Logan Wilson’s reality started to set in last month.
After finishing summer workouts with the rest of Wyoming’s football team, Wilson texted back and forth with family members and friends. The gist of the conversations? That the Cowboys’ senior linebacker will never go through those workouts again.
“It feels like I just got here, and it’s going to be my fifth year in Laramie. It’s crazy,” Wilson said. “Stuff flies by, especially when you’re hanging out with your buddies you work out with all the time. It’s been a tremendous ride.”
It’s got the potential to be a whole lot better by the time he cruises out of town — and perhaps out of his home state in pursuit of a professional career.
Wilson has become not only the face of Wyoming’s defense but one of the Mountain West’s most productive defenders since signing with the Cowboys out of Natrona County High School in 2015. The Casper native will become a rare four-year starter this fall after leading Wyoming in tackles each of the last two seasons.
With at least 94 stops every season, Wilson has 316 career tackles heading into his final season in the middle of the Cowboys’ defense — second-most among current Football Bowl Subdivision players. He’s added 26.5 tackles for loss and six interceptions for good measure.
Will he be able to lay claim to being the best linebacker to ever play at Wyoming once his collegiate career comes to an end? Statistically, it’ll be tough — he would need 152 tackles this season to pass the school’s all-time leading tackler, Galand Thaxton (467) — but barring any serious injury that would keep him off the field, Wilson could very well end it as one of the top 5 tacklers in program history and, in some people’s eyes, a bonafide next-level prospect.
“I think he’s going to play a long time in the NFL,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said.
Yet even the man responsible for bringing Wilson 150 miles south nearly five years ago didn’t see all of this coming.
“I thought he could be good,” Bohl said, “but I didn’t think this.”
As America’s least-populated state, Wyoming rarely produces the kind of high-end talent that coaches at Football Bowl Subdivision schools deem worthy of a scholarship offer, but Wilson was a clear exception.
Just ask Josh Harshman, another Casper native.
Harshman, now a fifth-year senior himself for the Cowboys, grew up playing football with Wilson and was a teammate of his at Natrona County, where both played for Harshman’s father, head coach Steve Harshman. The 6-foot-3 Harshman was a nice-sized quarterback and linebacker for the Mustangs, but Wilson, who was pushing 6-2 and 200 pounds as a senior, was a fleet-footed defensive back that was nearly as big.
“He’s always been a physical kid ever since I met him,” said Harshman, now a tight end for Wyoming. “He was oversized playing corner in high school, but he was a fast kid, so you might as well put him there.”
Wilson, a Star-Tribune Super 25 selection in high school, doubled as a big-bodied receiver for Natrona County, but Wyoming recruited him exclusively as a defensive back, though Wilson said he figured a move to linebacker was coming. Bohl admitted that was the plan all along, particularly after seeing Wilson in action in one of Natrona County’s games during his senior season.
“He was a corner in high school, and I saw him destroy a wide receiver,” Bohl said. “I think they were playing Cheyenne East. I saw his explosion. He was a little bit slight, but he could run well.”
Football Championship Subdivision member Weber State was the first school to offer Wilson a scholarship before the start of his senior season, but it didn’t make much difference. Wyoming was the school he’d always wanted to play for, so a couple of weeks after Wyoming extended an offer the day after Wilson’s senior season ended, he verbally committed to the Cowboys before signing in February 2015.
“As a Wyoming kid, people know who you are when you’re walking around. It’s a unique thing,” Wilson said. “That’s the best way to explain it. There’s no other place in the country that’s like Wyoming, and so to have the opportunity as a Wyoming kid growing up there, you really just want to play there and represent it right.”
The move didn’t happen immediately. Wilson was a safety during his freshman season, but he never played a game and redshirted. He spent that season as a scout-team linebacker.
It was a good indication of what was coming, but it wasn’t until Bohl called Wilson into his office the following spring that the move became official.
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“I’ll never forget, we called him in when we were redshirting him, and I said, ‘We’re going to move you to Sam (strong-side linebacker),’” Bohl said. “And he looked at me like, ‘What is Sam, coach?’ He had no clue.”
The move may not have been completely out of the blue, but that didn’t mean it was going to be easy. Not since his midget football days in Casper, Wilson said, had he lined up at linebacker.
“It was stressful,” Wilson said of his first spring at linebacker. “I’m not going to lie.”
Compounding his mental strain was the fact Wilson was also still trying to fully learn a defense in which he had only spent one season. Repetitions helped with that, but between his aggressive nature and the work he put in on the scout team, making the transition physically wasn’t a problem.
“Obviously going into the scout team and going against our starting offensive line, that helped me with the physicality part of it,” Wilson said. “Then I just continued to grow.”
That growth was as much physical as it was mental. Wilson added nearly 20 pounds heading into his redshirt freshman season but didn’t lose the speed or technique that made him one of the state’s top playmaking defensive backs in high school.
“When he was a freshman, you could see his ability to come to balance,” Bohl said. “(Former Wyoming safety) Andrew Wingard had that ability, and so he was a really good tackler. Sometimes guys are grabbers and sometimes guys lunge, and (Wilson) has never been in that position.”
Wilson, who eventually moved from Sam to Will (weak-side linebacker) in then-coordinator Steve Stanard’s 4-3 defense, made enough progress to start that season at the top of the depth chart, and he soon looked like a natural at his new position. He played like one, too. Wilson started all 14 games and racked up 94 tackles, the most of any freshman in the league that season. His defensive back skills also showed up with a team-high three interceptions on his way to MW Freshman of the Year honors.
“The more you do it, the more comfortable you get,” Wilson said. “In the spring, I was still trying to learn the defense because I didn’t really know what I was doing. And then fall camp, I was still trying to clean things up here and there. And eventually I just got to the point where I just started to solidify myself and knowing what I needed to do to help the team.”
Wilson continued to put on weight while maintaining his speed and agility, and he soon outgrew his outside linebacker spot. He took over as the Cowboys’ starting middle linebacker before his sophomore season and increased his production, piling up a career-high 119 tackles. He followed that up with 103 tackles, two more interceptions and a career-high 11 tackles for loss last season to earn all-MW honorable mention honors.
“I think one of the biggest things is I don’t think I lost a whole lot of speed moving from defensive back to linebacker,” Wilson said. “I’ve put on good muscle to make sure I still have my speed, and I think that’s one of my biggest attributes is being able to run sideline to sideline and track people.”
Now up to 250 pounds, Wilson is at a weight that he’s focused on maintaining rather than increasing. And having played as many games as anybody on Wyoming’s roster, he’s good on experience, too.
This season will be the first time in a long time that he takes the field without some of his usual sidekicks. Andrew Wingard, Marcus Epps, Carl Granderson and Youhanna Ghaifan have been household names on the Cowboys’ defense for years, but all of them are now gone.
Yet Wilson leads a veteran linebacking corps that should be a strength for the unit this season. Wilson, who’s started all 39 games he’s played, will again line up alongside fellow senior Cassh Maluia, who’s back for his third straight season as the full-time starter at Wilson’s old spot on the outside.
The two have been playing together for so long that they can basically finish each other’s thoughts. It’s a relationship Maluia said Wilson helped foster by helping bring Maluia along even when he didn’t know much about what he was doing at the position.
“My freshman year, I was a backup, so he used to help me then, too,” Maluia said. “Now since we’ve been on the field for a while, we kind of know how each other plays and have got a feel for each other and where we’re going to be at. I just feel like me and Logan pretty much know each other so well right now, and I wouldn’t say there’s linebackers that have better communication than we do.”
It’s hard sometimes for Wilson himself to believe the numbers he’s produced over the last three years, though he’s not exactly selling himself short either. He’s done his part to become the revelation he’s been for Wyoming’s defense, and he’s got one last season to accomplish even more.
“I don’t think any of this happened by chance,” Wilson said. “There was a lot of hard work that’s put me in the position I am right now.”