April 21, 2004
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
When your best friend literally dies in your arms, it puts life in perspective.
"It certainly puts football in perspective," says Bryan Applewhite, the personable coach of Wyoming's running backs. It was a life-changing experience. I do my best not to take anything for granted anymore."
Applewhite, who is in his second season with Joe Glenn and the Cowboys, was born and reared on a farm five miles from where the north runway at DIA now stands, and some 20 minutes east of Brighton, Colo. He, his best friend Joey Kallsen, and another friend, Craig Smith, were driving home from dinner on a March in 1999. Joey lost control of his truck--a truck Applewhite had just sold him--and it rolled. Two friends walked away, one didn't. Kallsen was crushed under the vehicle. "I tried my hardest to move the truck, and couldn't, Applewhite says. By the time rescue help arrived, it was too late."
"He and I had known each other since Kindergarden. We were very close. We had talked about owning a farm or ranch together. I was going to go into ag-business, and he was going to run our ranch. We always joked with each other that I would be the brains and he would be the brawn. And, then he was gone. Had I known in Kindergarden that he would be gone at 24 years of age, I would have done a lot more with him. Friendships are just so important."
As with most of the Cowboy staff, there are a number of ironies associated with Applewhite, and his road to Laramie. Cowboy tight end coach Harvey Patton was his running backs coach during his playing days at Northern Colorado, for example. His mother, Ann, taught Harvey in ninth grade, and then was an assistant principle at Thornton High School, where receiver coach Ron Wisniewski was teaching math. Linebacker coach Marty English's dad worked with Applewhite's father, Fred, who was the District Athletics Director for the Denver Public Schools for many years.
It was English, along with Glenn, who recruited Applewhite to Northern Colorado. Coming out of high school, Applewhite also was recruited by Colorado State, and Wyoming. "I received letters from Coach (Dave) Butterfield (Cowboy secondary coach in the early 1990's), as well as from CSU. But I had not heard from them for quite awhile, when Marty came to my school to see me. I really liked him. He layed the pitch on me, and I bought into it. So he and coach Glenn came to my house for a visit. Picture this," Applewhite says. "Coach Glenn comes into our house, meets everybody, then sits down at our piano and starts playing. My mother leans over to me, and whispers, 'it's over, you're going to UNC'."
It turned out to be the best decision he could make. Not only did he flourish as a fullback from 1994 through 1998 there, but he coached there, got to know Glenn there, and met his future bride, Rachelle, there. "Rachelle was a volleyball player at UNC," he says. "I saw her in the training room a couple of times. I eventually got up the courage to ask her out, and it was over." The couple will celebrate two years of marriage in June.
After having trouble with his right shoulder--he had seven surgeries--Applewhite, who still wears his number 33 on a gold chain around his neck ("I'll pass it on to my son some day.")-- finished school in December of 1998, with a great desire to coach.
"In December of 1998, I was going to try and stay on with Coach Glenn as a graduate assistant," Applewhite says. "But Harvey (Patton, Glenn's running backs coach) took a job with the University of Nevada. Joe hired me, right out of college. I coached during the 1999 season , after which Joe headed to Montana. In the meantime, the accident occurred. With everything that had just happened with the accident, I just didn't feel it was the right time for me to leave UNC. I wasn't ready. I was so close to Joey's family, that I couldn't do it. The irony is that Joe then hired Havey to replace me at Montana, after he had hired me to replace Harvey at UNC."
Coaching at his alma mater at a young age, and right out of college posed the obvious challenges for Applewhite, considering his young age. "It was like this, 'a year ago I was being yelled at with you (teammates), and now I'm the one doing the yelling," he smiles. "In reality, that's what determined my coaching style. I did not yell at kids because I knew how it hurt. That's the way I am today. I'm still demanding, but I'd rather talk to them. It was very interesting and challenging situation when I started because of my age.
"To his credit Joe was great about it. This is the kind of guy he is, even during that first year, he did not sit in on my meetings, or hover over me during practice. He let me do my job. And, if he ever did say anything to me, it would be in the hallway, and it would always be something positive."
Applewhite knew there was something special about Glenn when he was being recruited. "Not only was he a positive, good guy, but he believed in family, certainly something I felt strongly about. I look to him like I do my father."
Applewhite coached tight ends for Glenn, during last year's inaugural season. But this year he has returned to coaching running backs, the position he held at UNC. "I don't believe the postion you're coaching matters all that much. Football is football. It's understanding the game, then teaching and communicating it. I feel blessed with our running backs. They have had an outstanding spring, and they are coming along great. Ivan (Harrison) has gotten bigger, and mentally tougher. C.R. (Davis) is healthy, and playing very well, and Joseph (Harris) is becoming what we expected him to be. He's had to learn a whole new system from what he was familar with in junior college, and he's feeling more and more comfortable. We're also excited about our two young freshmen (Keithon Flemmings, Garland, Texas and Wynell Seldon, Murphy, Texas) who will be coming in the fall."
Eventually Applewhite would like to become a head coach, but he is the first to admit that there is much to learn. He spent four seasons with Kay Dalton at UNC, and learned a tremendous amount about the game from him. He's also learned well from Cowboy offensive coordinator Bill Cockhill.
"I've learned so much from both of those guys," he says. "Kay gave me a lot of responsibility, which made me more well-rounded as a coach . That was a great education in one style of offense. Now with Billy, I have learned a whole new way to present things. He is so sharp, and really knows the passing game. I wanted to work with something different, and that's the opportunity I have had here. At UNC we used power football. We came at you. We go about it in a little different way here. One day I would love to be a head coach, but I know I have a ways to go before that happens."
Applewhite is willing to wait, and in the meantime enjoy each day. "I certainly don't take days for granted anymore. I'm not quite like Joe in that every day is a great day. He's always happy. But I have really tried to cut down on the bad days, and make the good days better."