LARAMIE (AP) — At first, Connor Rains was mad.
But now it seems like it was the best thing that could have happened for the University of Wyoming offensive tackle.
Rains signed with UW in the winter of 2012, and as with most junior college transfers, was expected to help the Cowboys right away after being a two-year starter at American River (Calif.) Community College.
But UW had two seniors in line to play tackle last season in Josh Leonard and Kyle Magnuson. Magnuson, who played guard most of his career, moved to tackle, and his progression was good enough to move him into the starting lineup.
Rains had a redshirt year available, so the coaches decided to use it. Rains traveled with the team to road games and was listed on its two-deep roster.
But he didn’t play.
“First there was frustration. I was (mad) a little,” Rains said after UW’s second of 15 spring practices this week. “I was working my butt off. But then I realized that there were two seniors in front of me. I was able to get stronger, know the plays better, and come in now and automatically take the position, hands down.”
Rains (6-foot-7, 318 pounds) is one of four players competing for UW’s two starting tackle spots and one of three guys coming off redshirt years.
Walker Madden is another junior college transfer, but despite being 6-9, he was only 255 pounds when he arrived for fall camp. Now, he is up to 280.
“I wasn’t ready to play when I came in,” Madden tells the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “It gave me a chance to acclimate and learn the system. By the end of the season, I started to get the hang of it.”
Redshirt freshman Nathan Leddige (6-5, 289) also is in the mix.
Co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jim Harding said there is no depth chart for any of the offensive linemen this spring, but those three, along with sophomore Austin Traphagan (6-5, 308), have seen time at both tackle spots in UW’s first two spring practices.
Harding said the redshirt year did Rains and Madden a lot of good.
But he knows it wasn’t easy, especially for Rains, who was a two-year starter in junior college and went through spring drills with UW last year.
Normally, junior college transfers who come in mid-year are expected to compete and contribute right away.
“At first, I thought it was me,” Rains said. “Was I not putting up enough effort? (Then) I realized it was not me, it was how the whole system worked and how (the coaches) process things.”
That process is putting the best five offensive linemen on the field, no matter the position. Traphagan emerged as the sixth man based on his performance in practice, and his ability to play both guard and tackle.
“The way we coach them is we want them to learn as many positions as possible because they become more marketable,” Harding said. “Traphagan could play four spots, and that got him on the field.
“(Rains) sees how that developmental year has helped him. These spring practices will be huge to continue to get better.”
Rains said he realized that after the second or third week of the regular season, and after that, he started to work toward this season.
Now, being mad and frustrated has turned into confidence and optimism.
“It was the best choice for me,” Rains said. “I know when I got home my parents were happy I redshirted. They said if I didn’t I might have one OK year and then a good year. Now I am going to have two good years.”