In eight months, D.J. May and Shaun Wick have gone from bewildered true freshmen running backs trying to earn playing time to veteran leaders.

During the University of Wyoming’s hour-long scrimmage on Friday, May rushed for 27 yards and a 5-yard touchdown while Wick added a 3-yard score on a swing pass in the offense’s 73-23 victory against the defense.

“[The running backs] have a great work ethic, and they’re doing a nice job,” UW coach Dave Christensen said after Friday’s practice/scrimmage. “They are young guys that come out here with great energy, and they’re learning the reads more and more every day, and that’s crucial. It’s one thing to come out and run hard, but it’s another to understand the scheme and what’s going on.”

The 5-foot-11, 196-pound May said the difference between last year’s fall camp and this year’s spring camp is night and day.

“I feel 10 times better this year,” the sophomore said. “Last year, I was all over the place and I was messing up left and right; I was so confused on everything. I knew the stuff. I was just thinking too much.

“This year, the game has slowed down and I can actually help other people.”

May rushed for a team-best 374 yards on 77 carries last season, but the Cowboys struggled with injuries and the rushing attack was limited. UW lost seven of its first eight games and finished 4-8.

While the season opener remains about five months away, the Cowboys’ new up-tempo offense, with Christensen serving as the primary play-caller, was on full display Friday. And even though the offense highlighted the passing game (the Pokes had 58 pass attempts and 29 rushing attempts), May and Wick, along with true freshman Omar Stover, all showed flashes working with the first unit.

And all three are excited to see how UW’s no-huddle, quick-strike offense fares in game action.

“The up-tempo offense helps us, because we’ve got to be those speed backs,” May said. “The offense is so fast-paced that it’s going to keep the defense on its heels and that should produce bigger plays.”

Added Wick: “I expect to have a bigger role and all of the running backs expect us to run the ball a lot more. The coaches are demanding more of us, but we’re up to the challenge.”

Wick (5-10, 190) had 92 carries for 350 yards and four TDs before breaking his collarbone toward the end of the year. Wick’s best game came against Colorado State on Nov. 3 when he rushed for 98 yards in the Pokes’ 45-31 Border War victory.

Overall, though, Wyoming struggled to move the ball on the ground. As a team, the Cowboys rushed for only 1,502 yards -- the fewest in the Mountain West -- and 13 touchdowns, with quarterback Brett Smith accounting for six of those.

Wick and May are hoping to change that in 2013. They expect to have help in seniors Brandon Miller, who is out this spring with an injury, and Tedder Easton.  Stover (5-11, 192) added his name to the mix in Friday's action.

The Bolingbrook, Ill., product had just two carries for 14 yards, but showed speed and strength in busting a 12-yard gain against the first-team defense.

“I’m not scared of anything; I’m ready for it,” Stover said. “If they throw me out there with the first team I’m going to take it and work really hard. Right now I’m doing everything I can to make myself a better player.”

All three running backs, along with Christensen, expect the competition to continue throughout the spring and into the offseason. They also believe that there’s room for multiple backs to shine in the up-tempo offense.

“Not just for the tempo,” Christensen said, “but [because] guys get banged up during the season so you’ve got to have some guys there. And obviously we’ll have Brandon back in the fall, so we’ll have three guys that played last year.

“And we’re going to bring another tailback [Josh Tapscott] in in the [fall] camp from Virginia. So I think our depth is improving there and we’ve got the right kind of kids at the position.”

Stover said that he’s looking forward to sharing carries with his fellow backs.

“With the up-tempo offense we run we’re going to need one, two or even three running backs ready to play,” Stover said. “And that’s good because we want to have a fresh guy out there.

“It’s not about personal stats; it’s all about the team and it’s all about getting wins.”

Contact sports reporter Jack Nowlin at 307-266-0528 or jack.nowlin@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @CASJackN

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