It’s a little past Thanksgiving, but with the University of Wyoming football team’s season coming to an unceremonious end — the Pokes weren’t invited to a bowl game despite boasting a better resume than a handful of other teams that did receive an invite — I felt it was time to remember and give thanks to this year’s team.
Every season, each football team takes on its own identity. Players emerge, sequences stand out and some games won’t soon be forgotten. The 2018 season isn’t any different.
Just looking at the past few years, the 2013 team couldn’t stop a soul, and even an historically-great season from quarterback Brett Smith couldn’t save head coach Dave Christensen’s job. In the 2015 season, UW hit rock bottom as second-year head coach Craig Bohl and the Pokes lost 10 games.
That humbling experience set the stage for a memorable 2016 campaign in which Wyoming played host to the Mountain West Conference championship, toppled ranked teams like Boise State — for the first time in school history — and San Diego State. Josh Allen captivated an entire state and many from coast to coast with his unbelievable arm strength and uncanny ability to make something out of nothing.
The spotlight shined bright on the Gem City of the Plains in 2017 as Allen had many football executives, scouts and media members racking up frequent flyer miles booking flights to Laramie Regional Airport to merely catch a glimpse of Allen’s talent. The small-town ranch kid turned small-school standout showed his true Cowboy character in what was a difficult year offensively.
I’ll remember this season for a team that truly embodied a collective Cowboy mentality. It wasn’t always pretty and it didn’t start well at all, but the Pokes never wavered, never blinked and kept pushing forward, finishing the season with four straight wins.
I’ll remember Andrew Wingard and his blonde hair pouring out of his helmet as he tied the MWC career tackle record. I’ll remember Nico Evans, the little used running back who had every reason to transfer or become complacent in his reserve role but refused to finish his UW career as a footnote. He blossomed into a go-to tailback and represented the first Wyoming running back to lead the MWC in rushing in a single season.
I’ll remember Tyler Vander Waal, certainly not for his quarterbacking ability, at times, but for his admirable and selfless team-first focus. The man who began the season as the starter, got benched for a fellow freshman, chose to stay the course and led one of the greatest comebacks in Wyoming football history, in the snow against Air Force after starting quarterback Sean Chambers suffered an injury.
I’ll remember Cooper Rothe not missing a single field goal for the first nine games — and only one on the season — and being named MWC Special Teams Player of the Year.
I’ll remember Marcus Epps, a one-time walk on, who earned a scholarship and was named a team captain three connective years before graduating as one of the most unassuming and under-appreciated Cowboys in recent memory.
There are certainly other players that I’m not mentioning that many Pokes fans, myself included, will have a hard time saying goodbye to.
Another football season is in the books. War Memorial Stadium has changed, sporting its brand-new High Altitude Training Facility. The fans have stuck around and more have joined the fray.
A slew of decorated and talented players will return next year, making the outlook for the 2019 season promising. For the players that must move on, you left an indelible impression on a program and a state that won’t go unnoticed.
• The University of Wyoming wrestling team tied for 11th at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational last weekend. Branson Ashworth led the way, placing fifth in the 165-pound weight class.
• UW’s men’s basketball team toppled South Carolina 73-64 Wednesday to improve to 3-6 on the year.
• UW’s women’s basketball team edged Denver 78-74 Tuesday to improve to 5-2 on the season.