Friday, September 4, 2009

Christensen Era to begin

Richard Anderson photo
Dave Christensen will coach his first game Saturday as a head coach as the Cowboys open the season with Weber State.

by Richard Anderson

It all changes on Saturday, as a new era in Wyoming football begins. The Cowboys, under first-year head coach Dave Christensen, opens the season against Big Sky Conference contender Weber State.

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium.

Christensen has gone through spring drills and now fall drills to get to this point, although he will be coaching his first game as a head coach after 24 very successful years as an assistant coach – most recently as offensive coordinator at Missouri -- it's all about the players on Saturday.

“We’re just excited to be playing somebody different than ourselves,” Christensen said. “Our kids have competed well against each other. I think they are anxious to go out ad play a game and get the season rolling.”

Christensen has been pleased with the progress of the team to date and said they are about where he thought they would be at this time.

“I don’t know if we have come a long way, but we have improved since our last scrimmage, our last few practices,” Christensen said. “I think they are starting to understand that we have to go north and south, not sideways. I’m pleased with where we are at now. Everyone on this team has room to improve and we’ll strive to continue to get better each and every day.”

For the first time out and the week before the big game against Texas, Christensen is looking for a tougher Cowboy team, mentally and physically, that he inherited from Joe Glenn.

“I want to see a football team that comes out and is extremely physical and plays hard from the start from the finish, one that eliminates mistakes and is penalty free,” Christensen said. “If we get those things done, we’ll have a lot of success.”

About the Cowboys
The Wyoming defense returns eight starters from a unit that ranked 38th in the nation and third in the Mountain West Conference in total defense a year ago. That defensive unit is led by three Pokes who earned all-conference accolades in 2008. Senior defensive tackle John Fletcher was a second team All-MWC selection last year, while senior defensive end Mitch Unrein and junior free safety Chris Prosinski were honorable mention all-conference selections.

Offensively, the Cowboys will be led by junior quarterback Robert Benjamin, who is in his first year with the Cowboys after transferring from Phoenix (Community) College in Phoenix, Ariz. Benjamin was named the Cowboys’ starting quarterback on Monday.

“We’ll see how Robert does. It is all new and we’ll see how he responds when he gets out there,” Christensen said. “We are pleased with where Austyn (Carta-Samuels) is with his development. I think he is ahead of where most freshmen are at this point and time at that position. If we have to go with him, I’ll feel confident that he will get the job done.”

What Christensen would like to avoid, not only Saturday, but in the season as a whoile, is the quarterback merry-go-round that the Cowboys went through last season.

“We certainly don’t want to have a rotating door at quarterback,” Christensen said. “We’ll try to make sure that we have something established there and we’re consistent at that position.”

Holding onto the football is one of the main focuses for the Wyoming offense, coming off of last year's disappointing season. Wyoming turned the ball over 36 times last year.

“We’re always worried about turnovers, we need to eliminate them,” Christensen said. “We’re going to call the plays to give him the best chance for success, high percentage type of passes, those type of things. He’ll make good choices, we have total confidence in him.”

About Weber State
Weber State is coached by former Utah head coach Ron McBride. His Wildcats advanced to the second round of the 2008 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Playoffs, and are ranked No. 9 in the nation in the FCS Football Coaches’ Association Preseason Poll.

They have two offensive performers who are on the Walter Payton Preseason Watch List, which honors the nation’s top player at the FCS level each year. The two Wildcat players on that preseason list are junior quarterback Cameron Higgins and Weber State’s all-time leading rusher, senior running back Trevyn Smith.

“They are obviously a very good football team,” Christensen said. “They have the No. 1 offensive player in their conference back in their quarterback; they have the leading rusher in Weber history coming back in their tailback. They have a very productive tight end and a speedy and productive wide receiver. Offensively, they have a lot of weapons. They were extremely good on offense last year and we expect them to be the same this year.

On defense, Weber State is led by senior cornerback Josh Morris, who has been named to the 2009 Buck Buchanan Award Watch List. The Buchanan Award is given to the top FCS defensive player in the nation at the conclusion of each season.Wyoming leads the overall series against Weber State, having won both previous meetings in 1999 (41-16) and in 1990 (21-12).

"Defensively, they don’t have as many starters returning, but certainly they have some skill on that side of the ball," Christensen said. "They are athletic and they expect to compete for their conference championship. We certainly have a great deal of respect for them.”

Cowboy Walk to begin a new tradition
A new pregame tradition will precede the Cowboys season opener against Weber State. The “Cowboy Walk” will give Wyoming fans an opportunity to see the team up close and personal as it makes its way from the Hilton Garden Inn through the War Memorial Stadium east parking lot to the Cowboy locker room in the Rochelle Athletics Center.

Fans are encouraged to gather in the stadium parking lot to wish the Cowboys good luck on their way to the locker room. This tradition is something that schools like Tennessee and Missouri have made famous, with fans forming tunnels, high-fiving players and shouting words of encouragement to the team.

The "Cowboy Walk” will begin at 10:50 a.m. During each home game, the University of Wyoming marching band, “Western Thunder,” will gather in the parking lot of the Hilton Garden Inn and will lead the Cowboy football team across 22nd Street into the War Memorial Stadium lot where they will be joined by fans.

Once the team enters the stadium lot, they will turn north along the edge of 22nd street for a small distance before turning left and heading west toward the stadium. The team’s final turn will take them north toward Warburton Plaza and into Gate 7 on the northeast corner of War Memorial Stadium.

In future weeks, the “Cowboy Walk” will begin about 2 hours and 15 minutes before kickoff of each Wyoming home game.

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