Wyoming’s Zach Watts seeks fourth Border War victory
LARAMIE -- Zach Watts' first collegiate football game took place less than 16 miles from his hometown.
Nico Evans rushed for a team-high 176 yards that night. Quarterback Sean Chambers, who was also starting his first game in a Wyoming uniform, added 101 more on the ground and an additional 116 through the air in the Cowboys' initial visit to Canvas Stadium.
A once raucous crowd watched as its Border War rivals rushed to the northeast corner of the field, Bronze Boot hoisted high above the masses, after UW's 34-21 victory in Fort Collins.
"Honestly, 2018, wow," the 6-foot-5, 307-pound offensive guard said, shaking his head in disbelief. "I remember thinking, I was proud to be a Wyoming Cowboy."
Watts, who grew up across Interstate-25 in Windsor, has a few other memories from that game, too."
"For one, I was nervous. Probably as nervous as you would think," he said. "I played horrible. Sean, Nico, I mean, all those guys -- Dewey (Andrew Wingard) -- that one meant a lot to him, too. For all the Colorado guys. That was a fun game."
A recognizable chant reverberated from the guys in white during that postgame celebration: "It sucks to be a CSU Ram."
Watts didn't always feel that way though.
He grew up attending CSU games inside Hughes Stadium. Some family members had season tickets. He made it to at least a few games a year, he admitted. Once ranked the 20th prep prospect in the state, he shared another confession -- he dreamed of one day becoming a Ram.
"CSU, I mean, shoot, I was all in, to be honest with you," he said. "It wasn't mutual at the time. At the end of the day, after talking to my parents, that was the ultimate decision -- do I go to CSU or do I go to Wyoming? We both knew, in our hearts, that Wyoming was the right choice."
Ultimately, then-CSU head coach Mike Bobo offered that scholarship to a player from Denver. Watts said that decision could've come after he took his time in the recruiting process. There's a reason he played the waiting game. Craig Bohl and Co. were making the school up north look awfully appealing.
"I never felt as loved as I did, you know, and cared for as I did at the University of Wyoming compared to CSU," Watts said, adding that Bohl himself came to watch one of his high school games. "Just their recruiting effort, shoot, I'm five years in and still haven't been lied to once from everything that coach Bohl said. It was 115% the right choice."
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Watts has appeared in 29 games during his tenure in Laramie, including all nine so far this fall. Primarily a starter at left guard, the junior has paved the way for the second-ranked rushing attack in the Mountain West Conference, which is averaging 194 yards per game on the ground. Wyoming's front five has also allowed just 12 sacks, the second-best mark in the league.
This team's mantra this season has been "1-0."
For Watts and the Cowboys (6-3, 4-1), the team standing in the way this week is CSU (2-7, 2-3).
"Every single time it gets to this game there's a little extra pride and chip on my shoulder," he said. "It's a big game, not only for me, but for the Wyoming guys, as well. (It's also) for the Colorado guys who maybe flew under the radar a little bit.
"... You know, just knowing that we're here in Laramie, Wyoming, we know that there are other places in Colorado that weren't as interested in us. We feel valued here and that's something definitely to be bonded on."
That's putting it mildly.
Watts said his phone has been buzzing for the last two weeks. On the other end, former teammates -- mostly from his home state -- offer words of encouragement, not to mention pleas to take care of business on the field.
"Dewey is a big one, and especially Chad (Muma)," he said of the two current members of the Jacksonville Jaguars. "Chad and I have pretty similar stories. They took his offer away, which I think they may regret a little bit. It means a lot. Garrett Crall and Keegan Cryder (have texted), they absolutely know how much this game means to the state of Wyoming and the former players. It's a big deal to us."
Watts, who is one of 21 Colorado natives on this UW roster, has already held up the Bronze Boot three times in his career. Saturday night could be No. 4. He hasn't made up his mind yet whether he will return in 2023. His sole focus, he says, is taking that trophy back up Highway 287.
"It's a great feeling," he said. "It helps you know you're at the right place, on the right track, around the right guys and coaches, the whole nine. It's a blessing to be here."