LARAMIE — Redshirt freshman Tyler Vander Waal will start at quarterback for the Wyoming Cowboys in Saturday’s season opener at New Mexico State, per the Cowboys’ depth chart released Monday.
“It feels good that it’s actually official now,” Vander Waal said. “It’s finally set in stone, but at the end of the day, we’ve just got to keep working, keep making each other better. The competition doesn’t stop now. I think it just amps up a little bit. We’ve got to keep pushing each other week in and week out and just keep getting better.”
The Cowboys are replacing quarterback Josh Allen, who started for Wyoming the last two seasons. The Buffalo Bills drafted Allen seventh overall in this April’s NFL Draft.
Vander Waal beat out fifth-year senior Nick Smith for the job. The team named Vander Waal, an Elk Grove, California, native, the starter out of spring camp, but head coach Craig Bohl said the role was not set in stone heading into fall camp. Even Monday, Bohl hedged his statement at one point when speaking about Vander Waal’s starting role.
“That does not mean that we’re not going to continue to look at the position,” Bohl said. “Nick’s had a good fall camp. But we feel good about Tyler and where he’s at.”
However, it’s not as if the two were involved in a full-blown quarterback controversy until the moment Monday’s depth chart arrived. Smith said he “had an idea after spring ball” that the team was going to start Vander Waal.
“I would say I’ve kind of known that for a while,” Smith said Monday. “... There was definitely some competition in drills that we did where would still compete. We still wanted that attitude of a competition, and me still trying to push him and stuff, and there definitely was that, but I think it was kind of clear on what we were trying to do.”
Smith started two games last year in relief of Allen and two games as a true freshman in 2015. He has completed 67 of 134 passes at Wyoming for 716 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Vander Waal was a three-star recruit out of high school, per Rivals and 247 Sports. He initially committed to Ball State.
“He’s got a very accurate arm,” Bohl said. “He’s got good arm strength. He’s got good mobility. ... Football’s not seven-on-seven pass, where they’re not rushing you. He’s done a really good job of extending plays, of keeping his eyes downfield, throwing down check-downs, taking his eyes now that the primary receiver’s covered, going to the secondary receiver.
“He doesn’t put the ball in harm’s way a lot. He’s a smart, bright guy, and the fact that he’s been around here for a year certainly helps.”
Other depth chart notes
Four true freshmen are on Wyoming’s two-deep: Jevon Bigelow (co-backup running back), Ja’Lani Ellison (backup cornerback), Frank Crum (backup right tackle) and Gunner Gentry (third-string X receiver).
Garrett Crall, who earned a scholarship over the offseason, will start at defensive end. Senior Austin Fort was named the starting tight end. Xazavian Valladay was named the co-backup at running back along with Bigelow. Wyoming is slated to start an offensive line of Zach Wallace, Keegan Cryder, Patrick Arnold, Kaden Jackson and Rudy Stofer.