LARAMIE — While Wyoming is bringing back most of its two-deep on offense and defense, the Cowboys begin spring practice with a little more uncertainty in the third phase of the game.
It’s been a fluid offseason for some of UW’s primary special teams positions. Graduate transfer Nick Null, who served as the Cowboys’ punter a season ago, spent just one season in Laramie before deciding to transfer again. Senior receiver Dontae Crow returned punts and was also UW’s primary kick returner last season, but he’s now across the country after deciding to use his final season of eligibility at Campbell University.
It leaves some major voids to fill in both the kicking and return games. But without the emergence of John Hoyland, there could be more.
The most pressing concern for the Cowboys’ special teams unit this time a year ago was how it was going to replace the program’s all-time leading scorer, Cooper Rothe, who exhausted his eligibility in 2019 after four seasons as UW’s placekicker. Freshman Luke Glassock appeared to be the heir apparent to Rothe, but injuries took Hoyland from a true freshman walk-on buried on the depth chart to the top of it.
All Hoyland did in his first collegiate season was convert 29 of his 30 kicks, including 13 of 14 field goals. In leading the Mountain West in field-goal percentage (92.9) and scoring (9.2 points per game), Hoyland earned himself the permanent placekicking job going forward.
“I can tell you this, we have a placekicker,” UW coach Craig Bohl said earlier this offseason.
As for the other jobs, those appear to be up for grabs heading into the spring.
Null was the only punter listed on the depth chart at that position last season, but Glassock could punt. He could also handle kickoff duties unless Bohl and his coaching staff decide to let Hoyland do both. Glassock, a walk-on from Buffalo, did both in addition to handling placekicking duties during his prep days at Buffalo High.
But those jobs aren’t likely to be handed to the in-state product. Another freshman, Ralph Fawaz, kicked and punted at Cache (Oklahoma) High, where he reportedly averaged more than 48 yards a punt during his senior season in 2019. Fawaz figures to be part of the competition this spring after not playing last season.
Senior receiver Ayden Eberhardt will likely get the first crack at returning punts following Crow’s departure. Eberhardt was the Cowboys’ secondary option in that role, returning two punts for 9 yards last season. It’s a spot where UW could use a bigger threat after averaging just 5.5 yards on punt returns a season ago, which ranked in the bottom half of the Mountain West.
The Cowboys no longer have anyone on the roster that returned a kickoff last season, though freshman receiver Devin Jennings figures to factor into that role after being listed alongside Crow on last season’s depth chart as UW’s No. 1 kick return tandem. Eberhardt and another freshman receiver, Josh Cobbs, could also get a look there after being the secondary tandem a season ago.
The Cowboys have experience at holder with Hank Gibbs and Ryan Marquez splitting those duties last season. Gibbs, a walk-on quarterback, finished at the top of the depth chart there. Freshman Read Sunn is also back after serving as the long snapper a season ago.