thumb in a 20-15 loss to Kansas on Oct. 28, Devenny was asked to switch back to quarterback.
“I have just learned to go with the flow,” Devenny said. “I just want to help the team win as much as possible. Sure, you want to kind of settle in somewhere, but I’m just going to prepare as the back-up quarterback.”
Brian White: White was the odds-on-favorite to win the starting job back in spring camp. After a promising performance in mop-up duty at the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl it appeared all but set in stone that White would lead the Buffs in their 2006 campaign. However, after a poor spring camp, it was Cox who was named the starter.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” White said after hearing the news on Aug. 20. “I worked hard all summer and all of camp, but I just have to continue to work hard and keep myself prepared. If the situation presents itself like last season [in the Champs Sports Bowl] I have to be ready to step in, and I will be.”
After the Buffs’ season-opening loss to Montana State, Hawkins made a change at quarterback, but it was to Jackson and not White, prior to the Buffs game against Colorado State. After feeling snubbed by not getting another opportunity, White announced his decision to leave the team the day after the loss to CSU.
“Sunday morning I met with Coach Hawkins and discussed my decision to leave the University of Colorado,” White said in a statement released on Sept. 10. “I asked for, and received approval to, be released from the CU football program with the intention of transferring to another program. I have many close friends on the team and I wish them the best this season.”
White transferred to I-AA Portland State, where he has since played in four games for the Vikings, going 13-of-30 for 224 yards, one touchdown and one interception in those four games.
Cody Hawkins: The coach’s son had originally intended to redshirt this season, soaking up his dad’s offense and adding some weight to his 5-foot-11-inch, 190-pound frame. Ah, but the winds of change would have other ideas for Hawkins. After White transferred out of the program, that left the Buffs with Cox, Jackson and Hawkins as the only three quarterbacks on its roster. Prior to the Georgia game on Sept. 23, Cox’s father passed away, and he left the team to be with his family. That suddenly thrust Hawkins from being the fourth-string clip-board carrier he was supposed to be into the back-up quarterback.
“The plan always has been and always will be to redshirt,” the younger Hawkins said. “Even though there was some guessing about what could happen, it really was never an issue.”
After the Georgia game, the elder Hawkins said even if he were to throw Cody into the mix, he felt his team would continue to flounder as it has all season.
“Even if you go with Cody, he is still learning and making the same mistakes (Jackson) is,” Hawkins said. “There is that learning curve across the board.”
James Cox: After being held out of most of the Buffs’ spring scrimmages with an injured thumb, Cox was stuck behind White and Jackson on the Buffs’ depth chart heading into fall practices. In a change that shocked many around the football team, Hawkins named Cox the Buffs’ starter heading into the season.
“It’s a razor-thin deal,” Hawkins said after naming Cox his starter. “I think [James] has been a little more efficient running the club in terms of how he operates and understands the offense. It’s a thin margin, but you have to make the call and he’s the guy.”
Hawkins wasn’t kidding when he said it was a thin margin, because after a poor performance in a loss to Montana State to start the season, Hawkins made Jackson the surprise starter against CSU. As if losing his starting position was not enough, Cox’s father passed away and he left the team to be with his family prior to the Sept. 23 game against Georgia. That produced the turmoil with Cody Hawkins.
“It was very important I was with my family at that time,” Cox said. “I felt an obligation to the team, but in situations like that, you have to be with family.”
Cox returned to the team after the Georgia loss and was stuck on the bench as Jackson led the Buffs to only one win prior to the Oct. 28 game against Kansas. In that game, Cox and Jackson rotated plays on nearly a play-by-play basis until the second quarter, when Cox threw a pass and hit his hand on a Jayhawk defender, breaking the same thumb that gave him problems in spring camp. The injury effectively ended the senior’s tenure at Colorado.
“Am I disappointed in how my senior year played out? Maybe a little bit,” Cox said. “I just have to look back on my time here and I just appreciate the opportunity to play football for the Colorado Buffaloes.”
Bernard Jackson: Jackson was a dark horse in the quarterback conundrum during spring camp after having spent his first three seasons at CU bouncing from position to position. He got the surprise start against CSU, and it was evident early on that Jackson would be able to help the team with his legs rather than his arm. Through 10 games as the starter, Jackson has gone 84-for-177 for 967 yards, four touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has also added 592 yards on the ground off 134 carries.
Jackson’s best game of the season came against Iowa State on Nov. 11, where he completed 13 passes on 19 attempts for 200 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He clearly has shown progress as a more rounded quarterback throughout the season.
“I think it’s just a matter of better preparation, studying film, and just being more relaxed running the offense,” Jackson said. “Before, I really put a lot of the pressure on myself to make the offense succeed, and I just play better loose.”
Heading into next season, Jackson isn’t a shoo-in to be the starter, according to Hawkins. In other words, Buffs fans might want to prepare for more change in the future.
“Once the year is over, it’s over, and there are no returning starters,” Hawkins said. “We’ll sit down and see who wants to lift, who wants to go out and do extra things and throw and in spring ball, who can make the plays. I think the notion of granting emeritus to anybody is not a healthy way to grow a football team.”