BOULDER — Deion Sanders dunked on Cormani McClain so hard, Samari Rolle flinched. In Florida.
“I know what’s going on. And having been around Cormani, I think he’s got all types of God-given ability.” Rolle, the former NFL Pro Bowl cornerback and McClain mentor told me Tuesday, cutting straight to the chase. “And I think it can be frustrating when you’re coaching him, and he’s not putting it all together.”
Four weeks in, CU Buffs fans are frustrated. McClain, presumably, feels frustrated. Coach Prime? Sanders passed “frustrated” about five exits ago.
After McClain’s cameo — three snaps, two tackles — against Oregon late last Saturday afternoon, I asked Coach Prime Tuesday if his young cornerback had finally turned a corner with a bunch of bad, fast dudes coming to town this weekend when CU hosts No. 8 USC,
I mean, did you see the tire tracks Brenden Rice rolled up on the backs of Arizona State’s D last weekend? Tell us, Coach, what does McClain, the 5-star true freshman defensive back out of Florida and the assumed tandem partner to Travis Hunter in the CU secondary, have to do to see more of the field?
“Study,” Sanders replied quickly. “Prepare. Study. Prepare. Be on time for meetings. Show up to the darn meetings.
“Understand what we’re doing as a scheme. (If you) want to play this game, desire to play this game, desire to be the best in this game at practice, in the film room. And (do it) on your own free time. You do know that I check film time for each player (for) the week Thursday. I (get) film times from the whole staff, so I can see who’s been preparing.
“So if I don’t see that — (I) would be a fool to put somebody out there unprepared. Can’t do it. Won’t do it. Can’t do it. I’m old school. I’m sorry.”
Lot to unpack there. And it must be awfully lonely in that doghouse.
When I read Sanders’ quotes on “Money” McClain to Rolle a few hours later, he laughed.
“That’s the Mickey Andrews in Coach Prime,” chuckled Rolle, who, like Sanders, played for the venerated ex-Florida State defensive coordinator back in the day. “That’s the hard-nosed, old-school way.
“You know what? I think that’s (Deion’s) way of saying, ‘Don’t ask me about him anymore.’ I think that was a nice way of saying, ‘This kid needs to keep working hard.’”
At least the kid made the highlight reel. Things were so bad in Eugene that McClain’s garbage-time tackle on Oregon tight end Kenyon Sadiq with about 45 seconds left in the tilt, a 2-yard loss, was one of the half-dozen CU bright spots of a dim afternoon.
Did that hit get McClain any closer to landing the doghouse key?
“What was the score?” Prime replied with a grin. “Shoot, I started to put you out there (on defense) at one point.”
“Would’ve looked like Broncos-Dolphins if you’d done that,” I countered.
“Hey, hey, leave my guy alone, leave my guy alone,” Sanders said. “I love the Broncos. I love their coaches, Sean Payton is my guy. He’s gonna get it right, I promise you that. I believe in Sean Payton.”
That last bandwagon’s got some seats opening up as of late. But point taken.
“It’s just time to grow up,” offered Rolle, who was defensive coordinator for McClain’s South Florida Express, a national 7-on-7 power, two summers ago.
“And time to buckle up. And once he does all that, I think you’ll see the player that he has the time to be. But you can’t rush it. Everybody develops at a different rate. At a different pace.”
McClain’s family sounds willing to wait this out, for better or for worse. If you’re worried about “Money” bolting Boulder in frustration, Rolle says he can’t see it.
His source? McClain’s mom Tikisha, who he ran into at the Rocky Mountain Showdown and recalled her saying that “she was definitely not upset (with CU).”
“How does he like it?” Rolle asked.
“It’s great, he’s fine, we like it,” Tikisha replied.
“‘Trust me, they’re going to do what’s best for him.”
“I know, I know.”
As for the on-field stuff, Juwan Mitchell says there’s more to come. The grad transfer linebacker had the teen as a roommate for the Buffs’ season-opening trip to TCU and was like, “‘(Darn), they room (me) with a freshman?’
“Nah, (McClain is) mature. He knows what he wants in life. He’s going to go get it. Yeah, he’s got things he’s got to work on. We all do. But he’s real hungry. He comes in every day ready to work. He’s long, real long … he’s special. I expect, coming back in a year or two, him being one of those (elite) guys, for sure.”
This much was clear Tuesday, though: He ain’t there yet.
“He’s going to be fine. The light will come on for him,” Rolle said. “He wouldn’t be all the way out there in Colorado just to let the time pass by. I think he’s got no choice but to get it right.”
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