LARAMIE -- Braden Smith didn't put too much thought into his decision to return to the Wyoming football team.

He did, however, think about what it would've been like to be one of the 27,000-plus sitting in the stands last Saturday inside War Memorial Stadium if he had decided to hang it up.

"That would've been super weird," the Cowboys' sixth-year senior said. "I don't know if I could've done that."

The NCAA granted all seniors an additional year of eligibility because of the ongoing coronavirus.

Smith didn't hesitate.

The 5-foot-9, 181-pound Lakewood, Colo., product started all six games at the strong safety spot last fall, replacing Rome Weber, who decided to opt out due to the pandemic. Smith registered 23 tackles, picked up a quarterback sack and picked off UNLV signal caller Max Gilliam.

Smith has waited for his moment since the day he arrived on campus back in 2016.

 

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He's sat behind future NFL safeties Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps. He watched as Alijah Halliburton enter the fray and tally a 100-plus tackles. Esaias Gandy has also cemented himself as a force in the UW secondary. Weber, a redshirt freshman in 2019, claimed the starting role over Smith.

That's not the only reason he came back though.

It's deeper than that.

"I love players in this locker room," Smith said. "They're all great dudes. I don't think I could live with myself if I left. I would've felt like I gave up on them if I didn't stay another year.

"It was really a no-brainer to come back. I love the coaches and players. It was an easy decision."

With 7:12 remaining in the first quarter last Saturday, Montana State quarterback Matthew McKay took a shotgun snap, faked a handoff and quickly fired a slant to Willie Patterson. After hauling in the pass, the Bobcats' wide receiver took one stride up field before his progression came to an abrupt stop.

That blast came courtesy of Smith. So did the fumble that followed.

Montana State already had a 7-0 lead. If that catch and run is completed, the visitors are in business inside the Cowboys' 25-yard line.

"Braden Smith was all over the field," Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said. "He caused a fumble and did a great job tackling. Many times you don't notice that guy's there, but his wavelength to be able to cover -- not sideline to sideline -- but just outside the hashes to hashes, he really did an excellent job. He was in the right place at the right times.

"We were really please with how Braden played."

Smith is a notorious hard worker. He features a feel-good story of a man who patiently waited his turn. Respectful, modest and humble are a few other words that are fitting.

So is football player.

"It means everything to me, man," he said. "I know the work I've put into this. I've been doing it for five or six years. It really means a lot to me. I'm thankful I have great coaches who believe in me. My teammates believe in me.

"... I'm really blessed."

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Wyoming Cowboys vs. Montana State Bobcats

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