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Once headed elsewhere, QB Levi Williams is now helping Wyoming in a pinch
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Once headed elsewhere, QB Levi Williams is now helping Wyoming in a pinch

Border War

Wyoming quarterback Levi Williams pushes through the Colorado State defense for a first down in the final minutes of the annual Border War game Friday at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie. Williams scored the go-ahead touchdown in his first collegiate game.

LARAMIE — Imagine if Levi Williams had never suited up for Wyoming this season.

Yes, Xazavian Valladay’s sore knee always made the true freshman quarterback part of the game plan against Colorado State with the Cowboys needing another running threat, Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said. But once Williams had the breath briefly knocked out of him after taking a hit in the fourth quarter, Bohl had to seek out senior Nick Szpor, the longtime placeholder who’s spent some time as a quarterback during his Wyoming career.

“I was looking at Szpor. ‘What do you know, Szpor?’ Bohl said. “He looked at me and said, ‘Not much, Coach.’ It wasn’t exactly a great deal of confidence.”

Tyler Vander Waal eventually returned from an ankle injury he sustained in the third quarter to help Williams finish the game, but with Sean Chambers already out for the season, the Cowboys’ depth at quarterback is thin. And it could’ve been even more dire last week had Houston not made a coaching change after last season.

That’s where Williams originally signed back in December before Major Applewhite was fired less than a month later. Williams was released from his National Letter of Intent with the Cougars at that point and, with some luck, landed at Wyoming. Chambers and Vander Waal were the only scholarship quarterbacks on Wyoming’s roster before Williams joined the fold.

“We would’ve got a quarterback somehow, but obviously we’re happy that things worked out the way they did,” offensive coordinator Brent Vigen said.

On Friday, in his first collegiate game, Williams was a long way from his native Texas helping Wyoming pull out its fourth straight Border War win out of necessity. The 6-foot-5, 208-pounder complemented Vander Waal’s throwing ability with his legs to help take some of the pressure off a banged-up Valladay, running 13 times for 49 yards. He took over the rest of Wyoming’s second possession of the third quarter after Vander Waal went out and capped it with a 1-yard sneak for the go-ahead touchdown.

He used his arm to keep Wyoming’s final scoring drive alive when he connected with Austin Conway on third down. He lost his breath for a minute after taking a hit at the tail end of that play, but he returned and drug multiple CSU defenders for 19 yards on fourth-and-2 late to put an exclamation point on a victory for a program he wasn’t giving much thought to this time a year ago.

“Time kind of flies, but I do think about it every once in a while,” Williams said. “Just thinking where I could be and how different my situation could be, but I know God had a plan. And he led me here.”

Williams attempted just two passes against CSU and completed both of them to finish with 74 total yards. Williams said he’s confident in his ability to run and throw, something he excelled at during his senior season at Smithson Valley (Texas) High when he had 3,239 yards and 32 touchdowns. It’s something that Williams could do more of Saturday when the Cowboys end their regular season with a trip to Air Force.

“I think he’s capable of doing most everything from a mental standpoint,” Vigen said. “Now executing it and making the quick decisions, that would remain to be seen. But it’s not like we’re sort of limited. In that game (against CSU), it maybe looked like it did. We were just balancing those guys how we needed to to get through that game and win the game.”

But none of his coaches or teammates were surprised with what Williams was able to do with his feet. Before Chambers’ injury, Williams spent practices running Wyoming’s scout-team offense as the No. 3 quarterback, which is where Williams, who wears No. 15, reminded the Cowboys’ defense of another quarterback who used to sport the same number.

“There were times we saw No. 15, and we’re like, ‘This guy likes to run like Tim Tebow,’” defensive end Garrett Crall said. “He just put his head down and started running. You could see that last play of the game where normally people are like, ‘Oh, just go down.’ And he’s like, ‘No, I’m going to keep going.’

“None of it surprises me. I’ve seen it for a whole year now. He’s a competitive guy. Even on scout team, there were a couple of times he’d try to juke on me and other d-linemen. He’s always been competitive. He was going to be ready when his chance was called, and he was ready to go.”

Having played in stadiums with larger capacities than War Memorial Stadium in high school, Williams said he wasn’t nervous during the game. But he was popular afterward with family, friends and former coaches blowing up his phone into the late hours of the night. He said he received at least 100 text messages, including one from Applewhite.

“We built a relationship, and I don’t think that will ever go away,” Williams said.

Williams won’t lose a year of eligibility thanks to the NCAA’s amended four-game redshirt rule, giving him four full seasons left with the Cowboys. Wyoming is glad — and fortunate — it had the option of trotting him out in the huddle before then.

“I just knew we planned to play him,” Bohl said, “and it was great to have him.”

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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