A healthy Velazquez looking to go out on top
LARAMIE -- Sean Chambers ditched his No. 12 jersey, saying it had "bad ju-ju" in it.
Who could blame him?
Three straight season-ending leg injuries might make anyone a little superstitious. That prompted me Tuesday evening to ask right tackle Alonzo Velazquez a similar question: Is that why you shaved your head? You had an awesome head of hair.
"What's funny was I shaved my head when I had my shoulder surgery," Velazquez smiled. "Having one hand, you know, I couldn't maintain it. My mom didn't like long hair. So, I was like, you know what, I'll make her happy."
Velazquez is no stranger to the operating table.
Multiple knee injuries cut his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons short. A torn labrum in his shoulder -- in a walkthrough, of all things -- sidelined him for the entire 2020 campaign.
There was a lesion on a joint, a micro-fracture and a torn meniscus. All freak incidents, including popping his shoulder during a practice last August.
When Velazquez has been on the field, he has been one of the Cowboys' most consistent linemen. Against Missouri in the 2019 season opener and Texas State the following Saturday, the then-junior received a perfect 100% rating by Pro Football Focus. Over 132 snaps, Velazquez didn't allow a quarterback pressure or hit, let alone a sack.
The 6-foot-6, 313-pound Wisconsin product also helped pave the way for three straight Mountain West rushing champions. Nico Evans claimed that title in 2018. Xazavian Valladay has been the best in the biz since.
But the fact still remains Velazquez has only suited up in 24 of a possible 41 games since arriving on campus.
Like Chambers, did he ever consider hanging up his cleats?
"You know, that's an interesting question," he said. "That's a question that I talked to my family about all the time, especially after having several surgeries. For me, I'm thinking if I'm still able to run, walk, I'm still able to do it, I'm going to play football. I mean, that's what I came here for.
"I understand if my body was completely telling me I can't play football, but I know I have plenty of football in me. I know that just give me my opportunity and I'll be able to show that my body can still play football. So, I mean, yeah, the idea crossed my mind, but do I ever think about it now? No."
One person that's glad that thought was fleeting is Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl.
"I'm really glad he's here," Bohl said. "You know, he's working on that knee. He's getting to be an old man. You know, his knowledge and what he's doing, and his perseverance is certainly important. He adds great value to our offensive line. I know, the coach (Derek) Frazier is really happy with him, and I am as well."
MORE UW FOOTBALL NEWS:
* Bohl: 'We're going to play a regular game'
* Hank Gibbs making case for third-string QB role
* Titus Swen ... Wyoming's kick returner?
* A humble Braden Smith in position to be starting safety
Velazquez not only had the injuries to think about, but technically he is a senior and could walk away. He said lifelong friendships with teammates and coaches wouldn't allow that. Neither would his heart.
"I think the least I could do is keep playing," he said. "I think, in my heart, that playing football is just who I am. That's a huge part of what I've done for most of my life. And, you know, that's just one part of me that I can't leave behind."
Another reason it would be hard to say no is the talent that surrounds Velazquez. Not only on the offensive line, but the 95% of the roster that is returning from a year ago. Frank Crum replaced Velazquez in 2020 and started all six games at right tackle. Now, Crum, Velazquez and Rudy Stofer are battling it out for the final two starting spots.
It's a fun rivalry, Velazquez said, adding that the smack talk is endless. He said they are all friends, on and off the field, making this competition all the more intriguing.
Bohl weighed in Tuesday, saying Velazquez and Crum have separated themselves a bit as the Cowboys' enter the final week of spring practice. Tim Polasek, Wyoming's first-year offensive coordinator, said last week Stofer was playing his best football yet.
That's all good news for the Pokes.
"Whoever coach wants to put out there are the best five," Velazquez said.
Admittedly, Velazquez says he has been a bit rusty in his technique early on. He added, that's what spring ball is for. True, but he hasn't played a meaningful snap since the final day of 2019 in Tucson. All Velazquez knows is he hasn't felt this healthy in a while. He's starting to settle in and make plays, too.
Injuries and setbacks have let doubt creep into his mind, but those have also put this whole game in perspective.
"If you're going through an injury and you're missing time, the last thing you want to do is have a bad mentality," he said. "I mean, they'll just make time go longer ... I got my year back to play football again. I mean, it's like a fresh start. Honestly, even though I still only have one year left, I think this is a great new opportunity for me to just show who I am as a football player and as a person off the field."
One more question: Is the offensive line still going by the nickname "Dirt Dogs?"
"You know, that's a word that we like to represent," Velazquez grinned. "I think we still stick by that and we're still the Dirt Dogs, baby."