Wyoming’s fast, young linebacking corps coming of age
LARAMIE -- It's not lost on Aaron Bohl just how fortunate he has been early in his coaching career.
Having future NFL linebackers like Logan Wilson and Cassh Maluia certainly helps. When their backups are first-team All-Mountain West selection Chad Muma, Easton Gibbs and Charles Hicks, that doesn't hurt either.
"No, I agree," Bohl said with a smile, referring to having the "easiest job" on this staff. "I still think so, as well. I'm blessed with a lot of really good players to coach."
That ease got tested in a big way last week.
Hicks, a sophomore who started five of the Cowboys' six games at outside linebacker in 2020, registering 27 tackles, a pair of sacks, an interceptions and two fumble recoveries, entered the NCAA Transfer Portal just days before the season opener. He has since landed at the University of Missouri.
Gibbs won the starting job out of fall camp. Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl, Aaron's father, said "we're going to play the best guy."
Make no mistake -- that's Gibbs.
Now, the big question is: Who steps into a back-up role behind Muma and Gibbs?
Aaron Bohl answered that question last week. His dad made it official Monday on the initial depth chart of the 2021 season, just five days before the Montana State Bobcats pay a visit to War Memorial Stadium for the season opener.
Redshirt freshman Shae Suiaunoa (SUE-ee-ow-noah) will play behind Muma and Freshman Connor Shay will serve as the No. 2 at the WILL linebacker spot. Bohl said the third player in the rotation will be true freshman from Omaha, Sam Scott.
This trio has combined for eight tackles. Actually, those all belong to Suiaunoa, the only reserve to see a snap at the collegiate level.
Is Bohl concerned?
"We've got talent in that room," he said. "It's just a matter of getting those three young guys up to pace. That's where Easton was at last year, you know, so I think we'll get there no problem."
Suiaunoa, a 6-foot-3, 227-pound Houston native, played in five games for the Cowboys last fall. Five of his eight tackles came in a road loss to New Mexico. The former dual-threat quarterback from Clear Lake High School was heavily recruited by the likes of Power-5 programs like Arkansas, Baylor, Nebraska and UCLA, among many others.
Bohl said Suiaunoa missed spring practice but didn't skip a beat this fall.
"He came back really well," Bohl said. "He did a great job keeping up the pace with everything. He has a great feel for the game, so I'm excited to see him excel."
Shay was on the roster last fall but never saw the field. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Danville, Calif., product fielded offers from Fresno State, Nevada, UNLV and Utah out of Monte Vista High School. The former three-star recruit was named the North Coast Section Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.
He reminds Bohl of another guy who is already making a name for himself on this roster.
"There's a lot of similarities between Connor and Easton at a young age," he said. "He's a fast guy that can run and tackle and is learning the process of how to diagnose plays. So, it's been fun to see him accelerate, kind of a similar path Easton was on."
Scott, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound backer from Skutt Catholic, just wrapped up his first fall camp in Laramie. He's impressed early with one strength in particular -- speed.
"You know, he's a guy that actually tested as a fourth fastest guy on the entire team this summer as a freshman," Bohl said. "So, he's got a really bright future just being a freshman and now learning how to play football."
Craig Bohl echoed those sentiments, adding that he is pleased with the progress of the linebacking corps.
"They played well -- we run a complicated defense and it's a pro-style defense, so sometimes it takes a while to pick up some of the nuances within our defense -- but they've done a good job," Bohl said. "How much they play will be kind of contingent upon how the game goes along. We feel like we've got two really excellent veteran players. I don't think you'll see them splitting reps a lot."
These are the other linebackers on Wyoming's roster: Tommy Wroblewski (Fr., 6-2, 185, Saint Paul, Neb.), Read Sunn (Fr., 6-2, 232, Wasilla, Alaska), Brent VanderVeen (Fr., 6-2, 220, Sedro-Woolley, Wash.), Tommy McEvoy (Fr., 6-2, 195, Clarkson, Neb.), Brady Bohlinger (Fr., 6-2, 226, Windsor, Colo.)
These guys are listed as LB/ nickelback: Keonte Glinton (R-Fr., 6-0, 179, Bakersfield, Calif.), Keyon Blankenbaker (Jr., 5-10, 185, Oak Park, Ill,), Jovan Marsh ( Fr., 5-11, 170, Robbins, Ill.), Blake Harrington (So. 5-11, 183, Prosper, Texas), Buck Coors (Fr., 5-11, 178, Loveland, Colo.)
Wyoming Cowboys football players in the NFL: Then and now