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Buffalo Soldier
AUSTIN MURPHY
April 24, 2006
After a tumultuous couple of years, Colorado hired a happy warrior, Dan Hawkins, who favors offensive pyrotechnics, a splash of Zen and player contests, such as belly sliding in the snow
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April 24, 2006

Buffalo Soldier

After a tumultuous couple of years, Colorado hired a happy warrior, Dan Hawkins, who favors offensive pyrotechnics, a splash of Zen and player contests, such as belly sliding in the snow

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After the scrimmage, the team takes a knee around their coach. Their execution needs work, he tells them, but the attitude was all he could ask for. Then comes a peculiar digression: He scolds them for leaving energy bar wrappers on the floor of the locker room. "It's about the details," he tells them. He wants the team to focus less on big-picture goals and more on the process--the details--that goes into achieving them. "The Zen master seeks not to hit the target," he tells his guys, "but to become the bow."

He has been hammering them on the little things since the day he arrived. "I'm not used to having the head coach right behind me, telling me I just took the wrong steps," says Mark Fenton, a senior center, who notes that Hawkins is far more hands-on than Barnett. "He doesn't let you slide on anything."

Another difference between the two coaches: The tempo at practice is more intense now, but the players don't seem to mind. Dizon, the linebacker who was still bitter about Barnett's firing at that first team meeting, has bought in completely. Under Barnett, he recalls, "guys would lag when practice rolled around. Now guys are like, 'Practice! I wonder what we're going to do today? What'll he think of next?' The whole climate is so different. Coach Hawkins's philosophy is, You won't play your best unless you're having fun."

One player having a blast is junior quarterback Bernard Jackson, who completed just two of three passes in the scrimmage but scrambled like a poor man's Vince Young. On one play he pulled the ball down, reversed his field and streaked 33 yards up the left sideline with Hawkins chugging in his slipstream, shouting, "Nothing wrong with that!"

An electrifying talent, Jackson nonetheless languished for three seasons while Barnett's staff tried to figure out what to do with him. Jackson was shuffled from quarterback to kick returner to receiver to running back, then back to quarterback in 2005. Last year, he says, "I would go to the line thinking, If I do this wrong, I'm going to get yelled at."

Given the slightest opening, Hawkins will expound on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. For Jackson, one of those needs--the need to feel safe, physically and psychologically--was not being met. After spending time with him, says Hawkins, "I got this vibe that his spirit was broken, that he was in a cage. And I just told him, 'I want you to break out, play your style, use your talents and don't worry.'" Thus unburdened, Jackson had a strong spring and will challenge fellow junior Brian White for the starting job in August. The X factor in that battle could be the Buffaloes' top recruit, Cody Hawkins, who graded out fourth among 12 high school players in the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp last July in Aliso Viejo, Calif., where it was noted that what he lacked in height (5'11"), he made up for in natural leadership skills. That is not surprising, considering that his father is a football coach. At Colorado.

Dan Hawkins often tells his players not to let their fears limit them, so he found himself in a bind several weeks ago when Cody's sister Brittany, who is 20, challenged her father to go skydiving with her. "If you don't do this," Brittany said, goading Dan, "then everything you tell your guys is meaningless."

"That hurt," recalls the Hawk, who despite his fear of heights decided to take the plunge.

"See that nice-looking plane over there?" the skydiving instructor asked the coach, when it was time to take off. "That's not ours." Instead, they boarded a smaller, scruffier craft. When the pilot started the engine, Hawkins recalls, it stalled. Finally, the plane took wing. "Got to get out of your comfort zone!" he declares on a video of his adventure that can be viewed at cubuffs.com. He also tells his wife, Misti, he loves her. During free fall he is surprisingly calm until he shouts to the heavens, " Colorado Buffaloes Number 1!"

Not in '06, as anyone who watched the offense lay a carton of eggs in last Saturday's spring game knows. The poor showing was not wholly surprising. The offensive players had been force-fed a new system, and on Saturday they played as if they had indigestion. Close to 7,000 fans came to see the defense dominate on a blustery, overcast day at Folsom Field--only 50,000 fewer than packed Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., to watch the Cornhuskers' spring game.

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