When Colorado landed five-star cornerback prospect Cormani McClain in January, it helped solidify just how big of a draw first-year coach Deion Sanders would be for the Buffaloes. Despite holding offers from a bevy of the nation's most successful programs, McClain chose a team coming off a 1-11 season because of Sanders.
But four games into his college career, the prized recruit is not a factor in Colorado's secondary and has made just two brief appearances. McClain's most substantive action came in the Buffs' 42-6 loss at Oregon last week, when he was credited with playing four defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus data.
Sanders explained Tuesday what the top-ranked cornerback in the Class of 2023 needs to do in order to claim a role.
"Study, prepare," Sanders said. "Be on time for meetings, show up to the darn meetings. Understand what we're doing as a scheme. Want to play this game, desire to play this game, desire to be the best in this game in practice, in the film room and on your own free time."
An injury to star cornerback Travis Hunter during Colorado's win over Colorado State on Sept. 16 sparked an opportunity for other cornerbacks to step up leading in to last week's game at Oregon. Even amid Hunter's absence, McClain is still listed as the backup on the team's depth chart, and there's little expectation that his role will increase for Colorado's game against No. 8 USC on Saturday.
"You do know that I check film time for each player," Sanders said. "Thursday, I need film time from the whole staff so I can see whose been preparing. That's just not about Cormani. That's about a multitude of them."
Sanders' willingness to publicly explain McClain's shortcomings with such brutal honesty is part of what makes him stand out as a college football coach. Of course, McClain is not unique among cornerbacks in his slow acclimation to college football.
Of the top five cornerback prospects in the Class of 2023 as ranked by 247Sports, only Malik Muhammad of Texas has been a significant early contributor. He's logged 119 snaps through four games, including 20 in a seismic Week 2 win at Alabama, and credited with 11 tackles and two pass breakups. Alabama's Dezz Ricks, the former No. 3 cornerback prospect, has yet to play. A.J. Harris of Georgia and Ja'Keem Jackson of Florida are also backups who have seen limited action as reserves.
What is unique about McClain is his talent. While the other top cornerbacks in the class are playing for established programs and paying their dues behind seasoned veterans who were touted prospects themselves, McClain was expected to pop immediately for an overhauled Colorado roster in Sanders' first season. But Sanders isn't going to play McClain just because of physical tools and status as a coveted prospect.
"You would be a fool to put someone out there and they're unprepared," he said. "Can't do it. Won't do it, can't do it. I'm old school. I'm sorry."