Nico Brown and Eric Nzeocha had a hard time watching the Wyoming football team last year.
Not only did the Cowboys struggle to a 4-8 record, but the two freshmen receivers were basically helpless to do anything about it, as both redshirted.
“Last year was a pain to sit on the sideline and watch other people play this game I love,” Nzeocha said.
Brown feels the same way. “It was tough not being on the field,” he said.
But both are expected to atone for lost time this season. The two got off to a solid start in fall camp, combining for eight receptions for 165 yards in the Cowboys’ first scrimmage on Aug. 11. Brown added a 34-yard touchdown catch.
Nzeocha and Brown were two of 18 players UW coach Dave Christensen and his staff redshirted last year, who should pay dividends down the road for the Cowboys.
“Those guys had a chance to have a developmental year and learn the system,” Christensen said. “In the long run, I think [redshirting] helped those guys. It’s going to be exciting for a lot of these young guys that are able to compete for playing time this year.”
A quick look at the Wyoming depth chart coming out of spring drills showed six redshirt freshmen listed on the two-deep depth chart. Brown and Nzeocha, along with freshman running back Omar Stover, are all expected to figure into the Cowboys’ offensive attack this season.
“I can’t wait to get on the field and play for real,” Stover said. “This is a different intensity than anything I experienced in high school, so I just have to stay focused.”
The rookies aren’t the only new faces on the roster, though. Wyoming brought in a number of junior college transfers the past two years that are being counted on to make an immediate impact.
Starting offensive tackles Connor Rains and Walker Madden both redshirted last year, while starting center Albert Perez is in his first year in the program. The influx of new guys competing for playing time is exactly what Christensen wants from his redshirt players.
“It makes us a lot better,” Christensen said. “Some of these guys weren’t ready to play when they got here, but now that they’ve had that developmental year they’re ready to go now.”
In addition, junior college transfers J.D. Krill and Tyran Finley expect to contribute in their first year in brown and gold. Krill will start at tight end and Finley should compete for playing time as a return specialist and at cornerback.
The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Krill gives the Cowboys an added dimension in the passing game.
“J.D. has come in and been able to practice at the tempo we practice,” Christensen said. “He’s a big kid who can do a lot of different things. He’ll determine how much he plays here; it’s all up to him.”
That’s fine with Krill, who has worked his whole life to be in this position.
“To be honest, I’ve been dreaming about playing Division I football ever since I was a little kid,” Krill said.
Finley got his UW career off to a flying start with a pick-six off starting quarterback Brett Smith in the Aug. 11 scrimmage.
“Any way that I feel I can help the team I’m willing to do that,” Finley said. “All I know is I want to be on the field for that first game [today, at Nebraska]. I get goose bumps just thinking about that game.”
It’s a sentiment shared by the Pokes’ other first-year players.
“I’ve been off the field for so long that I can’t wait to get out there,” Brown said.