LARAMIE — The injury bug that has bitten the Wyoming football team this spring has been especially interested in the running backs group.
“It’s football,” running backs coach Gordie Haug said. “So you expect injuries, but it’s always kind of that next man up mentality.”
Problem is, Wyoming only has one more “next man.” The Cowboys were down to two available running backs at Thursday’s practice, Nico Evans and Mike Green II.
The team’s two leading rushers from last season, Trey Woods and Kellen Overstreet, both had their camps cut short by shoulder injuries that will require surgery. Milo Hall, who had the third-most carries by a Wyoming back last season, moved to wide receiver. Xazavian Valladay and Jerard Swan have each been sidelined by hand injuries, and Garrett Gardner is out with a foot injury. Even Evans had been battling a thigh contusion earlier in camp.
“Seeing the running backs go down, people have said outside of this, it’s good for other people to step up,” said Valladay, who redshirted last season. “But those are the guys you go in the meeting room with. Those are brothers on the field and off the field. So it’s kind of bad seeing them go down, but it’s next man up and you’ve just got to make the most of all the opportunities that you get.”
That leaves little time for Evans and Green to rest.
“I’ve got to be honest, (it’s tiring),” Evans said. “But it’s a good thing. The more reps the better. It’s been good for not only me but for the young guys ... who haven’t had game experience. So this spring’s been really good for them, to get all those reps. And me, too. I love reps.”
Evans, personally, had already been hoping for a big spring. He was Wyoming’s third-down back last year but only ran the ball 11 times for 19 yards.
“I have something to prove this spring,” the senior-to-be said. “This season, I was more of a third-down back, and this spring and this offseason, I’ve been pushing myself day in and day out to kind of prove to not only myself but these coaches, my teammates that I can be an every-down back and I can do it all. So, basically finding a way to do every part of the game, catching, pass protecting and running the football.”
Woods, meanwhile, could have used a full spring, as he spent his only other camp at Wyoming as a linebacker last fall.
“Yeah, I think that’s stuff that you’d like him in there (for), just because doing is learning,” Haug said. “He’s learning mentally, but being able to do it is a different deal. Obviously, we’d like him to get reps and all those different kinds of things, playing as a true freshman. But hopefully he’ll be back soon and will be getting bigger, faster, stronger and he’ll be ready to roll for fall camp.”
While Woods led Wyoming in rushing last season, he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.
“I think I just need to be a more well-rounded back, I guess,” he said. “Going through film last season, there’s a lot of things I looked at that I was disappointed with. I wasn’t happy with the way I played. I think that I’ve improved a lot since then, and all I can do is build off that.”
Both he and Overstreet expect to be recovered in time for fall camp. Overstreet finished strong last season, rushing for 224 combined yards in Wyoming’s final two games.
“I definitely have a lot more confidence than I’ve had since I first got here,” said Overstreet, who dealt with a much more serious shoulder injury in 2016. “It’s nice knowing what I’m capable of and just knowing that there’s more to come from even just building on last season.”
Valladay, meanwhile, hopes to add depth to the group in his first season off the scout team.
“He’s definitely explosive,” Overstreet said. “He’s one of the stronger running backs. If he puts on weight, he’ll be right up there with me, Nico and Trey, just working and stuff. I think he definitely brings a different explosiveness to the group that would be really nice to have.”
For now, though, it’s Evans and Green’s time to shine. Green, who will be a sophomore, ran the ball just four times for minus-2 yards last season, but Woods said he saw him take a big step forward in Wyoming’s scrimmage last Saturday.
“I think in the beginning of spring, we were all a little bit confused what was going on,” Woods said, “but having (younger players) get the majority of the reps with everybody out, it’s made them a lot better, too, so it’s been really good to see that they were doing so well.”