Colorado senior Jaleel Awini’s career takes winding road

By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Colorado senior Jaleel Awini has followed a career path filled with detours, curves and potholes.

No qualms, though.

A highly touted prospect out of high school, his winding road began as Air Force’s starting quarterback before a violation of Academy standards led to an indefinite suspension. Awini transferred to Colorado, switched to linebacker because the Buffaloes already had a QB, switched again to wide receiver, sat out the start of this season with a herniated disk — one that threatened his career — and now fills a role on special teams for No. 16 Colorado.

“I’m not disappointed or mad,” said Awini, whose team plays at Arizona on Saturday as the Buffaloes (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12, No. 12 CFP) continue their march toward a conference title. “I pictured (my career) a lot different. But I can’t complain. I’m happy where I’m at and making CU great again.”

First impression of Awini: Extremely polite. Just part of his upbringing as one of three kids of a father who served as a Ghanaian diplomat before moving to the U.S. and settling in Colorado. His mother is the one who urged him toward football, as a way to burn off some of his endless energy.

He checks in with his parents at least three times a week. And when it snows, he always offers to travel from Boulder to Aurora — about a 40-minute commute — to shovel their driveway.

“I can’t believe the determination he has,” his father, Muntari said. “All that he believes is if there’s a will there’s a way, and you can achieve anything.”

That upbeat nature is what coach Mike MacIntyre appreciates about Awini.

“He’s had a tough ride, and wishes he was playing more. But it’s the way it’s worked out,” MacIntyre said. “He told me the other day, ‘Coach, I just want to help any way I can help.’ That means a lot.”

Awini had quite a bit of interest coming out of Rangeview High School in Aurora as Colorado’s Gatorade player of the year. There was even an early courtship with Colorado, but things changed when Dan Hawkins left and the new staff didn’t pursue him.

Air Force won out, in part because the Falcons’ triple-option offense seemed a perfect fit for a QB who rushed for 1,078 yards his senior season and threw for 1,266.

After a redshirt season, Awini stepped into the lineup. He played in four games in 2013 — started three — and rushed for 220 yards while throwing for another 275 yards.

Precisely the sort of dynamic player the offense needed.

Barely a month into the season, though, the Air Force Academy issued a statement saying Awini was “no longer a cadet in good standing and is not allowed to represent the Academy in any outside activities, effective immediately.”

Awini said it involved academic issues. He was eventually granted his release.

He considered Virginia, before electing to go to Colorado for one big reason: He wanted to help restore the luster to the Buffaloes, a once downtrodden program that’s now bowl eligible for the first time since 2007.

“Those Colorado teams I saw as a kid (in the early 2000s), that’s the reason I started playing football,” said Awini, an economics major set to graduate in December.

Since he was 5 years old, Awini has always played quarterback. But that wasn’t much of an option at Colorado, not with Sefo Liufau embarking on a career that would see him break or tie 82 school records.

So, Awini moved to linebacker in 2015 while remaining at his QB weight of 220 pounds. His best game was a 10-tackle performance against Arizona.

Toward the end of last season, Liufau injured a foot and Awini was moved to backup quarterback. He ran the offense on the next-to-last drive of the season at Utah, even converting a fourth-and-2 with an 8-yard run.

Just like old times.

With Liufau healthy this season, the Buffaloes switched Awini to receiver. But over the summer he experienced persistent pain in his back. Doctors found he had a herniated disk and a small fracture.

He sat out the opening eight games before being cleared. In his debut last Thursday against UCLA, he made one tackle on special teams.

“It was just awesome to finally be back out there,” said Awini, who wears a protective brace. “”This is something I’m going to cherish and miss.

“I don’t think many have had as crazy of a career as me.”