Team hopes to put past behind

Updated: July 8, 2004, 10:30 PM ET
Associated Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- University of Colorado football coach Gary Barnett isn't sure what to expect from his football team this fall. But the Buffs coach and his players are looking forward to facing familiar football challenges, as opposed to off-field scandals that have rocked the program over the last six months.

``Our guys have been through a lot, and their leadership is really being tested at this point,'' Barnett said. ``I think everybody, more than anything, just wants to get to practice or wants to get to a game. So, I'm going to have to wait till August the 8th to really find out where we are.''

The school faces federal lawsuits by three women who say they were raped at or just after a 2001 off-campus party attended by players and recruits. A grand jury is also investigating allegations of whether a former recruiting aide hired prostitutes for recruits.

Barnett was suspended for three months for calling former player Katie Hnida ``terrible'' just hours after she claimed to have been raped by a teammate in 2000. Since being reinstated as head coach at the end of May, Barnett said he hasn't had much of a chance to gauge his team.

``By NCAA rules we don't have access to players in the summer,'' Barnett said. ``So I have to rely on the coaches, and older players that come by, what they're saying.''

In the wake of the scandal, Barnett has lost five players to transfers _ including returning starters running back Brian Calhoun, cornerback Sammy Joseph, and defensive end Marques Harris. Calhoun led CU with 810 rushing yards last season. Barnett also added that sixth player, whom declined to name, might also transfer.

Calhoun led CU with 810 rushing yards last season. Barnett also added that sixth player, whom declined to name, might also transfer.

CU president Betsy Hoffman tightened oversight of the athletic department as a result of the scandal however Barnett said that management of the team will not change drastically. In fact, he said that his suspension might actually help the coaching leadership on the team.

``I think our two coordinators, both of those guys were able to get a lot of critical experience for their future. So its sort of like I've got three assistants on my staff who have been head coaches, and that always makes management a little bit easier,'' he said.

Barnett was unsure how reformed recruiting procedures at CU will affect his efforts to attract high-quality football players.

``There are three things a kid wants to see: the school, the program and the social life. The social life, you don't sell that. If a family or a person is choosing the school because of the social life, you've got the wrong person,'' he said.

Barnett felt that the uproar of the last six months may have worked to toughen his team mentally.

``We've got a team that has probably gone through more (in the offseason) than most teams go through in a season,'' Barnett said. ``We're already mentally tougher than most of the teams we're going to face.''

The core of the Buffs returning starters centers around walk-on quarterback Joel Klatt and an offensive line that returns four starters.

``It's going to allow the offense to take a huge step,'' Barnett said.

When asked if he ever thought about resigning his position, Barnett said: ``My obligations have always been to our players, and parents, and people in our program and the university, and I had too many people stand courageously for me in the last six months to ever back out on them. We just had too many people step forward. For me there was no decision to make.''

While addressing the luncheon, Barnett personally thanked DeBerry for his support. ``No one has been as supportive and vocal in their support of me the way Fisher (DeBerry) and his wife LuAnn have been,'' DeBerry said. ``Every week he'd either write me or call. Thank you for everything you've done for me and my family.''

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press