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Newcomer Zaire Jackson flashes playmaking ability in spring game
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UW FOOTBALL

Newcomer Zaire Jackson flashes playmaking ability in spring game

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LARAMIE — As the lone early enrollee from Wyoming’s incoming recruiting class, Zaire Jackson could’ve been spending Saturday afternoon getting ready for his high school prom.

Instead, the Cowboys’ newest defensive back was making some impact plays inside War Memorial Stadium.

Jackson is less than a year removed from finishing his senior season at Valor Christian High in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Ranked a three-star recruit by 247Sports.com, the 5-foot-11 Jackson decided to get an early start on his college career after inking with UW in December, enrolling in January and going through spring ball a semester earlier than the rest of the Cowboys’ signees.

The newcomer flashed some of his playmaking ability during UW’s spring game, first on special teams and then on defense. Jackson scored one of the Cowboys’ six touchdowns on a fumble recovery, though there was a little more to it than that.

With the Gold team deep in its own territory late in the third quarter, punter Ralph Fawaz mishandled a snap that scooted toward the goal line. Fawaz ran after it, but fullback Caleb Driskell and Jackson were in hot pursuit. They eventually caught up, and Jackson ripped the ball from Fawaz’s grasp before scooping it up and taking it into the end zone to put the Brown team up, 23-17, at the time.

“Caleb wrapped up, made a good play, and I just made the best of it,” Jackson said. “I saw a chance to get the ball, and I did.”

Jackson also had a solid day in coverage, putting himself in position to get multiple interceptions. After missing out on a couple of earlier prime opportunities to force his second turnover, he finally got it in the fourth quarter by tracking Levi Williams’ underthrown pass for a pick.

“The first time, I just timed the ball bad. Should’ve had a pick,” Jackson said. “The second one, it hit me right in the face. I don’t know. Just too excited I guess. Then the third one, the third time is a charm, so I had to get that one.”

Veterans C.J. Coldon and Azizi Hearn are firmly entrenched as UW’s starting cornerback tandem, but the depth behind them is largely unproven. Jackson said he would “love to have the opportunity” to be a part of the corner rotation as a true freshman, though he admitted there’s plenty of competition for those spots with Cam Stone, Xavier Carter and Caleb Roberson also there. Stone and Carter was the primary backups at the position as freshmen last season.

If Saturday was any indication, though, being a regular special-teams contributor may be the floor for Jackson’s first season in Laramie. The youngster has made a good first impression.

“It was really encouraging,” Bohl said of Jackson’s performance. “He’s still young. Most of those guys are getting ready to go to prom their senior year, and he’s out playing in a college football game. It’s good to see him out there.”

WRs get their moment

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Receivers Wyatt Wieland, Will Pelissier, Ryan Marquez and Chance Hofer have never caught a pass in a game during their time at UW. Most of them are walk-ons (Wieland, a former walk-on, was put on scholarship before last season).

But with the Cowboys limiting reps for some of their most established players and getting everyone involved, the group got their chance to shine Saturday. They combined for 12 catches.

Pelissier was the star out wide. The Big Horn native had a game-high four catches for 70 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown. One of Wieland’s three catches went for a 19-yard score.

“Those guys are not bumping at the top of the rotation with our depth chart, but you can see they can go out, function and play major college football,” Bohl said. “That’s encouraging for us and gives us more options as we go through the season.”

Tight battles

The quarterback competition between Sean Chambers and Levi Williams isn’t the only one that continues to be heated.

Incumbent Charles Hicks and redshirt freshman Easton Gibbs are still duking it out at outside linebacker, and Saturday didn’t appear to create much separation between the two. They both led the Gold team with six tackles apiece.

At free safety, senior Braden Smith and sophomore Rome Weber, who’s returning from an opt-out last season, are still competing for the starting job, though Bohl said leading up to the spring game that Smith was the leader in that race. Bohl also admitted Hicks’ experience has given him an edge over Gibbs, but even when UW releases its post-spring depth chart, Bohl said that won’t necessarily be etched in stone.

“I think what our football team needs to realize is we’re going to need all the guys,” Bohl said. “So however we sort the depth chart out, a lot of guys are going to be playing this next year.”

Veteran DE hanging it up

Davon Wells-Ross watched the spring game from the sideline after recently tearing his Achilles. Bohl said the Cowboys’ veteran defensive end has now decided to move on from football.

“(Wells-Ross) is going to graduate this summer and go on to the next phase of his life, so we’re happy for him,” Bohl said.

Now in his fifth year in the program, Wells-Ross opted out of last season and hasn’t played since 2019. He appeared in 14 career games and had 13 tackles and two sacks.

Receiver Devin Jennings was also held out of Saturday’s game with a concussion, Bohl said. Jennings had one reception as a redshirt freshman last season and again figures to be part of the rotation out wide this fall.

Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.

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College sports reporter

Davis Potter is the University of Wyoming athletics reporter. An Alabama native and 2011 Auburn University graduate, Potter joined the Star-Tribune in 2018 after five years covering Ole Miss and the Southeastern Conference. He lives in Laramie.

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