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Wyoming Cowboys chase starting jobs as Pokes open spring ball Tuesday

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Posted at 8:41 AM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-29 10:41:09-04

(Editor's note: UW Athletics release)

LARAMIE, Wyo. - The Wyoming Cowboys kick off spring football workouts Tuesday afternoon in the first of 15 practices in Laramie.

Wyoming will work out on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays over the next five weeks, with the final day being the annual Spring Game on Saturday, April 30 at 2 p.m. in War Memorial Stadium. The Spring Game will be open to the public. All other practices will be closed.

A First in Wyoming History

Wyoming is coming off a 2021 season that saw the Pokes earn their fourth bowl bid in six seasons. That is the first time that had been accomplished in Wyoming Football history. The 2021 Cowboys also won their third consecutive bowl game to conclude last season.

A Coaching First

For the first time in school history a Wyoming coaching staff led Cowboy Football to four bowl games during its tenure. Head coach Craig Bohl and his staff became the first UW football staff to accomplish that feat last season leading the Pokes to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl after guiding Wyoming to appearances in the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl, the 2017 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and the 2019 Arizona Bowl.

Key Returners

There are a total of 12 starters returning for Wyoming Football in 2022. Five starters return on both offense and defense plus the Cowboys’ starting place-kicker and punter from last season’s bowl victory.

On offense the returners include: Eric Abojei (OG), Parker Christensen (FB), Joshua Cobbs (WR), Frank Crum (OT) and Treyton Welch (TE).

On defense, the five returning Cowboys who started a year ago include: Jordan Bertagnole (DT), Easton Gibbs (LB), Keonte Glinton (Nickel), Cole Godbout (NT) and Isaac White (FS), .

Wyoming also returns starting punter Ralph Fawaz and starting place-kicker John Hoyland.

All-Conference Returners

Five Cowboys return who received All-Conference recognition a year ago. Those five are: running back Titus Swen, RB (Second Team from Pro Football Focus); Cole Godbout, NT (Second Team from PFF/Honorable Mention from Mountain West Coaches and Media), Frank Crum, OT (Honorable Mention from PFF); Easton Gibbs, LB (Honorable Mention PFF); and Cameron Stone, KR (Honorable Mention PFF).

Thirteen Other Returning Cowboys With Previous Starting Experience

There are 13 other Cowboys returning in 2022 with previous starting experience. Ten of those are on offense: Titus Swen (RB), Latrell Bible (C), Alex Brown (WR), Caleb Driskill (FB), Gunner Gentry (WR), Jackson Marcotte (TE), Dawaiian McNeely (RB), Colin O’Brien (TE), Zach Watts (OG) and Wyatt Wieland (WR). Defensively, returning Cowboys Ravontae Holt (DT), Gavin Meyer (NT) and Caleb Robinson (NT) have also all started at one point or another during their college careers.

Breaking Down the Defense

Top Defenders Coming Back to Lead the Pokes

The Cowboy defense returns two of its top three tacklers from last season in linebacker Easton Gibbs and nose tackle Cole Godbout. Gibbs recorded 90 tackles in 2021 to rank second behind team leader Chad Muma, who had 142 from his middle linebacker spot. Godbout was third for the Cowboys with 70 total tackles a year ago. Godbout led Wyoming in sacks in 2021 with 5.0. He and Gibbs tied for second on the team in tackles for loss with 7.0 each, trailing only Muma’s 8.0 tackles for loss. Three other top defenders returning for the Pokes will be sophomore defensive tackle Jordan Bertagnole, sophomore nickel Keonte Glinton and sophomore free safety Isaac White. Bertagnole ranked eighth on the Cowboy defense in tackles with 38. White concluded the 2021 season ranking 10th in tackles for the Cowboys, with 35. Glinton finished the season as the starting nickel and was among the team leaders in passes defended, with one interception and three pass breakups.

Defensive Tackles/Nose Tackles

The interior defensive line looks to be one of the strengths for the Cowboys in 2022. Led by All-Conference performer Godbout at nose tackle and Bertagnole at defensive tackle, the Poke interior front will have two veterans anchoring the defensive line. A third veteran who is hoping to return to action for his final year is defensive tackle Ravontae Holt. Holt is one of the most talented defensive linemen Wyoming has recruited in recent history, but the Sacramento, Calif., native has been hampered by multiple knee injuries. His availability will be determined by his ability to bounce back from offseason surgery. Two other interior linemen who have gained game experience over the past two seasons are nose tackles Gavin Meyer and  Caleb Robinson.

Defensive Ends

While the interior portion of the defensive line will feature a number of experienced players, the defensive end position will be filled with young players, who are talented but inexperienced. Lost to graduation is former team captain Garrett Crall. Other 2021 starters Solomon Byrd and Jaylen Pate also graduated and chose to transfer. The most experienced of the returning group is sophomore DeVonne Harris, who has played in 17 games over the past two seasons. Fellow sophomore Sabastian Harsh has 13 games under his belt, although much of his playing time came on special teams. Redshirt freshman Oluwaseyi Omotosho played in three games at the end of the 2021 season, and after that a group of redshirt freshmen and true freshman will be looked to contribute.

Linebackers

Any time you lose an All-America middle linebacker, you have a big hole to fill. Former Poke Chad Muma will be greatly missed by the Wyoming defense in 2022. The likely early round 2022 NFL Draft pick concluded the 2021 season earning Second Team All-America honors from both the Walter Camp Football Foundation and Pro Football Focus (PFF). He also was named a Third Team All-American by the Associated Press.

A native of Lone Tree, Colo., Muma was one of only six national finalists for last year’s Butkus Award, honoring the nation’s best linebacker, and he was one of 18 national semifinalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, recognizing the nation’s outstanding defensive player. For the second consecutive season, Muma was selected First Team All-Mountain West Conference by conference head coaches and media.

Easing the transition at linebacker will be returning sophomore Easton Gibbs, who played outside linebacker the past two seasons for the Cowboys. Whether Gibbs will remain at his weak-side spot or move into the middle linebacker position is yet to be determined. Either way, Gibbs, the second leading tackler for UW last season with 90 tackles, will be an anchor for the Wyoming defense. Sophomore returnees Shae Suiaunoa and Connor Shay along with sophomore transfer Cole DeMarzo from Michigan State will all be competing for playing time, as will a group of nine other young Cowboy linebackers.

Cornerbacks

The Cowboy defense will be looking to replace its two starting cornerbacks last season in C.J. Coldon and Azizi Hearn. One of the leading contenders will be sophomore Cameron Stone, who served as the back-up to both Coldon and Hearn last season. Wyoming fans are of course already aware of Stone’s athletic abilities as he starred as UW’s kickoff returner last season, including returning a kick 99 yards for a touchdown to help fuel UW’s 44-17 road win over Utah State.

Two key transfers will also factor into the competition at cornerback. Deron Harrell, a native of Denver transferred to Wyoming with one year of eligibility remaining, and Jakorey Hawkins, transferred to UW from Ole Miss with two remaining years of eligibility. A quartet of talented redshirt freshmen in: Tre Dean, Zaire Jackson, Jovan Marsh and Kolbey Taylor also return as does sophomore Mathew Posas. True freshman Josh Dixon will join the team in the summer of 2022.

Safeties

A bright spot in the final five games of the 2021 season was the emergence of free safety Isaac White. White stepped in for an injured Esaias Gandy and made an immediate impact. As a redshirt freshman last season, White was credited with 35 tackles, 1.0 sack, 2.0 tackles for loss, one interception and one fumble recovery. Another experienced free safety is senior Miles Williams. The strong safety position was shared last season by senior Braden Smith, who graduated, and junior Rome Weber, who transferred. Sophomore Wyett Ekeler, who was one of UW’s top special teams’ players last season is a leading candidate at strong safety.

Offensive Breakdown

Offensive Firepower Returning

Wyoming’s offense returns some top young stars for the 2022 season. That group is led by junior running back Titus Swen. Swen rushed for 785 yards as a sophomore in 2021. He led Wyoming in rushing TDs (7) and yards per carry (5.95 yards per attempt) and became more impactful on the Wyoming offense as the season progressed.

Titus Swen’s 2021 Season Highlights

Named Second Team All-Mountain West by Pro Football Focus

•Rushed for a season high 169 yards in 44-17 road win over MW Champion Utah State on Nov. 20

•Rushed for 166 yards vs. Colorado State in 31-17 win on Nov. 6

•Ranked No. 2 in MW and No. 26 in NCAA in rushing yards per carry, averaging 5.95 yards per carry

Other top performers returning on offense include wide receiver Joshua Cobbs, second on the team in receptions in ‘21, with 25, and third in receiving yards (245). Tight end Treyton Welch had 19 receptions for 163 yards and two TDs, while fullback/tight end Parker Christensen caught 13 passes for 127 yards.

Offensive Linemen

Up front on the offensive line, four Cowboys return who have extensive starting experience. That group is led by senior Eric Abojei at left guard, who has started 26 of the 33 career games he has played in as a Cowboy, and junior right tackle Frank Crum, who has started 24 of 31 career games. Missing will be multi-year All-Conference performers Keegan Cryder at center and Logan Harris at right guard, but sophomore Latrell Bible, who is the likely candidate to start at center for the Pokes, has eight career starts to his credit and junior Zach Watts also has eight starts in his 22 career games played.

The other tackle position left vacant by the graduation of Rudy Stofer and Alonzo Velazquez will be open for competition between a large group of young players, including 2022 four-star recruit Deshawn Woods from Omaha, Neb., who will join the program this summer.

Quarterbacks

With Wyoming’s two starting quarterbacks from last season gone in Sean Chambers and Levi Williams, the quarterback competition will be one of the most watched during spring drills. Among the candidates will be junior transfer Andrew Peasley, who transferred to Wyoming from Utah State with two years of eligibility remaining. Other quarterbacks on the roster include: redshirt freshmen Hank Gibbs and Gavin Beerup, redshirt sophomore Jayden Clemons and junior-college transfer Evan Svoboda. True freshman Caden Becker will join the Pokes this summer.

Peasley’s best career games at Utah State were in 2021 at Air Force and at Washington State and in 2020 vs. New Mexico. Last season with Utah State trailing the Falcons 24-20 in the third quarter, Peasley rallied the Aggies to a 49-45 road win. He threw three second-half touchdown passes of 5 yards, 37 yards and 72 yards to three different receivers to fuel the comeback. Peasley completed 10 of 15 passes (.667) on the day for 195 yards. He added 29 rushing yards on five carries to tally 224 yards of total offense. He also scored a two-point conversion, scrambling into the end zone for the successful PAT. In the 2021 season-opening win at Washington State, Peasley completed 6 of 12 passes (.500) for 76 yards and ran four times for 43 yards to account for 119 yards of total offense in a 26-23 road victory.

In 2020, Peasley earned Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week honors with an outstanding performance against New Mexico in a 41-27 home victory. Peasley completed 14 of 21 pass attempts (.667) for 239 yards and threw three TD passes versus the Lobos. He also ran for 118 yards on 11 carries against UNM, including a 62-yard touchdown run, and accounted for 357 yards of total offense. That performance also earned him recognition as a Manning Award Star of the Week.

During his college career, Peasley has completed 70 of 127 passes (.551) for 830 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. He has also rushed for 515 yards on 57 carries, averaging 9.0 yards per carry and scoring three rushing touchdowns.

Running Backs

At running back, Swen has already shown his ability to be a star for the Cowboys, but who will step up to be the other back in Wyoming’s running attack is yet to be determined. Gone of course is UW’s second all-time leading rusher and multi-year All-Mountain West performer Xazavian Valladay. Sophomore Dawaiian McNeely is a leading candidate, having gained some game experience last season. After Swen and McNeeley is an intriguing group of six young players, ranging from 5-7, 172-pound scatback D.Q. James to 6-2, 230-pound big back Jordon Vaughn.

Tight Ends/Fullbacks

A deep group of tight ends and fullbacks return in 2022 highlighted by sophomore fullback Parker Christensen and junior tight end Treyton Welch, who have 13 and 17 career starts respectively. Sophomore fullback Caleb Driskill also was utlized as a starter last season, while at tight end juniors Jackson Marcotte and Colin O’Brien and sophomore Nick Miles all saw extensive playing time in 2021.

Wide Receivers

Sophomore Joshua Cobbs played his best football at the end of the 2021 season. He enjoyed the best game of his career in Wyoming’s road win at Utah State, catching seven passes for 76 yards. Cobbs caught four passes for 31 yards in the regular-season finale vs. Hawai’i and concluded the season with two receptions for 17 yards in the bowl win over Kent State. The biggest hole in the receiving corps was left by Isaiah Neyor, who earned Second Team All-Mountain West honors and transferred after the conclusion of the 2021 season. Redshirt junior Gunner Gentry missed all of the 2021 season due to injury, but if he is able to return to form he could provide a big boost to the receiving corps. Another juniors who return with game experience are Wyatt Wieland, Caleb Cooley and Ryan Marquez. Cooley is also the Pokes’ punt returner. Sophomores Alex Brown, Tyrese Grant and Will Pelissier are other young players who should challenge for playing time along with redshirt freshman Jaylen Sargent.

Special Teams Breakdown

Place-kicking

John Hoyland will return as a sophomore in 2022 after serving as the Cowboys’ starting place-kicker each of the past two seasons. In 2020 as a true freshman, Hoyland was named a First Team Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. He will be backed up again by fellow sophomore Luke Glassock.

Punting

In his first season as Wyoming’s starting punter, Ralph Fawaz averaged 42.4 yards per punt, had 16 punts go for over 50 yards and placed 42 percent of his punts (24 of 57) inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. His backup also returns in junior Clayton Stewart.

Return Specialists

Wyoming’s kickoff return game was strong in 2021 as cornerback Cameron Stone proved to be a huge threat. Stone returned the second longest kickoff return in school history -- a 99-yard return for a touchdown at Utah State. Stone averaged 40.0 yards per return on the five kickoffs he returned in 2021.

The Pokes will also return their starting punt returner in 2022. Wide receiver Caleb Cooley took over as UW’s punt returner in the ninth game of the season following a season-ending injury to wide receiver Ayden Eberhardt.