LARAMIE — Gavin Rush isn’t making any excuses.
The Wyoming interior lineman started 14 games at left guard for the Cowboys as a true freshman in 2016. This year, Wyoming has continued its recent trend of starting at least one true freshman on its offensive line, and it has come at Rush’s expense.
2017 Torrington graduate Logan Harris beat out Rush for the Cowboys’ starting center job, and Wyoming chose to start true freshman Alonzo Velazquez at right tackle as well, moving senior Ryan Cummings from that position to left guard. That has left Rush out of the offensive line through two games.
“Yeah, it’s been pretty tough,” Rush said. “Yeah, I don’t know. It’s just been pretty tough.”
There are reasons Rush could fall back on. In spring camp, he worked at center to fill the hole left by Chase Roullier, now with the Washington Redskins. But Rush, who never played center in high school, said snapping the ball is no longer a challenge for him. There’s also the factor of splitting time.
“We were playing him at center,” offensive coordinator Brent Vigen said, “and not that that stunted his growth, but it probably didn’t help him from a guard perspective.”
But Rush said that’s not the reason he’s on the bench, either.
“I mean, I can do it right now,” Rush said. “Like, in practice I’m playing all three interior spots. It’s not really that big of a deal. Just a little bit harder mentally, but no, I wouldn’t say that affected anything.”
There’s also the fact that Rush missed two weeks of spring ball with an illness. But he’s not blaming that, either.
“I think they just wanted to play them,” he said of the two freshmen.
There’s occasionally some cognitive dissonance when Wyoming coaches couch their comments about the team’s early offensive struggles with the fact that two freshmen are starting on the offensive line. The Cowboys returned four starters on the offensive line and five players who started at least seven games in 2016.
But the staff has insisted on playing what it believes to be the five best linemen, and Cummings’ shift shows that they haven’t hesitated to do so.
“Just because a guy played last year ..., or if he played for us for two years or three years, does not mean he just has a starting spot,” offensive line coach Scott Fuchs said back in fall camp. “Competition is what makes America great. So they know that there’s a competition for every spot out there.
“Now, there’s guys that still get pushed like Ryan. Obviously, he’s played quite a bit. And (Kaden Jackson). But it’s the same for Zach Wallace. It’s the same for Gavin. Having those guys competing in there and understanding that this is not being handed to anybody, that’s something we really haven’t had with the offensive line here since I’ve been here.”
Vigen said starting Velazquez over Rush comes down to a few things, the first of which was Velazquez’s strong showing since arriving in Laramie. And, in addition to the aforementioned factors, backup guard Jace Webb remains sidelined with a knee injury.
“That inside situation from a depth perspective became a little bit more concerning,” Vigen said. “And that was part of the reason to look at Ryan inside, too. So there’s a lot of different factors, but it probably started with Alonzo’s strong fall camp.”
And it’s not as if Rush’s days of contributing to the Cowboys’ line are over. He is the backup at all three interior positions.
“They said if anybody goes down, I’ll go in,” Rush said. “I’m thankful for that ability, to be able to back up anybody, and I’m just ready for when my time comes.”
In the meantime, he has taken on a teaching role as Cummings continues to learn the guard position after three years at tackle.
“I think he’s done a great job,” Rush said of the senior. “He’s a mauler. He goes out and hits people really well. I sit by him in the meeting room. I’ve been able to help him all the time. I room with him at the hotel. So, I’ve been able to help him a lot, and if he’s got questions about stuff I can help him out.”
Plus, the Cowboys will again be in need of a left guard when Cummings graduates.
“(Rush) is still young, too,” Vigen said. “Gavin’s a second-year guy. He played all of last year, but he’s only a second-year guy, so he’s got to keep moving forward.”
Rush has seen the field this year, however, as a blocker on Wyoming’s field goal units. He plays right guard there, meaning he is adjacent to the long snapper. When Caleb Cantrell made his debut at snapper against Gardner-Webb, filling in for injured senior Kolton Donovan, Rush wasn’t exactly familiar with the true freshman.
“That was crazy, because we had not done any live snaps,” Rush said. “I barely even knew his name. I’ll be completely honest. I actually kind of figured his name out during the game. That’s kind of funny.
“But yeah, I thought he did a pretty good job, and we’ll just get better and better. And getting that first game out of the way, it’ll just get better and better.”
Cantrell is listed as Wyoming’s long snapper for the Oregon game, though fullback Drew Van Maanen, who had been Donovan’s backup, did take some reps in practice.