LARAMIE — Nico Evans led the Mountain West in rushing last season. Then the fifth-year senior was gone.
Wyoming’s backfield has only gotten thinner from there.
The Cowboys ended the spring with just one fully healthy scholarship running back. Jevon Bigelow, Evans’ backup last season, left the team for personal reasons while redshirt freshman Reow Jackson was limited in what he could do as he continued to work his way back from an Achilles injury he sustained last season.
Even Brett Brenton, a walk-on from Casper’s Natrona County High School, finished the spring on the mend with a knee injury. The attrition forced Wyoming coach Craig Bohl to err on the side of caution with Evans’ heir apparent, Xazavian Valladay, by holding him out of scrimmages and most team periods in the final weeks of spring practice in order to eliminate the possibility of an injury.
But there’s help on the way.
The Cowboys have three true freshmen set to join the backfield this summer in Dawaiian McNeely, Alphonzo Andrews Jr. and Titus Swen. Each was rated as a three-star recruit by at least one major recruiting service.
Swen may be the most versatile among the trio. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder ran for more than 1,800 yards in the Texas prep ranks as a junior in 2017 but also reportedly lined up at receiver and ran track at Eaton High.
McNeely, who also played defensive back at Central Catholic in California but was recruited to Wyoming as a running back, is the most physically imposing of the group at 6-2 and 200 pounds. Andrews is a compact runner at 5-8 and 180 pounds that ultimately chose Wyoming over offers from Kentucky, Illinois and Kansas among other Power Five schools.
“They’re all three different styles, and that’s what really excites me,” Wyoming running backs coach Gordie Haug said. “You can develop them and get them all ready for certain situations. They don’t have to know the whole playbook.”
Even if Valladay and Jackson are at full strength, they’re the only scholarship running backs currently on the roster. The Cowboys will need at least one of the incoming freshmen to contribute immediately on depth alone.
“If not all three,” Haug said. “That’s what I’ve been preaching to them. It’s going to be an open competition. Nobody’s going to be the starter. We’ve got to work.”
Said Bohl, “We’re going to evaluate all of them and see which cream will rise to the top.”
There’s also the addition of former Louisville running back Trey Smith. The graduate transfer has one year of eligibility remaining and will be immediately eligible next season. With little time to waste, Smith told the Star-Tribune recently he’s shooting to be Wyoming’s No. 1 back.
The 6-0, 218-pounder may already be the most complete back on the roster, something Bohl alluded to after Smith signed, so he figures to be a significant contributor next season whether he’s the starter or not. Like the rest of the newcomers, he’ll definitely help with the low numbers at the position.
“You can never have too many running backs in this system,” Bohl said after finalizing the Cowboys’ latest signing class in February.