May 7, 1999
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
With 45 lettermen returning, including a stable full of excellentplayers, and a spring training period that went almost letter perfect,prospects for Wyoming's 1999 football campaign could hardly seem brighter.
It's not easy for Head Coach Dana Dimel to mask his enthusiasm whenit comes to talking about his third Cowboy edition.
"We have a lot of good football players in this program," the headcoach said, "and I thought we had an outstanding spring training. This isthe best team I've put on the field since I've been here. But, then, thisalso is the toughest schedule we've faced. Tennessee and the non-leagueschedule aside, I think there are six teams in the Mountain West Conferencewho could challenge for the title. Every Saturday we're going to be liningup with outstanding teams. But we are thrilled with that opportunity.We're proud to be in the new league."
Dimel welcomes 15 returning starters to camp from last year's 8-3outfit, including six on offense, eight on defense, and kicker Aaron Elling.
Of the 11 offensive starters listed on the two deep heading intofall camp, eight are seniors and one is a junior. Due to that experiencelevel the Cowboys quickly picked up the new elements of offense installedduring spring. Dimel said he was extremely pleased how quickly his teamassimilated the new elements.
"Without question our offense is ahead of where I thought it wouldbe at this time," Dimel said. "The key to that has been (quarterback Jay)Stoner. His experience and his intelligence has been big for us. The factthat he has a firm grip on what's going on, allows the rest of our offenseto do the same. They feed off of him."
There are still some question marks with the offense, however, thatwere not totally answered during spring training. The running backposition, for instance, is still unsettled due to the fact that injuriesprevented all candidates from showing their stuff. Top returning rusher TimBeasley missed a good portion of training due to a groin pull, and anothertop candidate, Arlen Smith, was sidelined with mononucleosis. Yet anotherhopeful, Darth Tesinsky, missed the entire spring after undergoing kneesurgery. All three should be ready for fall camp, however.
On the positive side, those injuries allowed returnee Jon Jenningsto receive many more reps, and he blossomed. According to Dimel, he was themost improved player on offense during the training period.
Another area that is an uncertainty is the offensive line. Althoughthere are a pair of outstanding veterans-left guard Dan Delcorio and righttackle Chris Cichosz-there are two freshmen in the starting lineup-centerMike Irvin and right guard Rob Kellerman-and a part-timer last season atleft tackle-Nate Selk.
"I think Delcorio and Cichosz will be outstanding football playersfor us," Dimel said. "Selk is coming along, and we're very pleased with thetwo freshmen. But they are freshmen, and that is a concern especially withoffensive linemen. We believe in them, but we'll have to wait and see."
The strength of the offense comes at receiver where no less than 10individuals will be vying for the four starting spots. Individuals likeWendell Montgomery, Kofi Shuck and Brahms Derenoncourt are proven veteranswhile young players like Brock Ralph and Cliff Brye are up-and-comingcontributors.
"We want to be able to control the football, move it for longperiods of time," Dimel said. "We want to create big plays. If we can dothose things with this offense, then we are going to be successful."
The strength of the 1999 Cowboys is on the defensive side of thefootball. Dimel believes he has more depth, and more outstanding players onthis unit, than last year's which became a very effective outfit. He wouldlike to see the defensive numbers return to where they were in 1997, whenthe Cowboys were outstanding in sacks and turnovers. "In other words wewant to apply more pressure as a defense," he said.
"We're very pleased how our defense is coming together," Dimel said."We have more speed and more depth than we've had since I've been here."
The fact that eight starters are returning is good news. The factthat nearly half of those starters can be numbered among the very bestCowboys ever to play their positions is even better news. Tackle Jeff Boyle,safety Al Rich and corner Robbie Duncan are as good as the Cowboys have everhad in their respective spots, and that's saying something.
"During spring ball we were able to establish a solid two-deep,"Dimel said. "I think it is safe to say that we are going into the fallwithout any big questions or concerns. I think we feel comfortable aboutevery position on the defense."
Dimel said he felt the Cowboys had their best spring since he's beenat Wyoming. "I think since I've been here, and maybe since I've beencoaching, we had fewer questions to answer than ever before. Obviouslythat's a very good situation. Because of that, there's no reason why weshouldn't be able to improve on what we did last year. In other words, weshould be a better football team. Whether that means a better record, thatwill be the question. It might very well be that an 8-3 record in this newconference will take a much better effort than the 8-3 we produced lastyear.
"I've been looking at a lot of tape, and the more I see the more Irealize that we had better be ready to play every week. We already knowabout Air Force and CSU, but I've looked at a lot of Utah, BYU and San DiegoState tape, and they are all outstanding football teams.
"Because of the big games we have early-Tennessee and Air Force-wemust have a really tough fall camp as far as conditioning goes. That willmean, then, that towards the later part of the season we will have to startcutting back. But how we begin this season is very important to how wefinish it.
"In addition to the conditioning aspect, our fall goals are to makesure we cover a lot of the little things so there are no nuances in the gamethat come up that we didn't think about. Some of those kinds of thingsmaybe cost us in the past, and could cost us again. Then we must establisha number one punter, and make sure our punting game is solid.
"The kids are excited about the season. They feel as excited aboutplaying Tennessee, Brigham Young, Air Force, CSU, those types of games, asthe fans do, believe me. We have to have a good team to make it throughthis schedule. There is nobody on that schedule we can take lightly, thatwe can't go in not ready to play. But there is not a team we cannot competewith either.
"Probably 95 percent of our starters played in both the Ohio Stateand Georgia games, as well as the Colorado game. They realize now that ifwe play well against opponents like those, we can win. We can play withthem. Knowing you can play with them is the big thing. So I hope that willmake a difference this year.
"Tennessee may be a little different situation. This will be thebest team we've played. This is the defending national champion that lostfour starters on offense and four on defense from that championship team.Over the last three years they have won more games than anybody in thecountry. You can't find a better football team than Tennessee.
"It should be an exciting season, and we are looking forward to it."
Dimel's Assessment Position-by-Position
Quarterback: "Jay Stoner caught on to the offense a lot quickerthan I thought he would during spring ball. I was really pleased with that.Obviously he's shown the maturing process from his sophomore to his junioryear, and that has really allowed him to do a great job. He has reallytaken a giant step in learning how to lead this football team. Hisintelligence has been a big factor. Jay didn't practice the last couple ofdays during spring training, and that allowed Matt Swanson to receive somevaluable time with the first unit. I think he gained a lot of confidenceand that was huge for us. Brandon Neill, right now our third stringer,could be the best of the three eventually. We're really excited about him.We would not expect him to be in our plans this year. If he is, we havesuffered injury, and hopefully that won't happen. I feel great about thisposition. I'm really impressed with Stoner. I think he is as good as therewill be in the conference. He can do everything it takes to lead a footballteam. I also feel very confident with Swanson as the backup. He can makethings happen, and he has made some great advancements."
Superback: "The fact that Tim Beasley and Arlen Smith were injuredin the spring hurt this position somewhat. Obviously they needed the reps.With those two sidelined, however, Jon Jennings received a lot morevaluable time than he would have ordinarily. Who will be the starter? Itcould be any of the three. It may end up 'superback-by-committee' becausewhomever has the hot hand is going to get the call. As we head into fallcamp, the position is up in the air. We also have to consider DarthTesinsky because he is a guy who will be able to help us. He missed all ofspring training after knee surgery. Because of the committee approach, wemay not have a 1,000-yard rusher. But as a group we'll be effective. Thisposition has the opportunity to be very solid."
Receivers: "This position is the strength of the team offensively.For our four receiver positions, we have 10 guys whom I would becomfortable with on the field. We also have a junior-college transfer (NateScott), whom I think will be very good for us. I don't talk too much aboutjunior-college players, but this guy is going to be a special player. Ourbest receiver is Wendell Montgomery. There is not another receiver in thecountry I'd rather have playing for us than Wendell Montgomery, not one. Tome, he's got everything it takes to be something special. I think KofiShuck has matured. We got a taste of Kofi last year when he really steppedup to play, especially in the Colorado State game. I feel very comfortableabout both of those players. Then we have some smaller, quicker guys likeBrahms Derenoncourt, Tommy Nash and Brock Ralph-who's not small but hasoutstanding speed. Cliff Brye also has proven he can be a serious contenderfor one of those positions. At the 'Y' position Sterling Kihei had anoutstanding spring, and Willie King has gotten better and better. Add Scottin there as well. He has outstanding speed, and in fact may be our fastestreceiver. We are going to have to lean on this position to create bigplays, help us move chains, and give us consistency. I don't think I havebeen around a situation with so many good receivers. Most of these guyswere around two years ago giving us gray hair in the Ohio State game. Nowthey have matured, and they are two years better. They make the differencein our offense."
Offensive Line: "I think this offensive line has an opportunity tobe better than last year's group. Are they more talented? Maybe not. Butwill they play to a better level? I believe they will. It is youngespecially in terms of experience. When you talk about our offensive line,you have to start out with Chris Cichosz and Dan Delcorio. These two guysare veterans who are very solid. As long as they stay healthy, they will bethe leaders in there, and will play well. Nate Selk has matured a lot atthe left tackle position. He needs to continue to improve. But he has theability to be a good player for us. We started two freshmen through most ofspring ball, and that's always a concern, especially in the offensive line,and especially in big ball games. Mike Irvin at center is as good afreshman center as I've been around. He has great feet and he's anintelligent player. He is really a tough nut. I have a great deal ofconfidence in him. Rob Kellerman at right guard is a fine freshman as well.We felt when we recruited him that he might be an NFL-type guy one day. Iam amazed at how good of a player he is. I think if anyone can do it asfreshmen it would be those two guys. They're both very physical, especiallyfor players as young as they are. If Jason Wilhelm comes back from his kneesurgery, that will help our depth at that position. Jason has been aroundthe block a few times. But heading into fall camp, it will be Kellerman atright guard. Another young player, Pat Hutchinson, can really help us, buthe is a question mark because of a knee injury. Trifon Demos, at righttackle; Brian Johnson, at right guard; and Adam Goldberg, at left tackle,also give us excellent depth. We have ten guys whom we feel comfortablewith. We also believe that these guys will become better and better as theseason goes along. This offense is a little easier on the offensive line.There are not as many schemes to learn and think about. They won't be askedto knock people off the football as much. The scheme is based onintelligence, pass protection abilities, and having a good understanding ofthe finesse part of football."
Defensive Line: "There are seven players on the defensive line whomwe feel very comfortable with. Beginning on the outside, we have Brian VanEmmerik who is working at defensive end, after playing at a tackle lastyear. At 265 he gives us some size out there. He is a veteran, and anoutstanding player. That is very positive. Backing him up is Jerel Hayneswho has had problems with injury through much of his career to date. Wekept him out of spring training to give him just a little more time.Hopefully he will be healthy. When he is, he is one of our best footballplayers. He has an explosion and plays at an intensity level that allowshim to be very successful. He can be as good as anyone we have along ourfront. Backing him up is Brandon Jones. He's a young guy with a ton oftalent, and he will definitely be worked into our rotation. At the banditposition Patrick Chukwurah should be outstanding for us. He made big playafter big play a year ago as a sophomore, and we expect even bigger thingsfrom him as a junior. With Chukwurah at the bandit is Pat Hirsch. Patweights 250, and is probably one of the two most improved players we hadduring spring training. With those four, and Brandon Jones, we feel verycomfortable that we have five very good defensive ends. Inside we have acouple of veterans in Jeff Boyle and Jon Mathis. Boyle could become one ofthe very best players Wyoming has had in the defensive line. He is stilllearning to become a better all-around player, but he is obviously gifted,and the type of player you can build a football team around. Mathis is afine football player who made some very big plays for us last year. He canmake a lot of things happen. Jason Dreessen will backup inside with ayoungster, Anthony Stannard, adding depth. If need be, Van Emmerik couldmove back to the inside. Again, we have seven veterans we feel good about,and hope that both Brandon Jones and Anthony Stannard mature as redshirtfreshmen. Without question this is a strength of our defense. I think wecan be as good or better than most d-lines in the country."
Linebackers: "We are real excited about this area. We have beenworking to get speed and quickness throughout our linebacking corps, and wethink we are just about there. Obviously this is a very critical positionfor us. All really solid football teams have an outstanding group oflinebackers. Heading into fall camp, our three starters will be Adrian Hillat strong-side backer, Herman White at middle backer, and Cortney Barnes orRichard Peprah at the weak-side position. Hill goes about 240, White, 220,Barnes at 215, and Peprah at 222. These three positions can run for their size,and are very athletic. We were very pleased with White in the middle. Heis a young guy (sophomore), but he is extremely talented. What makes theposition even more impressive for us is the depth. Matt Klotz backs up Hill,and we don't feel like we lose much with Matt in the game. He is anexcellent player. Jared Jarnagin will backup in the middle. He had a greatspring, and he fills that role of Cowboy middle linebackers in the past likethe Talich brothers and Brian Brown. Jarnagin plays with great consistencyand seems to always be in the right place at the right time. Peprah andBarnes will battle on that weak side, and either one gives us a solid playerthere. Leo Caires, Marcus Ford and Tim Glynn give us added depth at backer.Behind a good front you want some athleticism to rally and make plays. Inthis area, I think we have a very solid, very athletic group with lots ofdepth."
Secondary: "We have some very good players in our secondary, guyswho will make plays, guys who are solid individuals. Do we have enough?That's the question. The corner position is critical to our style of play.I think in Robbie Duncan we have as good a cover corner as there is around.He remained healthy during the spring, and if he can continue to stayhealthy he'll be as good as anybody. The other corner is up in the air.Jean Dugas (junior-college transfer), Adrian Boston, Alan Jones and ChrisCole all will get a shot at the position. They all have speed andathleticism to compete. There isn't one of them that doesn't have the speed,strength or athleticism to get the job done. The experience and the savvywill come with more repetitions. The safety position has the experience. Idon't believe there is a better free safety in the conference, maybe in thecountry, than Al Rich. He is a leader, he is an individual who makes plays,makes big things happen. Any good defense must have a player like Rich.Matt Lehning is the backup there. He is a very physical player who does agreat job. I have a feeling he would be starting for most teams. We kindof consider him one of our starters anyway, and he will see a lot of playingtime. Trent Gamble is our strong safety, and he had a great spring. He hasexcellent speed and strength, and also is a very athletic player. Weprobably would rotate Al to strong if anything happened to Trent , and Mattwould play free. A young guy like Eddie Johnson will give us depth in thatstrong safety position. As time goes on we'll feel comfortable withputting any of those guys into a game. As I said, we have some young guyswho are going to have to grow up quickly. But we also have some greatleaders in that secondary. Obviously we must have the secondary produce forus, and I look for everyone there to have a great year. We certainly arecapable of that."
Special Teams: "When we look at this area, the first individual wetalk about is Aaron Elling. Clearly he has the ability and the maturity tobe an outstanding kicker in this program. He hit some big field goals ayear ago, and he was sensational in spring ball. He hit a 57-yarder, thencame back with a 62-yarder in the same scrimmage. To have the ability tokick the ball that well. . .I think we're as good as anyone in the countrythere. I can tell you this, I wouldn't trade him for anyone in the country.He's so young, he has the potential to get even better, and become even morepowerful. His kickoffs have improved, as well. The punting game is one weneed to continue to work on. Someone should step up there, either MattSwanson or Tom Waring. That will be an area of great concentration duringfall camp. Two of the three long snappers we had scheduled to compete forthat position broke a hand during spring ball, and couldn't snap. AnthonyStannard, the redshirt freshman, snapped half the spring, and then missedthe remainder, and Tim Glynn missed all of the spring. Andrew Waring,Tom's brother, came in, and did a pretty good job. But he isn't consistentenough yet. When everyone gets healthy, those will be our three snappers.Who emerges as the starter, only time will tell. Our punt returner will beJon Jennings again this season. He was very capable last year. He tooksome risks last year, so he needs to do a little better job on hisdecision-making. Brahms Derenoncourt and Cliff Brye will probably be thekickoff-return guys. Brahms was really good for us in 1997, and it'll benice getting him back in 1999. It's something we want to place moreemphasis on. We want to put even more emphasis on special teams this year.It's no secret that there will be at least a game or two which come down tothe special teams. We feel like we can be strong in this area."