LARAMIE — Rome Weber got the information like many people do nowadays — on his phone.
“I was just chilling at home,” Weber said. “Then somebody sent me a tweet, and I was like, ‘That’s nice right there.’”
The news was that Weber had officially claimed the starting spot at free safety. The redshirt freshman edged Braden Smith for the job earlier this week in a competition that essentially started the minute Marcus Epps ran out of eligibility with Wyoming’s season-ending win at New Mexico last year.
Realistically, that competition didn’t start until the Cowboys returned for offseason workouts. Weber was a cornerback last season, but a trip to Las Vegas to visit family during winter break was interrupted by a phone call from his position coach, John Richardson, letting him know that was about to change.
“He was like, ‘We’re going to slide you to free (safety),” Weber recalled. “And I was like, ‘C’mon. Let’s do it then.’”
Weber was confident because it wasn’t a position that was entirely new to him. He’d played safety during his senior year at Cajon (California) High, and he figured he might end up back there given the skill set that Wyoming showed during the recruiting process it desperately wanted.
Wyoming coach Craig Bohl made the trip to California to visit Weber early in December of his senior year of high school. With the inaugural early signing period set to begin at the end of that month, Bohl didn’t want to waste any time. He drove later that same day to Las Vegas, where Weber’s parents live.
“He was a heavily recruited guy,” Bohl said. “That doesn’t always translate into being a good player, but he was athletic, he could run, he could change direction, and he was competitive.”
The strategy worked. Weber verbally committed before the day was over and ultimately signed with the Cowboys. A secondary that was as crowded as it was experienced didn’t lend itself to much immediate playing time last year as Weber saw action in just three games and got to keep his redshirt thanks to the NCAA’s four-game redshirt cap.
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But Weber is where he wants to be now thanks in large part to his playmaking ability at his new-but-old position — a must considering what the Cowboys lost there. Epps, who played alongside Andrew Wingard for four years as half of the most prolific safety tandem in program history, finished his career 11th on the school’s all-time tackles list and added 31 career pass breakups and nine interceptions for good measure before being taken by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round of this year’s NFL Draft.
“Free safeties got to tackle, man,” Weber said. “When the running back busts through the middle, you’re the last guy. If you don’t make the tackle, it’s basically a touchdown. But I’ve been doing it my whole life. Tackling is just a part of the game.”
It’s a part that’s even surprised his coach with how solid it’s been.
“Last year was a learning year for him, but all of those things have translated taking that skill set from corner into safety,” Bohl said. “He’s a bright guy, so he learns. The thing that did surprise me was his tackling ability.”
But the 5-foot-11, 186-pound Weber isn’t content with where he is. He can’t be.
A junior who’s been in the program for four years, Smith held the edge in the competition coming out of the spring and went back and forth with Weber for much of fall camp, though a hamstring injury halted some of his progress.
Coaches aren’t going to ask Weber to stay on the field for every snap like Epps did, so both are going to play. And if Weber doesn’t perform the way he’s expected to, that spot at the top of the depth chart could easily be interchangeable.
“That’s really motivation right there,” Weber said. “If I mess up too much, they have another guy right there to throw in. It’s not to where I’m locked in and I can’t get replaced. I’ve got to keep going and keep getting better.”