LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Spring practice for the Wyoming Cowboy Football team will open Monday, March 30 with the first of 15 Spring practices. The Pokes will conduct two additional practices their first week of Spring Ball on Friday, April 3 and on Saturday, April 4. The following three weeks, Wyoming will practice four times per week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with Spring practice concluding with the annual Spring Game on Saturday, April 25 at 2 p.m.
Second-year Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl will welcome back 10 starters and 33 letterwinners in 2015. Among the leading returning Cowboys is two-time First Team All-Mountain West selection and 2015 All-America candidate Eddie Yarbrough at defensive end. Offensively, UW returns one of the most dynamic running-back tandems in the Mountain West in senior Shaun Wick (753 rushing yards in 2014) and sophomore Brian Hill (796 rushing yards in 2014).
Weekday practices this spring will be conducted in the afternoons, beginning around 4 or 4:30 p.m. and lasting for approximately two hours. The first 30 minutes of practices will be open to media and the general public. Student-athletes and coaches will be available for interviews with the media after each practice. Interviews with media will be conducted in the Rochelle Athletics Center War Room.
Wyoming's first two scrimmages on Saturday, April 11 and Saturday, April 18 will be treated as regular practices, with the first 30 minutes being open to media and the public, with interviews being conducted after the scrimmages in the RAC War Room. The Spring Game on Saturday, April 25 will be open to the media and the public.
The Cowboys will utilize War Memorial Stadium and the Indoor Practice Facility for spring drills.
Dynamic Running Game and Experienced Defensive Line Provide Two Areas of Strength for the 2015 Cowboys
As the Cowboys enter their second season under head coach Craig Bohl, they have begun to take on the personality of Bohl-coached teams, which have traditionally featured strong running games on offense and outstanding defenses. Entering 2015 Spring Drills, the running game is one obvious strength for the Cowboys. Led by senior running back Wick and sophomore Hill, the Wyoming rushing attack is poised to be one of the most explosive the Pokes have had in years. Entering the eighth game of the 2014 season at Colorado State, Wick was averaging 101.0 rushing yards per game to rank No. 26 in the nation. He had recorded four 100-yard rushing games up to that point of the season, including 134 yards vs. Montana, 122 yards at nationally-ranked Oregon, 121 yards at Hawai'i and 111 yards vs. Florida Atlantic. He suffered a broken hand vs. CSU that forced him to miss the next three games. Hill moved into Wick's role early in the Colorado State game and proceeded to record four 100-yard rushing games of his own in the final five weeks of the season. He rushed for 121 vs. CSU, 281 at Fresno State, 122 vs. Utah State and 157 at New Mexico. His performance vs. Fresno State earned him the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week honor, making him the first Wyoming Cowboy in history to earn that honor.
"We are certainly pleased with where we are at, at the running-back spot," said Bohl. "Brian (Hill) was a pleasant surprise as a freshman. We knew he was talented, but he exceeded our expectations. Shaun Wick, throughout the year, was really productive against everybody that we played, so there are two proven guys there. Our challenge will be to find a third running back. We have Josh Tapscott, Nico Evans and a Parade All-American, Kellen Overstreet, coming in this summer. We think we're pretty fortified at that position -- so much in fact that it allowed us to move D.J. May over to the defensive side of the ball.
"At the fullback spot, Drew Van Maanen was a young man we didn't know a lot about when we arrived last year. He is a strong, physical guy, who is getting more comfortable playing the fullback position. It is a complicated position, and is a position that doesn't receive a lot of accolades, but it is a very important position in our offense. We are happy to have a lot of experience at those spots.
"If we have a strength throughout our entire football team it is probably at the running-back spot."
To go with the experienced and talented backfield, the Cowboys return three starters on the offensive line in senior center Rafe Kiely, junior left guard Chase Roullier and sophomore left tackle Ryan Cummings. Roullier earned Honorable Mention All-Mountain West Conference as a sophomore in 2014 and has 16 career starts to his credit, including starting all 12 games at left guard last season. Kiely has started 17 career games, and started all 12 games at center in 2014. Cummings was inserted into the starting lineup at midseason of his true freshman season, and started the final seven games at left tackle a year ago.
"Last year, it was important for us to change the mindset of the offensive line as we transitioned from a Spread Offense to a Pro-Style Offense," said Bohl. "We made good progress in implementing that change in mindset. We're going to be a little thin at some spots on the offensive line as we head into Spring, but with the three veterans we return in Roullier, Kiley and Cummings, we feel that they can really help some of our younger players continue our progress in establishing a tough, physical style of play up front."
On the defensive side of the ball, the defensive line is the strength entering the Spring. UW returns four experienced players highlighted by two-time First Team All-Mountain West selection Eddie Yarbrough at defensive end. Yarbrough has been one of the most productive defensive linemen in the Mountain West the past two seasons, and is poised for All-America consideration in his senior season. Yarbrough is joined by fellow senior defensive end Siaosi Hala'api'api, who started the final five games of the 2014 season following a season-ending injury to former Cowboy senior Sonny Puletasi. On the interior of the defensive line, Uso Olive returns for his junior season after starting the final 11 games of 2014 at nose tackle for the Pokes. Junior Chase Appleby also played in all 12 games in 2014, starting one. While the Cowboys lose seniors Patrick Mertens and Puletasi, The four returners are all upperclassmen who proved to be effective last season.
"Eddie (Yarbrough) plays extremely hard. He's an instinctive player, and without question is the leader of our whole football team," said Bohl. "His presence out on the field is extremely important for our team. This offseason, he has been able to maintain his same weight, while continuing to increase his strength levels.
"Siaosi (Hala'api'api) is a senior who played a lot for us in the second half of the season last year. Uso (Olive) started throughout last season, and is a guy who has picked up some weight. He has gotten a lot stronger and has also improved his endurance. Chase (Appleby) is another veteran who will provide us with experience and toughness on the interior of our defensive line."
"Sid (Malauulu) is a young player who has the physical stature to play on the defensive line. He's going to be up to about 285 pounds and has good strength. We were fortunate enough to be able to redshirt him last season. Jonathan (Kongbo) is another freshman who we redshirted last year. Both of those young guys will see action this next year."
Additional Position-by-Position Breakdowns
While running back, fullback, offensive line and defensive line all return multiple veteran players, other areas of the team will see a number of newcomers battling for starting spots this Spring. The first of those positions is quarterback, where redshirt senior Colby Kirkegaard is gone after starting all 12 games in 2014. Competition at the quarterback position this coming season will include one Cowboy who has previous experience at the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level in redshirt senior Cameron Coffman. Coffman transferred to UW from Indiana University a year a Coffman was the Hoosiers' starting QB in 2012, throwing for 2,734 yards. He ranked: No. 2 in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (248.5), completions (247) and attempts (407); ranked No. 3 in total passing yards (2,734): and No. 4 in total offense (2,733). He began his college career at Arizona Western Community College where he was the starter his one season there in 2011. Coffman transferred to Wyoming in 2014 and sat out the `14 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules. He has one year left to play for the Cowboys. Junior-college transfers Josh Allen and Aaron Young, both sophomores, and redshirt freshmen Austin Fort and Nick Smith will all be competing with Coffman for the starting spot.
"This Spring will be very similar to last year where quarterback will be a position we will be focused on," said Bohl. "All positions on our football team are important, but the quarterback position is a critical one. Cam (Coffman) added a lot to our program last year, serving as our scout team quarterback and gave our defense great looks throughout the season. He was also able to observe and study our system. He certainly has a lot of experience, being the starter at Indiana. His sister (Camille) played volleyball here, so he fit right into the Wyoming culture.
"We have another returning player in Aaron Young, who we redshirted last year. Add to that, Josh Allen, a junior-college transfer who joined us at semester. We have also been well pleased with Austin Fort and Nick Smith, so we have five young men competing at quarterback. It will be really important to see who rises to the top as we put all five of those guys in position to evaluate them this Spring."
At wide receiver, gone are two productive seniors in Dominic Rufran and Jalen Claiborne, who led UW with 596 and 576 receiving yards, respectively, in 2014. But the cupboard isn't bare as juniors Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt return. Gentry caught 32 passes for 435 yards a year ago to rank third for the Cowboys in both categories. Maulhardt had 21 receptions for 274 yards in 2014, ranking him fourth on the squad. In fact, Wyoming returns five of its top seven receivers from last year, including junior tight end Jacob Hollister (17 catches for 244 yards), sophomore running back Hill (13 catches for 204 yards) and senior running back Wick (10 receptions for 62 yards). Another athlete who has been moved to receiver this Spring is former quarterback, junior Tom Thornton.
"We're not nearly as deep at the receiver positions as we were last year," said Bohl. "Tanner (Gentry) has been a significant contributor over his career at wide receiver. Jake Maulhardt came on last year and had a nice season. We have a young freshman in Joseph Parker, who enrolled early out of high school and we believe can do some good things. Justin Berger also provides us with good speed. So we have a grouping of guys -- some of who have been key contributors and some who haven't played a lot, but who we feel have the ability to help us.
"Tight end is a position that we dedicated a fair amount of scholarship resources to since we came in as we had virtually no tight ends in the program. Jacob (Hollister) gained some good experience last year, and has continued to put on some weight this offseason. Tyree Mayfield and Grant Lewis are two young players that we redshirted last year. We like to play a lot of tight ends, so it will be important to see how all three of these guys develop through Spring because we will need all three of them to play next year."
On defense, the linebacker position will see a number of new faces competing for playing time as seniors Devyn Harris, Mark Nzeocha and Jordan Stanton all completed their careers in 2014. Junior Lucas Wacha is the most experienced Cowboy linebacker returning. Senior Malkaam Muhammad also returns having gained experience in 17 games over the past two seasons. Add to that group a trio of juniors, who the Cowboy coaching staff is moving to linebacker this Spring. Former tight end and wide receiver Eric Nzeocha is one of those three juniors who will be moving to linebacker. Another junior who exploded on the scene for the Pokes last year and has been moved to linebacker is former safety Will Tutein, who at 6'2" and 210 pounds has the frame to grow into a linebacker. Finally, junior Trent Sewell, who has worked at wide receiver throughout his Wyoming career, will move to linebacker. Sewell at 6'2' and almost 200 pounds also has the body type to play the linebacker spot.
"We have gone from having a lot of older, experienced players at linebacker last year to not having much depth this year," said Bohl. "We're trying to fortify that position. Lucas Wacha is a guy we will lean on heavily. Malkaam Muhammad is a senior with some experience. Trent Sewell and Eric Nzeocha are two receivers that we've moved over to defense. Part of that is for the need to develop depth at that position. The other reason for moving the players we've moved is to try and get more speed at our linebacker position. Will Tutein is a safety who we've moved over to linebacker -- again to provide us depth and speed. We have a lot of unproven players, but we feel like we have several players there who have the ability to run."
The Cowboy secondary has a number of talented young players who played significant roles in 2014 to go with a talented group of redshirt freshmen in the program. Robert Priester started seven of the last eight games of his true freshman season last year, playing both cornerback and nickel back. Tim Kamana started the last eight games at safety as a redshirt freshman in 2014. Another true freshman, Ryon'e Winters, returns after playing on numerous special teams in 2014, and senior Tyran Finley is back for his final campaign after being a key special teams contributor last season. Those four will be joined by: junior D.J. May, who is moving over to safety from running back; talented redshirt freshmen C. J. Jennings, at cornerback, and Chavez Pownell Jr., at safety, are poised to challenge for starting spots. While not yet determined, it is hoped that junior safety Xavier Lewis, who suffered a stroke during the offseason, will be able to return to school at UW and possibly rejoin the Cowboy Football team at some point in the future.
"Safety is going to be an important area for us," said Bohl. "We don't know where Xavier's recovery is going to be come next fall. Xavier has played some the past two seasons. Tim Kamana played a lot at the back end of the year for us. Chavez Pownell is a young player we are going to look heavily at. We also moved D.J. May over from running back, and he'll either play a safety position or nickel for us. He has an ideal body type and the athleticsm to play in the secondary.
"Over at the corner position, Robert Priester won't go through Spring Ball due to an injury he suffered at the end of last season. Tyran Finley, Ryon'e Winters and C.J. Jennings are all guys we will be looking heavily at. Corner too is a critical position. Our league is a wideopen league, so speed on the back end and the ability to cover is really important."
Wyoming's special teams returns two key starters in junior punter Ethan Wood and junior long snapper Brendan Turelli, who both enter the 2015 season having started for the past two seasons. Gone is senior place-kicker Stuart Williams and senior holder Sam Stratton.
"We are very pleased with the way Ethan (Wood) transitioned last year from being primarily a rugby-style punter his freshman season to more of a traditional punter the past season," said Bohl. "We also worked a lot on directional punting with Ethan last year, and we were happy with the progress he made.
"Our snapping by Brendan (Turelli) last year was excellent. He did a great job.
"The place-kicking and kickoff duties are still up in the air at this point. Ethan can certainly kick off, and Justin Martin, who has gone back and forth between kicking and the secondary, is another guy we will take a look at for kickoffs this Spring. We will have open compeition for the place-kicking duties this Spring, as well as through Fall camp."
2015 University of Wyoming Football Spring Practice Schedule
Monday, March 30 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (No Pads Practice #1)
Friday, April 3 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (No Pads, Practice #2)
Saturday, April 4 - TBA (First Padded Practice/Non-Tackle, Practice #3)
Monday, April 6 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Pads, Practice #4)
Wednesday, April 8 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Pads, Practice #5)
Friday, April 10 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Pads, Practice #6)
Saturday, April 11 - 11 a.m. (Scrimmage #1, Practice #7)
Monday, April 13 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Pads, Practice #8)
Wednesday, April 15 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Pads, Practice #9)
Friday, April 17 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Pads, Practice #10)
Saturday, April 18 - 11 a.m. (Scrimmage #2, Practice #11)
Monday, April 20 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Pads, Practice #12)
Wednesday, April 22 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (Pads, Practice #13)
Friday, April 24 - 4 or 4:30 p.m. (No Pads, Practice #14)
Saturday, April 25 - 2 p.m. (Spring Game, Practice #15)