Uncertainty concerns CU's Class of 2004

As he walked down the hallways of Sacramento's Foothill High School, senior Charlie Sherman couldn't help but feel the other kids staring, couldn't help but hear the jokes.

"Hey Charlie, how were the sex parties at Colorado? How many strippers did you have? Is that why you committed so early?"

Until this week, he would smile, laugh and brush it aside. But that was before six different women came forward, accusing former Colorado football players of rape. That was before head coach Gary Barnett defended himself by criticizing the football abilities of former kicker Katie Hnida, one of the six. And that was before Sherman, who just two weeks ago signed a letter of intent to play football for Barnett at Colorado, seemed likely to lose his first college coach.

"It was fun and games until I heard that Coach Barnett got put on leave," Sherman said. "Right then and there I said, 'I don't like this. This isn't funny anymore. It's scary.' "

Sixteen days ago, despite the fact that Colorado was defending itself against charges that it used alcohol and sex to recruit players, despite the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, Sherman and 17 other high school seniors across the country signed on the dotted line to play football for the Buffaloes.

Some believed the allegations would blow over and wouldn't be a long-term problem. Others fell in love with the school and didn't care about the swirling rumors of sexual assault and keg parties. Yet others always dreamed of playing for Colorado no matter what the circumstances.

But like it or not, just two weeks removed from betting that Barnett and Colorado would be OK, these teenagers find their new school embroiled in a controversy they say they had nothing to do with. The program could face NCAA sanctions. And when these players show up for practice later this summer, they will likely stand before not Barnett, but a new head football coach.

"That's the last thing I want to see," Sherman said. "It isn't right. Coach Barnett is like a father figure. He came into our house and told my dad that he would treat me like a son. I don't think he's being treated fairly."

Ryan Walters, a SuperPrep All-American quarterback, is one of the most prized recruits of the 2004 class. His father Marc played at Colorado in the mid-80s, with Barnett as his position coach. Ryan enrolled in December and will participate in spring workouts.

"The first reaction is disappointment and sadness for everybody involved," Marc Walters said. "There are a lot of good people at the university. But this tends to put a dark cloud over everyone. It's really ugly. All the former players have been calling each other wondering what the hell is going on."

The Colorado coaching staff, just like it did throughout the recruiting season, still finds itself in damage-control mode. Assistant coaches are regularly making phone calls, sending e-mails, keeping kids on and off campus abreast of what's going on.

Sherman, talks regularly with receivers coach Ted Gilmore.

"He tells me that they're getting sick of all these lies," Sherman said. "That everything is getting pointed at them, but has nothing to do with them. Just be patient and it will be alright."

Sherman, an option quarterback in high school, said "75 percent" of the reason he chose Colorado was Barnett. But he has no plans to transfer. A random sampling of six other Colorado recruits revealed that none of them had plans to leave Boulder, regardless of the outcome of the current investigations.

"We don't allow any kind of media controversy or anything else to affect where we are sending our child to college," said Reginald Joseph Sr., father of the incoming wide receiver recruit of the same name. "He's Colorado no matter what. We sat down as a family and discussed it. He made his decision to be a Buffalo and we stick by him."

At the center of the controversy are allegations that Colorado coaches used alcohol and sex parties to lure recruits to the school. But both Sherman and highly-touted Texas high-school wide receiver Patrick Williams, who visited Boulder in November for the Nebraska game, never saw such craziness.

Both players were up at 6 a.m. and in bed by midnight on the night of their visits.

"And when I got back to the hotel, I had to call in. They had bed checks," Sherman said. "And they lectured us over and over again -- if we did anything, absolutely anything out of line, we could lose our scholarship.

"That was the most strict place that I visited," Williams said. "I mean, when I was in Utah, we got in one night at 3 a.m. and to be up at 7. At Colorado, they were constantly checking on you."

Sherman, who visited the same weekend, said his day went like this: He woke up at 6 a.m., went to a team breakfast, a team meeting, then rode on the team bus to the stadium. After touring the locker room, training room and weight room, he watched pregame warm-ups on the field and then watched the game from the stands. Afterwards, he sat in on coach Barnett's press conference, went to a luncheon for recruits and then met the guidance staff. That was followed by a visit with the strength coach, a quick nap and then a recruit dinner at 5 p.m. From 8 p.m. to midnight, he hung out with his host at some of the player's apartments.

But there were no strippers, no escorts, no keg stands. Just a couple guys lounging on the couch, watching SportsCenter. Williams said that his hosts took him to a party during his visit. But nothing crazy went on.

"There was dancing; it was a good time," Williams said. "But before the clock hit 12, we had to leave and get back to our hotel for bed check. I don't know if the hosts might have went back."

Then, when Williams returned home to Texas, the teasing began.

"I didn't know what was going on, we don't have cable, but my track coach was like, 'How come you didn't tell me about them sex parties? Why you keeping that from me?' " Williams said. "And I told him, 'Nothing like that happened. Seriously, nothing happened.' He says I wouldn't tell him anyway."

Walters, the former Colorado quarterback and father of recruit Ryan Walters, said he never imagined an environment in which sex and alcohol scandals could rock the Boulder campus. Still, he's well aware of the typical big-time college environment, in which frat parties, binge drinking and casual sex are sometimes the norm.

"I never thought there was the potential for this," Walters said. "I never saw this coming. But that said, it's Division I college football. There are things that happen that are out of control of not only parents and administrators, but coaches as well. It's not right. But I don't know how far we're asking coaches to go."

Regardless of who's at fault or what the final outcome may be, one thing is certain: The reputation of the Colorado football program is now tarnished. And it won't be easy to repair. With Barnett or without him, with NCAA sanctions or without them, the four years these recruits will spend at CU will likely be drastically different then they ever imagined when the entire recruiting process started almost a year ago.

"It's crazy," Williams said. "I called a couple guys up there and was like, 'What's going on? What's going to happen? They told me, 'We're going to be here. But we're not sure he's going to be here.' Everyday is like a roller-coaster ride."

Said Walters: "When you talk about recruiting next year, what's that going to look like? When you talk about students, top-notch students, are they going to want to go to Colorado now?

"You have a public university with a lot of people that have nothing to do with this. Faculty, students and many other facets of the university. This sort of taints the whole thing. And I hate to see that."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.