Aug. 21, 2000
CHEYENNE, Wyo. -
When the University of Wyoming football team opens the 2000 seasonAug. 31 at Auburn, its starting secondary will be brand new.
Not a single projected starter played a down of football for the team lastyear.
And senior Al Rich, an all-conference selection at safety two years ago, wasmoved to running back early in fall camp.
Eight players could see their first-ever playing time in the secondary thisseason.
Yet first-year coach Vic Koenning is sure his secondary will be improvedfrom last year's group, which consisted of just five players most of theseason.
"Just watching them, knowing them and believing in them, we're considerablybetter in the secondary than we were last year," he said.
But Koenning is guarded with his optimism. This group hasn't played in areal game yet. They are still getting used to working together, and someguys are adjusting to new positions.
"They're going to continue to improve as long as we stay healthy and stayout of situations where we get our confidence shaken," he said. "We need toget some confidence early."
Members of the secondary certainly don't lack confidence.
"We're a close-knit group that gets the job done," redshirt juniorcornerback Meredith Maxwell said.
Maxwell is one player who is getting used to a new slot. He was a receiverlast week, but Koenning moved him to cornerback because of his speed. In hisfirst major scrimmage at corner Thursday, he returned an interception 68yards for a touchdown.
Maxwell hasn't cracked into the starting lineup yet, but he's part of a deepsecondary that Koenning will utilize because most of them will play onvarious special teams units.
"We're two-deep, and we're striving to get three-deep at corner," Koenningsaid. "If we can do that, we're ahead of schedule."
The starting cornerback positions look to be held by a pair of juniorcollege transfers - juniors Sidney Lewis and Eric Lee. Lewis was at UWduring spring drills, Lee came in this summer.
Maxwell, junior college transfer Gideon Smith, senior Mark Sheller, truefreshman Roderrick Jackson and redshirt freshman Ryan Calahan give bothcorner positions depth.
Two junior college transfers are battling for starting free safety - DaShawnAbram and Pete Merrill. Abram, one of Koenning's most highly toutedrecruits, said coming in as a newcomer was made easy by his teammates.
"From the first day I got here, I had all the defensive backs around me," hesaid. "They showed me around and got me going."
James earned a starting corner job after spring drills. But he was moved tostrong safety after Rich's move to running back and the loss of redshirtfreshman John Levingston Jr. to a season-ending knee injury.
James and redshirt freshman Jacque Finn are competing for the starting job.James gives credit to the guys up front for the early success of thesecondary.
"We really haven't been tested yet because the defensive line isn't givingthe quarterbacks time to throw the ball," James said.
Everyone in the secondary agrees the unit misses Rich - his seven careerinterceptions, five career fumble recoveries and 177 career tackles.
"Al was a great player, but (Koenning) wouldn't have moved Al to runningback if he couldn't back it up," Lewis said.
The group is looking forward to the challenge of making a new name foritself.
"We're the best kept secret out there," Abram said.