Cowboys Football Opens Practice Friday in Anticipation of Aug. 25 Opener
The Cowboys open workouts for the coming football season with a closed practice Friday morning in preparation for their Aug. 25 opener against New Mexico State in Las Cruces, N.M. Following the practice, the athletic department will hold the annual Media Day for football, cross-country, soccer and volleyball.
Head coach Craig Bohl and his coaching staff will welcome back 19 starters and 49 lettermen from last year’s team that posted an 8-5 record, finished second in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference and won the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl to conclude the season.
Leading the way for the Cowboys will be a defense that was one of the most dynamic in the nation a year ago. The Wyoming defense led the nation in takeaways, with 38, and ranked No. 9 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing opponents only 17.5 points per game.
The leaders of that defense return in 2018. Senior All-America candidates Andrew Wingardat strong safety and Carl Granderson at defensive end will be joined by juniors Youhanna Ghaifan at defensive tackle and Logan Wilson at middle linebacker.
Wingard, Granderson and Ghaifan were First Team All-Mountain West selections a year ago. Wilson was a Second Team All-MW honoree. Senior free safety Marcus Epps also returns after being elected a team captain each of the past two seasons and starting for each of the past three years.
Eight starters and 22 lettermen return on defense. Rounding out the eight returning starters are senior nose tackle Sidney Malauulu, junior defensive end Josiah Hall and junior outside linebacker Cassh Maluia.
On offense, the Cowboys return nine starters and 24 lettermen but will be looking for a quarterback to replace Josh Allen, selected by the Buffalo Bills as the No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He is the highest pick in Wyoming school history, and the second highest NFL selection in Mountain West Conference history.
Bohl has engineered the return of Cowboy Football to prominence. Bohl is entering his fifth season as head coach of the Pokes. He feels good about the many veterans returning for the 2018 season.
“We’re going to leverage our defense,”said Bohl. “Anytime you can play great defense, you have a chance to create and maintain momentum. We do feel like we have some dynamic players over on the defensive side, but we need to continue to improve.”
Offensively, the Pokes ranked No. 2 in the nation in red-zone offense, converting 33 of 34 red-zone opportunities into scores (97.1 percent) and ranked No. 19 in the country in fewest turnovers committed (14).
The offense and defense combined to rank No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin, ending the season with a +24 turnover margin (38 turnovers gained to 14 turnovers lost). The next closest team was Central Florida with a +17.
The search for Allen’s replacement at quarterback was a focus throughout 2018 spring practice. The two candidates for that spot were senior Nick Smith and redshirt freshman Tyler Vander Waal. Vander Waal was named the starter coming out of spring. Smith was listed No. 2 on the final spring depth chart, but the evaluation of both QBs will continue into the spring according to the head coach.
“Tyler (Vander Waal) has really good mobility,” said Bohl. “He has a really strong arm. I think he’s athletic, but he has not had an opportunity to get many reps over the past year. He ran the scout squad in practice last year. We were able to do some things with him during our bowl preparations and of course during spring practice. I think he has showed us some good things, but he also needs to improve on some things.
“Nick (Smith) is a guy who has a lot of great leadership skills and has played in our system. He is certainly an intelligent young man. He’ll be a fifth-year player, and so as a result of all those things you have to like a lot of those characteristics as a coach.”
Outside of the quarterback position, the Wyoming offense does return a large group of experienced veterans.
“We do have some good experience returning on offense,” said Bohl. “Kaden Jackson and Zach Wallace are two senior offensive linemen. Gavin Rush, Logan Harris and Alonzo Velasquez all have good experience. At tight end, we have three seniors who have all played in Josh (Harshman), Tyree (Mayfield) and Austin (Fort). Running back is a position where we have several individuals back, and we need to make a positive step forward at that position.
“We also have veteran experience at the receiver position in James Price, Austin Conway and C.J. Johnson. C.J. and John Okwoli will both be coming off offseason surgeries. C.J.’s status for this season is in question. There are some younger guys who played some last year. Jared Scott played a little bit last year as a true freshman, as did Avante’ Cox. We have a couple other younger guys who have been on our squad in Ayden Eberhardt and Dontae Crow, who have done some good things, as well.”