LARAMIE -- Eric Abojei will be the first one to tell you the Cowboys offensive line didn't live up to the billing a season ago.

Despite returning nearly the entire veteran unit, Wyoming's front five allowed 17 sacks over a six-game span. Opponents also registered 46 tackles for loss.

Starting quarterback Sean Chambers suffered a broken left leg just three plays into the season. A split second after taking the snap, he had a Nevada defender draped all over him.

Back-up signal caller Levi Williams absorbed plenty of hits that didn't make it on the stat sheet, too. He was also on the receiving end of 14 of those quarterback takedowns. Gavin Beerup was taken down behind the line of scrimmage twice.

Wyoming's starting left guard has heard all the noise and watched the film. He knows this group has to be better in 2021 under new line coach Derek Frazier.

Abojei can't control what the entirety of the line does, but he did take steps this winter to controlling what he could -- himself. The junior from New Hope, Minn., dropped nearly 55 pounds since the Cowboys regular-season finale in the snow last December against Boise State.

"Something kind of clicked in me," Abojei said. "My body just felt really down, just not really feeling where I wanted to be at. I have dreams and aspirations to make it to the next level and I knew deep inside that if I didn't get my weight down, it wasn't going to help me reach those goals."

 

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A healthy diet and plenty of the time in the gym aided in Abojei's weight loss. A big eater and self-admitted lover of cooking in the kitchen, his answer was simple when asked what he misses on his plate the most.

"Honestly, everything," he said with a smile.

Sure, the NFL is the end game for Abojei, but he knows he has plenty of work to do inside War Memorial Stadium before that day comes.

Abojei, a former University of Minnesota commit and second-ranked recruit to come out of that state, walked on campus in 2017 weighing in at 328. In just one year, he ballooned to 354, according to UW's official website. He said those added pounds affected his day-to-day life, including his play on the field. Admittedly, just speaking in practice was a tall task.

"I feel more energized," he said. "I feel like I'm able to stay in practice longer. I'm not gassed out halfway through practice. I'm able to communicate better with my teammates, because, I mean, before when I was like 360, I wasn't able to stay in practice. I wasn't able to communicate where I wasn't able to be efficient.

"Now, I feel like I'm energized and ready to go every single play."

Abojei wasn't forced by the coaching staff to make this change, he did it all on his own. Even sidelined due to offseason surgery on his right hand, Abojei stuck to his guns.

"All the credit goes to Eric and his commitment to his overall improvement and his team-first attitude," said Eric Donoval, UW's Director of Sports Performance. "He is such a talented athlete and we had discussions with him about if he was able to get his weight down not only would he be able to display that talent better, but he would be able to display that talent through a 13-play drive. He's really cleaned up his diet. He came back for winter training already down in weight and then he lost an additional 17 pounds through winter training and he's as healthy as he's ever been."

His head coach noticed right away, too.

"Eric has lost a lot of weight," Craig Bohl said. "He is still a big man but his weight had gotten to the point where it was cumbersome for him as the game wore along. He probably didn't move quite as well as he would have liked. Now he has transitioned to a weight where he can maintain his level of play for a longer period of time."

When Abojei wasn't talking about his dramatic losses in the weight room, he spoke about the energy Frazier and new offensive coordinator Tim Polasek are bringing to this "re-engineered" offense. This O-line once again returns in its entirety thanks to an NCAA ruling that allowed an extra year of eligibility. That means Logan Harris is back. So is Alonzo Velazquez.

Abojei said there have been major changes to the daily routine, but added Frazier has put an emphasis on being in the right positions on the field.

And about last year. You think this unit took that criticism lightly?

"We always have something to prove," Abojei said. "Every season that we walk into, we try to make sure that we we expand our our goals and our standards. We never settle. That put a chip on our shoulder. It's made the stakes higher. We want to improve in all those areas.

"After last season, we're definitely working on some things."

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