LARAMIE -- Little League.

That's the first time Esaias Gandy remembers laying out an opponent on the football field.

It's certainly not the last time.

Wyoming's super senior lives for the collision. While some shy away from the carnage, the Aurora, Colo., product seeks it out. In the Cowboys' Week 2 meeting with Northern Illinois, Gandy's vision went blurry. He went to the locker room to rehydrate on a muggy day in DeKalb. He blames the humidity.

Blasting Huskies' running back Harrison Waylee early in the contest likely didn't help, either.

That's the life of a free safety.

"I just want to make my presence known every time I'm out on the field," Gandy said. "I want teams who play us and say, 'dang, the Cowboys -- they hit.'"

Gandy's story isn't all that different from a number of players on this squad. He was forced to wait his turn thanks to a talent-rich roster. He sat behind guys like Marcus Epps, Andrew Wingard and Alijah Halliburton.

Last fall was his first chance to take over the starters' role.

Last year was also a nightmare, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wyoming played just six games. Gandy was the team's second-leading tackler with 43 stops. He also added a sack from the Cowboys' secondary. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound Denver South graduate had a decision to make after the season -- take his chances and enter the NFL Draft or come back to Laramie for one more season?

"With COVID, I couldn't really show out," Gandy said of the 2020 campaign. "That was really my first year starting, so it was just the beginning. I feel like I'm getting better each week."

 

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If it looks like Gandy's tachometer is always pegged, your eyes aren't deceiving you. It's the only speed he knows.

"He runs hot most of the time," UW defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel said. "You love the way he plays. He practices the same way -- 100 miles per hour all the time.

"You have to slow him down a little bit. There's times he does get ahead of himself and he could be a little bit more technique sound because of that. That's something you continue to coach and work with him on. I really enjoy coaching him."

Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl echoed those same sentiments.

"Esaias really does a great job," he said. "He's a physical guy. He runs around and he makes a lot of tackles. When he hits people they usually get de-cleated."

That's exactly what happened in the Cowboys' 2019 opener against Missouri.

With 8:04 remaining in the second quarter and the home team trailing 14-3, Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant took the shotgun snap and immediately ran to his left on a designed scramble. Before he could get to the sideline, he was flattened.

Gandy, then a junior reserve safety, shucked his blocker on the play.

That guy happened to be 6-foot-5, 258-pound tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who is currently collecting checks from the Denver Broncos.

Gandy wrapped up Bryant with a textbook tackle. The ball came loose and bounced right into the arms of CJ Coldon, who bolted 30 yards into the end zone to cut the Cowboys' deficit to four. Wyoming would go on to upset the Tigers, 37-31.

"That was my first big hit," he said. "That's when people start seeing."

Gandy already has 19 tackles through three games this fall. That's fourth on the team behind Coldon, Easton Gibbs and Chad Muma.

That number will likely increase very soon.

UW cornerback Azizi Hearn was asked Monday if he ever worries about Gandy hammering him in the process of helping make a tackle. The short answer: no. Hearn said he's going full speed, too. That means double-trouble for the ball carrier.

He joked that Gandy better worry about him.

What it really means is this defense isn't shy about attacking.

"I try to chase improvement every day, whether that's in coverage or getting the call down," Gandy said. "I know where I want to go and what I want to do. I need to be better each day. If I don't get better, I've failed myself. I just chase being the best. That's all I know."

Where is he going?

He doesn't mind telling you -- he's chasing a dream.

"I've dreamed about it since I was a little kid," he said of the NFL. "I'm putting it all in to make my dreams come true."

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