‘His heart is so big’
LARAMIE -- Did Jordan Bertagnole think after two weeks he would be one of Wyoming's leading tacklers?
That's exactly the question Pete Kaligis posed to the redshirt freshman as they walked off Jonah Field together under the lights last Friday night.
The inquiry from UW's defensive tackles coach had nothing to do with expectations. It had everything to do with an offseason phone call he received from the preferred walk-on from Casper.
"Here's a young man that called and said, 'hey coach, is it OK if I come to camp late so I can work an extra month so I can pay for tuition?'" an emotional Kaligis recalled. "... I'm sorry, I'm already tearing up. His heart is so big. That's what you guys see."
Bertagnole came out of nowhere in a Week-1 setback in Reno. The 6-foot, 4-inch, 254-pounder registered a pair of tackles and a sack in a back-up role along the Cowboys' defensive front. He also recovered a fumble in Reno.
Was it a fluke?
Against Hawaii, the former Natrona County Mustang tallied seven tackles. He also got to quarterback Chevan Cordeiro 1.5 times.
That even caught the attention of head coach Craig Bohl.
“Bert did some exceptional things tonight,” Bohl said postgame. “It’s great to see those guys out there and competing.”
This all comes at a time when the team needs him most.
Starting defensive tackle Ravontae Holt went down in the second quarter and never returned. In the second half, the Cowboys' other starter at the nose, Cole Godbout, went down briefly with an injury.
It goes even further back than that.
Mario Mora and Claude Cole opted out of the season because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Those two also played on the interior.
Someone needed to step up.
That man was Bertagnole.
"We are doing the job we are supposed to do," Kaligis said. "Guys are going out there every day. It's a family effort."
Wyoming's defense held Hawaii to just 123 rushing yards in a 31-7 victory inside War Memorial Stadium. Cordeiro, who a week earlier torched Fresno State for 116 yards on the ground, was sacked five times and finished with a single rushing yard on nine attempts.
The effort by Bertagnole wasn't lost on his linemate.
“I always knew he had potential, and I think he really stepped up to the plate," Godbout told the media postgame. "We had two big guys opt out, and we didn’t know if Ravontae was going to be back. I think he really stepped up, and I think he’s had a huge impact for our team."
With Holt's status up in the air for the Border War Thursday night in Fort Collins, Bertagnole, a native son, could earn the first start of his career in his state's biggest game.
After the field cleared out and the postgame celebration moved to the home locker room, Kaligis headed toward the stands Thursday night.
"You guys know me," he said, "I love them all. I had a chance to talk to Bert's parents after the game and see his family. I teared up."
Kaligis is the lonest-tenured coach on this staff. He in year 12. He thrived under Dave Christensen and was thought so highly of, Bohl kept him around. Though his coaching duties have changed over the seasons, one thing hasn't -- his passion for his players and their success.
"That's what you see. That's what you see from every young man here who plays for the Cowboys," he said. "Their heart is so big. It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from or what you have, when you step on the green and you put Steamboat on your head, it means something.
"So, am I surprised? No. With him, not at all. He's tough and I love the young man."