Monday, December 7, 2009

Senior leadership pays out for Cowboys

By Richard Anderson

One more game … great for the development of the underclassmen, but a reward for the seniors, who led the Wyoming Cowboys to their 12th bowl game in the school’s football history.

For those Cowboy seniors, this has been what they have been waiting for all of their careers.

“My senior year of high school, they went to the Vegas Bowl,” Cowboy senior linebacker Weston Johnson said. “Our senior class, especially, when we came here, that’s what we really wanted to do is go to a bowl game. We hadn’t had that opportunity until this year. It’s a pretty sweet way to go out. We’re looking to get that seventh win.”

For many of those Wyoming seniors, getting a chance to go to a bowl game seemed to be slipping away. They had one more opportunity as fall drills began in August.

One more chance.

“With the changes coming in, it definitely crosses your mind that maybe we’re not going to get to a bowl game,” Wyoming senior defensive tackle John Fletcher said. “But once Coach (Dave) Christensen came in and talked to us and we went through winter conditioning with them, I think everybody could see that this guy knows what he is doing and he has won games before. His plan was to get us seniors to a bowl game and let us go out on a good note.”

The previous three seasons for the Cowboys, something always seemed to go wrong, whether it was early in the year or late.

“I think it is always in the back of your mind, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Johnson said about another season of failure. “We just found a way to win some really tough games. That game against CSU was probably the most exciting game I had ever played in. To go out like that and get that sixth win and be bowl eligible, it’s a really neat feeling.”

Yet, Johnson said that going into each season, he thought they were going to turn it around from how they had worked. It wasn’t until Christensen was named head coach a year ago that he felt that feeling was going to finally develop.

“When Coach Christensen came in with this new style of offense and this new staff, and we kept Coach (Marty) English, it seemed like some things were in order,” Johnson said. “It was time for us to start winning some games and get an opportunity to get back to a bowl game.”

If Christensen had to pinpoint one reason that his team was able to get to a bowl game, he at least starts with his senior leadership. That’s a big reason why the Cowboys are going to the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 19, he said, in accepting the invitation Monday at the Rochelle Athletics Center.

“We’ve had tremendous leadership from this senior class, I’ve mentioned that numerous times.” Christensen said. “I’ve been involved with a lot of football team and a lot of them had good personnel but they didn’t have the success that we had this year because they didn’t have leadership from the top.

“Because of this leadership provided by this senior class and how hungry every player in this program was, to have an opportunity to get to the postseason, and we were able to get there in one short year. I take a great deal of pride in the effort these kids have put out on the field each and every Saturday.”

When did the Cowboys really think that had a shot at a bowl game? After the big come-from-behind victory over San Diego State on Nov. 14.

“That put us at five wins and two games coming up – one being against an extremely good team in TCU and against another good team in CSU,” Fletcher said. “We definitely thought we could win the CSU game. Once we got to that game, everybody got in their head that we were going to have to work a little harder, but it was a definite possibility that we could get six wins and become bowl eligible.”

The Cowboys edged the rival Rams 17-16 to earn that sixth win of the season.

They celebrated, to say the least.

“We got into the locker room and I think that was the wildest I have ever seen us after a game,” Fletcher said. “It was just a great feeling. We definitely knew we were going to get an invite to a bowl – we didn’t know which one – but we were happy to go wherever.”

Their opponent turned out to be Fresno State, a former Western Athletic Conference mate in the 1990s, well before most of this group was thinking about being Cowboys.

“We want to leave our mark at Wyoming, so being one of 12 bowl teams so far is doing that,” Fletcher said. “I think for us seniors, it is something we wanted to do throughout the year. That’s what we work so hard for this summer and fall camp and we have one more game to play.”

For the Cowboy seniors, that is what it is all about.

One more game.

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