Young Cowboys hope to prove doubters wrong
It's been awhile since people have doubted the Wyoming Cowboys football team. But after losing its top two quarterbacks, its top running back, receiver, along with several key defensive players, Wyoming has been picked fifth in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference. But the majority of media members who voted believe that position is warranted after Wyoming struggled in conference play last year.
One of the offensive stars that remains this year is running back Titus Swen. He was second team All Mountain West Conference after averaging almost six yards a carry, which included a school record 98 yard touchdown run. After trading carries with former running back Xazavian Valladay last year, he is excited to be the main guy this year in Wyoming's run-first offense.
"It is a good feeling," said Swen. "I've been running the ball ever since I first started putting on pads, so coming to an offense in college where I can utilize my ability as best that I can means a lot to me and the offensive lineman, they embrace running the ball so that fuels my fire even more."
But Swen said he also knows that he needs to have a good season if Wyoming is to have the success it wants to have.
"I mean, I try not to think about it, but I do feel a little pressure on my shoulders," he said.
But Swen pointed out there are younger teammates who didn't get a chance to play last year due to some veteran players staying an extra season after the shortened COVID-19 year of 2020. He said many of those players thought they should have played more and are ready to prove themselves.
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Easton Gibbs for feels some pressure. Gibbs is playing middle linebacker, a position that has led to a lot of success for the Cowboys, as the two recent starting middle linebackers are now in the NFL.
"I'm definitely excited to step into that role. So definitely an honor just being even mentioned in the same two sentences. The guys who came before me, they're such good players here, but I definitely took a lot out of their games to try and incorporate it into mine," said Gibbs. "When they were both super successful at this level, it was definitely beneficial to me watching how they handled everything and how they approached everything that they did."
Gibbs hopes to pass along such things as how to watch game film, and how to properly prepare for games, to the younger players who will be getting significant minutes this year. He said they've spent a lot of time working on communication on defense and he likes where they are.
"The defense came a long way even since spring ball. I think we're looking really good in fall camp, we got a bunch of young guys stepping up that are hungry to play. A lot of competition going on right now, which I think is a really good thing," said Gibbs. "I think by the end of fall camp, we're gonna be ready to roll right into week one. And we'll be that same cowboy tough defense that everybody's used to seeing."
Wyoming Head Coach Craig Bohl agreed with Gibbs. His defenses have been consistently good and while this is a younger team, he said there is a lot of talent out there.
"We've got some defensive tackles who've played, the defensive ends have not played very much. And so we're excited that we've seen good things there. You know, obviously, we lost a dynamic middle linebacker, and so an opportunity for Easton Gibbs to have an impact there. And then the back end, we've got two new cornerbacks, safeties, a lot of youth, but I think some really, really good focused young players who have good athleticism," said Bohl.
One thing that really dogged Wyoming last season was inconsistency on offense. Bohl singled that out as something they had to improve upon. Things got a little tougher when Wyoming's top two quarterbacks entered the transfer portal and left the program after the season.
Offensive Coordinator Tim Polasek has been tasked with bringing along a new quarterback as well as improving the entire offense. He said his focus has been identifying things they can realistically do well. They are also setting some standard levels of play and enforcing those.
"Then getting on that marker beyond that mark, as many days as many reps as physically possible," he said. "So I'm just trying to work tirelessly right now with the offensive staff, and identifying those dips in saying, 'Okay, is it an issue because we're not capable? Or is it an issue of coaching? Or is it a player issue?' And really, any one of those three things can lead to us moving beyond it."
Polasek said near misses on big plays and untimely penalties hurt Wyoming last year too. But he's optimistic things will go smoother this year.
Bohl stressed on Wyoming Football Media Day that the team has a lot of young talent and he's very optimistic. They get to prove that on August 27 at Illinois.