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Best CU return men, kick-off or punt return.

Uncle Luko

Club Member
I was thinking about this at times throughout the year, for the last several actually. I thought back to all the great ones we've had, at least since I've been watching. Let's see, I'd say McCloughan, Kelly, CJ, Bloom, Hudson, and I don't remember if Pritchard returned much? McCloughan, I was way young but remember him a bit. CU was always good to great in this area, kicking game too, we sure as hell could use it. I'm sure I'm forgetting some, what say you?


Not allowed in Barzil 2
Club Member
Kelly was stand up and watch fun but Bloom was better. Maybe consistently the best PR was Deon Figures.

KR a little harder to decide. Soupy Campbell was outstanding as was CJ. As a kid I saw Bobby Anderson return kicks and he was special as well but I'm not going to compare him in.


Well-Known Member
Come on, It's Gary Knafelc. Just because it's before our time shouldn't negate him. Guy was the white Deion Sanders. Class act too.


Club Member
This thread got me curious so I looked up some stats. Ben Kelly had the most average yards and touchdowns, with Walter Stanley a close second. The big difference is that Walter Stanley played on awful teams and was perhaps the only scoring threat CU had those years. Ben Kelly was on significantly better teams.

Apologies for the formatting mistake

Walter Stanley
Kick & Punt Returns

Kick RetPunt Ret
1980ColoradoBig 8RB111946824.61
1981ColoradoBig 8RB113070423.50191387.31

Jeremy Bloom
Punt & Kick Returns

Punt RetKick Ret
*2002ColoradoBig 12FRWR132334415.0213838.00
2003ColoradoBig 12SORB122428912.002458924.51

Ben Kelly
Kick & Punt Returns

Kick RetPunt Ret
1997ColoradoBig 12DB112577731.11
1998ColoradoBig 12DB112047423.701122920.82
1999ColoradoBig 12DB111954728.82281665.90

Jeff Campbell
Punt & Kick Returns

Punt RetKick Ret
1986ColoradoBig 8WR10262549.80
1987ColoradoBig 8WR11201698.50
1988ColoradoBig 8WR11131168.90
1989ColoradoBig 8WR112536514.60

Uncle Luko

Club Member
It wasn’t a return. It was a prayer pass that gave CU an early lead before getting blown out. The only TD return I can recall from Bloom was against CSU.
It wasn't a prayer really. I thought it was a 9, but it was definitely an 8 route. You were right about the punt return, they said at the end of this clip. I think the 9 was against Kansas State.
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Don’t drain my swamp.
Club Member
@frostycox said it best. His entire post saluting Cliff Branch posted below:

I feel like as CU fans we overlook just how great Cliff Branch was. And I don't mean with the Raiders where he had the best NFL career of any Buff ever and, with the expanded class in 2020, should finally get his overdue enshrinement and become the first Buff in the Pro Football Hall of Fame next year.

But in Boulder, Cliff was unbelievable.

Reading the obituary on BuffZone they summarize his time on the gridiron at CU as: "For the Buffs, Branch played two seasons of football and totaled eight touchdowns (five rushing, three receiving) to go along with 1,019 scrimmage yards." Besides leaving out his contributions as a returner (I'll get to that), this sentence completely misses his impact.

1971 was one of the best teams in CU history (in terms of talent and accomplishment, 1971, 1989, 1990, 1994 are together on a tier of their own above the rest). Cliff Branch was named MVP of that 1971 team. He only had 13 receptions and 9 carries that season. Eddie Crowder later regretted and blamed himself to not adapting the offense more to Branch's abilities. Cliff, being who he was (ask any Raiders fan and they will tell there was no more friendly and accessible former star than Cliff), told Crowder, "Coach, we finished as the third-ranked team in the nation. We can't look back on that now. I'm proud of what I did, and I'm proud of you."

Setting aside the limited amount of his touches at CU, let's look at what he did with them because holy sh!t.

In 11 games before the Bluebonnet Bowl in 1971, he had 13 catches for 330 yards and 3 TDs, 9 carries for 235 yards and 4 TDs, and also was 2-of-4 passing for 88 yards and 1 TD. So there were 26 times he touched the ball on offense. Those 26 plays netted 653 yards -- 25.1 yards per time he touched the ball on offense! And those plays resulted in 8 TDs -- nearly a third of the time! So while he didn't touch the ball often, when he did it was covering a quarter of the field and going for six about once every three times.

Oh yeah, and he was possibly the greatest returner in NCAA history! He set the NCAA record with 8 career combined kick/punt returns for TDs. Nearly 50 years later, his name is still in the NCAA Record Book as while this number has been matched, no player has surpassed it. In fact, until 2003, the only other player to reach 8 and match Cliff was the 1972 Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers. And Cliff did it in only two seasons!!

Going back to 1971, Cliff had 4 punt return TDs that season and those punt returns were vital to the success of that team. In the season opener at No. 9 LSU, the Buffs led 10-3 early in the second half when Cliff took a punt 75 yards to the house to spark the 31-21 CU victory. Two weeks later, now No. 10 CU played at No. 6 Ohio State. Once again, Cliff took one to the house, going 69 yards to put the Buffs up 13-0 just before halftime in a game they held on to win 20-14. Two of the biggest road wins in program history, coming in a span of three weeks, and both keyed by Cliff Branch punt return touchdowns.

Totaling up his receiving, rushing and return yards in 1971, Cliff had 1,261 all-purpose yards and a team-high 11 TDs in 11 games, averaging 20.3 yards per his 62 plays! And he also had 4 pass attempts, averaging 22.0 yards per attempt and resulting in 1 TD!

Oh, and he still holds the CU record in the 100-meter dash (among other school track records) by running a 10.0 at the 1972 NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Considering he had the best NFL career of any Buff ever and considering how dominant he was whenever he touched the ball at CU, I don't mean to start a debate by saying this as this isn't the place, but in my firmly-held personal opinion:

Cliff Branch is the greatest football player in CU history. Rest in peace, Legend.