Cowboys Begin Spring Football
Cowboys Take to the Field for the First of 15 Spring Practices on Wednesday
A Sunny Sky and Temperatures in the Mid-50s Greet Cowboys on Opening Day of Spring Football
Laramie, Wyo. (March 21, 2012) -- The Wyoming Cowboys enjoyed temperatures in the mid-50s on Wednesday as they conducted their first practice of the spring on Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium. Wednesday’s practice was the first of two this week that are non-contact practices. Fourth-year head coach Dave Christensen and his staff welcomed back 43 letterwinners -- 24 on defense, 17 on offense and two special teams’ performers. A total of 73 players on Wyoming’s 91-man roster are currently on campus, with the 2012 signing class scheduled to join the team this summer.
The Pokes practiced for two and one half hours on Jonah Field. The first of 15 spring practices follows an extensive winter-conditioning program that was completed by the Cowboys prior to an off week last week for Spring Break.
“I think we have had a very productive offseason,” said Christensen. “Our players tested just before they left for spring break, and over 90 percent of our guys PR’d (set personal records) in all the areas we test. The numbers didn’t climb as dramatically as they have in the past few years, but that is due to the program being more established. We don’t see as many huge gains in our individual players’ testing because they have been training in our system for multiple years.
“I was very pleased with the steady growth and work ethic our team exhibited again this offseason. In fact the last day of winter conditioning, we surprised them and took them over to the movie theatre as a team and watched ‘Act of Valor’.”
Of the 43 returning letterwinners, 14 starters from last season return, including five on offense, eight on defense and one starter on special teams. In addition to the five offensive players who started a majority of games (seven or more games) last season, there are eight other offensive players who gained some starting experience in 2011. The eight defensive players who started a majority of games a year ago will be joined by five others who have previous starting experience.
Among the returning starters on offense who return are: sophomore quarterback Brett Smith (13 starts in 2011) senior center Nick Carlson (13 starts in 2011), junior offensive guard Tyler Strong (11 starts in 2011); senior wide receiver Chris McNeill (9 starts in 2011) and junior wide receiver Robert Herron (7 starts in 2011).
Defensive starters returning this season are: senior strong safety Luke Ruff (13 starts in 2011), junior cornerback Marqueston Huff (13 starts in 2011), senior free safety Luke Anderson (12 starts in ‘11), senior linebacker Korey Jones (11 starts in 2011), senior defensive tackle Mike Purcell (10 starts in 2011), sophomore cornerback Blair Burns (9 starts in 2011), senior defensive end/tackle Ben Durbin (8 starts in ‘11) and junior linebacker Devyn Harris (7 starts in 2011).
“Going into this spring, I think we will have the most experienced team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Christensen. “We are excited to get out there and see not only the progression our experienced players have made, but we’re really looking forward to seeing which guys are going to fit in those slots that were opened up by graduation.”
Among the other players with starting experience who return are two players who missed all of the 2011 season due to injury or illness. Junior defensive tackle Patrick Mertens earned Freshman All-America honors in 2010 as a redshirt freshman, but was forced to miss last season due to illness. Senior middle linebacker Oliver Schober also missed all of 2011 with an injury. A third player, redshirt sophomore running back Nehemie Kankolongo, also missed last season due to injury.
“Both Patrick (Mertens) and Oliver (Schober) have had good offseasons, and have been able to get themselves back, physically, to where they were before their illness and injury,” said Christensen. “They may even be a little stronger. Nehemie (Kankolongo) has come a long way. He’ll still be limited somewhat coming into spring. He’s still healing and continues to rehab. But he has gotten stronger and is more explosive. He will be able to get some work done this spring, and should be full go in the fall.”
This week’s first two practices on Wednesday and Friday are non-contact practices. Next Monday’s practice will see the Cowboys add shoulder pads, before they don full pads on Wednesday, March 28. The three initial practices will focus on fundamentals.
“The spring is of course a time to work on fundamentals,”said Christensen. “We spend a great deal of time working on fundamental drills. We will be bringing a lot of young guys along. There will of course be team periods, so players can work on getting their assignments down, but the majority of time these first couple practices before we get into pads will be spent on fundamentals.
“Once we get into full pads, we will be focusing on developing competitive situations, so that we can evaluate who the competitive individuals are and who the physical players are. The practices will become much more physical once we get in full pads.”
Helping guide the Cowboys through 2012 spring drills will be two new coaches in defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chris Tormey and linebackers coach and special teams coordinator Robin Ross.
“With the addition of Chris (Tormey) and Robin (Ross), they bring about 70 years of college and pro coaching experience to our staff,” added Christensen. “Both have been head coaches at the college level. They’re both outstanding recruiters, and phenomenal position coaches. They just bring a lot to the table for our staff.”
Tormey is entering his 33rd season as a college coach in 2012. Included in his previous 32 years of college-coaching experience were stints as head coach at Idaho from 1995-99 and at Nevada from 2000-03. The 2012 season will be the 36th season of coaching for Ross. He spent 33 of his previous 35 seasons as a college coach, and coached two years in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders in 1999 and 2000. Ross was the head coach at Western Washington University for three seasons from 2006-08.
Among the new faces on the Cowboy roster to begin spring ball are three members of the 2012 recruiting class who joined the Wyoming Football program in January. Those three are: freshman punter Tim Gleeson, freshman wide receiver Eric Nzeocha and junior offensive tackle Connor Rains.
Gleeson comes to Wyoming from Melbourne, Australia, where he played Australian Rules Football before training with ProKick Australia to become a college punter. No fewer than nine former Australians were on United States college rosters this past season as punters, including LSU All-American Brad Wing. Nzeocha is another international addition to the Cowboys. He joins his older brother Mark Nzeocha, a sophomore linebacker, on the Wyoming roster. Like his older brother, he comes to Wyoming from Neusitz, Germany, and is a former member of the German Junior National Team that placed fourth in the U19 European Championship in Spain this past year. Rains is a junior-college transfer from American River Community College in Sacramento, Calif., where he was ranked as the No. 17 best junior-college offensive tackle in the nation by JCGridiron.Rivals.com. Christensen is happy to have all three join the Cowboys this spring.
“Connor Rains will add some immediate depth at offensive tackle,” said Christensen. “He needs to continue to develop his strength and learn our schemes, but he has a chance to help this coming season. Eric Nzeocha has all the measurables of a Division I wide receiver. Now it’s a matter of how fast he can adjust to playing college football, can transition to the speed of the game and learn how to play at this level. But certainly he has all the tools and skills to be a successful player at this level. We’ll find out a lot more about Tim Gleeson when we can get outside this week, but we know he has a strong leg.”Wyoming’s next practice will be Friday, March 23. Wyoming’s three spring scrimmages on: Wednesday, April 4; Wednesday, April 11; and Saturday, April 21 are open to the public.