Wyoming spring football practice off and running
LARAMIE – Wyoming Football is back in action, kicking off spring football on March 27. The 2023 Cowboys return a team full of veterans from a squad that finished second in the Mountain West Mountain Division in 2022 and earned its fifth bowl-game appearance in the past seven seasons.
Entering 2023 spring drills is far from where the Cowboys were a year ago when Wyoming was the fourth least experienced team in the country but exceeded all expectations. Wyoming was the surprise team of the Mountain West, being picked fifth in the Mountain Division in the preseason media poll before finishing second.
A year ago, the Wyoming Cowboys entered spring football returning only 10 of 24 starters. A year later, UW enters the first week of spring practice returning 18 of 24 starters.
“It’s a fun time,” said Head Coach Craig Bohl. “Our football team made some really good gains in the offseason. It’s always interesting when we have a debriefing with our strength and conditioning staff and go through the gains from winter conditioning. But a lot of times there is a difference between what has gone on in the weight room and how our guys translate when they get on the grass.
“I was encouraged by some of the things we saw this week. We’re a little bit thin at some spots. We’re probably not as deep at the offensive line right now because of some off-season surgeries. But we were able to rotate with three quarterbacks working on Tuesday.
“We’re taking a hard look at Evan Svoboda (sophomore, quarterback). I thought he did some good things today. Our transfer, Harrison (Waylee, junior, running back) from NIU, has also showed some good things. Overall, it was a good first day, but we’ve got a whole lot more to go.”
When asked what areas of his team he was most focused on this spring, Bohl said, “First of all at the quarterback position, we’ve got to have continual progress there. We want to see Andrew (Peasley, graduate, quarterback) take another step forward as far as mastering our offense. Last year, a lot of things were new for him. He’s a bright guy, but it was his first year in our system. I think we’ve really got to zero in on who our back-up will be. Certainly the running back position is going to be important, and then some of our linebackers are injured right now so it’s an opportunity for some younger guys to show what they can do. And then that corner position is really important for us. I was encouraged by some things Kolbey (Taylor, sophomore, cornerback) did today. He is a long angular guy. I think we have good competition there.”
Bohl was asked what he specifically saw from Svoboda in Tuesday’s first practice of spring.
“Today, I saw him be much more sure of himself with his throws. His accuracy has improved. I thought he was better handling the huddle today, and he was more decisive.”
Another young quarterback who signed with the Wyoming Football program in the 2023 signing class and enrolled early at UW this January was true freshman Kaden Anderson. Anderson suffered a season-ending injury his senior year of high school at Southlake Carroll High School in Southlake, Texas, and is still rehabbing that injury at Wyoming.
“Anderson is a very mature young man. I had a really transparent conversation with him and his mother,” said Bohl. “We felt that it was best for him to get here, go through an offseason and spend time with our sports medicine staff. The other thought was to not have him come now, delay his enrollment, which could save him a year, but we felt like his healing is going to be really important this year. Also, this system we have, with complex terminology and all the moving parts, we felt like it was important for him to be in those meetings this year. But make no mistake about it, you’re not going to see him running around during next fall camp doing activities at the beginning.”
At running back, the Cowboys return two experienced and talented backs in junior Dawaiin McNeely and sophomore D.Q. James, plus they’ve added an experienced transfer in junior Harrison Waylee from Northern Illinois and sophomore Jordon Vaughn returns after playing well in last season’s Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl, giving the Pokes a wealth of talent.
“If you look at our track record in the past, we’ve ideally liked to have a 1-2 punch,” said Bohl. “Sometimes during the course of the year because of the number of hits those guys take, the depth at that position is really important. That position is going to be heavily looked at. McNeely was able to practice today, but I think he is going to miss some practices this spring. They are going to take a plate out, but we were in non-contact drills today and it was good to see him move around. He’s put on some lean muscle mass. I think he’s up to about 210 pounds. He’s always been a powerful guy, but he’s been a little undersized. That position in our offense is a critical position. We’ve got to be able to move the sticks. It will be fun to see those guys progress this spring.”
The Cowboys have only one change on their coaching staff from the end of last season. Long-time coach Marty English decided to retire after 37 years as a college coach – 12 of those years spent coaching at Wyoming. His role as Wyoming’s defensive ends coach has been filled by former Cowboy great Brian Hendricks, who was a former player of English’s during his playing career from 2008 to 2011. Hendricks will be entering his 11th season as a college coach in 2023. He most recently was the defensive line coach at Illinois State.
“It's been a really good transition," said Bohl. “I love Marty and applaud him for being transparent with me and saying, ‘It’s time. I know it's time.’ We started looking to see where we wanted to go from here, and of course Brian had played here for Coach English and was a two-time captain here. We have an opportunity to bring back a skilled coach who understands the culture here. Coach English and Brian had a chance to spend some time together during the transition.”
In addition to the veterans returning for the Cowboys, there are also some other individuals returning this spring after suffering season-ending injuries last year. One of those is sophomore defensive end Sabastian Harsh from Scottsbluff, Neb. Harsh received rave reviews from the Cowboy coaching staff during the spring of 2022 and into fall camp before he suffered a season-ending injury prior to the 2022 season kicking off.
One of the areas of the Wyoming Football team that will have a number of new faces this season is wide receiver. The Cowboys signed two veteran Division I transfers in Ayir Asante and Devin Boddie Jr. Both receivers will join the Cowboys in the summer of 2023 as juniors.
Asante is transferring to Wyoming from Holy Cross, an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) school in Worcester, Mass. He earned Second Team All-Patriot League honors at wide receiver for the Crusaders in three consecutive seasons (2019, 2020 and 2021) as voted on by Patriot League head coaches. He also was named Second Team All-Patriot League by Phil Steele in 2021. Asante was selected as an Honorable Mention Freshman All-American by Hero Sports in 2019. He helped lead Holy Cross to their fourth consecutive league title in 2022, with a 12-1 overall record and a 6-0 Patriot League mark. Holy Cross entered the 2022 FCS Playoffs as the No. 8 seed, earning them a first-round bye. The Crusaders lost in the quarterfinal round to eventual FCS National Champion South Dakota State.
Boddie Jr. comes to Wyoming from Vanderbilt University of the SEC where he was part of the Commodores’ program the past four seasons. His best season came in 2021 when he ranked fourth on the team, catching 29 passes for 263 yards and scoring one touchdown vs. Stanford, while appearing in 12 games. In 2022, he played in six games, catching three passes for 61 yards with his long reception being a 38-yard reception against Hawai’i. A very successful high school player in the state of Tennessee, Boddie played his senior year of high school football at Whitehaven High School in Memphis, Tenn., where he was rated a three-star recruit by ESPN, Rivals and 247 Sports and earned All-State honors.
In terms of competition for positions this spring, Bohl said that he spoke with the team specifically about what would take place during spring practice this year and what he and his coaching staff would be focused on.
“I talked to our guys today, and I told them, ‘We’re going to teach you, we’re going to train you, we’re going to trust you and then we’re going to evaluate you,’” said Bohl. “All our players need to have a chip on their shoulders.”
Tuesday, March 28, and Thursday, March 29, marked the first of two of 15 spring practices for the Pokes. Wyoming will practice on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays over the next five weeks, with the final day being the annual Spring Game on Saturday, April 29, at 2 p.m. in War Memorial Stadium. The Spring Game will be open to the public. All other practices will be closed.