LARAMIE — Any year before 2018, inking just one scholarship player on National Signing Day would be a disaster. Wednesday, it was more a sign of a productive December for the Wyoming football team. The Cowboys signed 20 members on the inaugural Early Signing Day and added just one more on Wednesday’s National Signing Day, allowing a bit more of the spotlight to shine on walk-on players.
The Cowboys announced 14 walk-on additions Wednesday, including six from the state of Wyoming: Natrona County running back Brett Brenton and defensive end Ben Acres, Star Valley athlete Josh Dawson, Pine Bluffs receiver Haize Fornstrom, Buffalo linebacker Ray Rabou and Thunder Basin athlete Austin Clemetson. Dawson will go on a two-year mission before joining Wyoming’s 2020 class. His older brother Theo, a Jackson running back, signed with Wyoming in 2016 on scholarship and joins the Cowboys this year. The Cowboys added another walk-on Thursday in receiver Wyatt Wieland.
“We really believe the backbone of our program is going to be our walk-on program, and that’s modeled after what occurred at Nebraska, and then I experienced that as a player and … as a coach in the ‘90s,” Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said. “Football’s a physical game. It’s also a developmental game. Guys change, and it’s always difficult to judge the heart.
“...We believe we have the resources here to put weight on the right way, and if a guy wants to get a degree and have a chance to play, not all of them are going to start, but I think we’ve got four guys on defense right now that have been put on scholarship that came as walk-ons.”
One of those four was just recently put on scholarship: defensive end Garrett Crall. Crall had a productive redshirt freshman season in 2017, which included a deflected pass against Hawaii that resulted in the game-winning interception.
“Garrett was a guy that didn’t come from this area,” Bohl said. “He came from Ohio. A tall, angular guy that put on weight that we felt like had good ability that plays really hard. And he made a lot of big plays.
“As we start to look at how we’re going to allocate our scholarships for the next year, the very first place that we look is if there’s a guy on our team that is having a significant impact and is either on a starting role or a co-starting role like Garrett was, then we’re going to acknowledge that guy with a scholarship.”
Though Crall was a walk-on player, there was a noticeable excitement among Wyoming coaches that he could outplay that distinction.
“I think a couple of these walk-on guys that we got this year I think fit that mold as well,” Wyoming director of player personnel Gordie Haug said. “So I know we’re extremely excited about these non-scholarship players that signed today as well, to add value to our team for sure.”
While Crall is from Ohio, much of the value in Wyoming’s walk-on program centers around Wyoming players. Creating that Nebraska-like state pipeline increases the potential for diamonds in the rough, not to mention state pride.
“I think the word’s starting to spread, so we’re really pleased with that,” Bohl said. “And there’s young men in the state of Wyoming that we might have overlooked, but this is an opportunity for them to come in and show what they can do. And we’ve told them, ‘Once you’re on the team, you’re on the team.’ It’s not like you’re a blocking dummy or just one of the other guys. You’re on the football team.”