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LARAMIE (AP) — In recent history, Wyoming’s wide receivers have fit a certain mold.
They’ve been speedy, able to take a screen pass and burst into the secondary. They’ve been versatile, equally comfortable in the slot or split out wide.
And they’ve been one more thing: consistently, undeniably short.
Last season’s leading receiver, Chris McNeill, and teammate Trey Norman were the tallest on the 2012 squad, both standing 6-feet-1 inches tall, followed by Dominic Rufran at 6-0.
Not since David Leonard in 2010 have the Cowboys possessed anything close to a big, dangerous red zone target, someone who could be counted on to win a jump ball in the back corner of the end zone. But like Leonard, Nico Brown and Jarrod Darden don’t fit the current mold.
Brown, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound redshirt freshman, and Darden, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior transfer from Colorado, are certainly big targets. And ask Brett Smith, Dave Christensen or any professional darts thrower, and they’ll tell you the bigger the target, the easier it is to hit.
“He’s a big target, and he can lay out and catch balls,” Christensen said about Brown last week. “It’s a lot easier hitting a big target than a small target if you’re ever throwing darts.”
Smith, of course, is throwing footballs, and thus far in camp Brown has caught a lot of them. The redshirt freshman has taken most snaps with the first team, and he also led the Cowboys with 103 receiving yards, including a 54-yard touchdown, in the team’s first fall scrimmage last Sunday.
Darden landed in Laramie this summer after spending four years at Colorado, a place where he found little success and constant instability, in the form of three coaches in four years. After graduating last spring, Darden sought an offense that could use a big, strong receiver.
“I was tired of it. I was tired of the inconsistency and guys coming in that wanted to bring in their own guys. I didn’t know if I’d fit in their system,” Darden tells the Casper Star-Tribune. “I just wanted to graduate and go somewhere where I knew the staff could use me.”
The Wyoming quarterbacks have used Darden thus far, as the lanky target has made a number of one-handed snags and also notched a touchdown on Sunday while working with the second team.
While the shorter receivers have certainly been productive in the past few seasons, size can’t be taught or faked. Some balls are inevitably going to sail high or wide, and only a select few Wyoming receivers will be capable of corralling them.
Quarterback Jason Thompson trusts Darden to do that.
“Jarrod’s a big target. Anything you put around him, he’s going to catch it,” Thompson said. “So you just have to get him the ball and let him make plays.”
A prime example of that took place late in Sunday’s scrimmage, as Darden sprinted deep across the middle on a crossing route.
He was navigating through traffic, but Thompson spotted his helmet looming above the crowd.
The football sailed into a short window in front of him, and with limited time to react Darden stuck out his enormous right paw, stopping the ball in its tracks with a thud. He snatched it and pulled it in in one fluid motion, the ball’s velocity suddenly extinguished.
The formula was simple: big hand is greater than small football.
“With that one-handed catch, Jason just threw it up and he gave me a chance. Some quarterbacks won’t do that,” Darden said. “They’ll give you a chance to make a play.”
Give them that chance, and Brown and Darden can make plays that Wyoming fans haven’t seen in recent years.
They won’t fit the mold, and that’s a good thing.