‘I am unstoppable’
LARAMIE – When Bart Miller was the offensive line coach at the University of Minnesota, he frequently made the 18-mile drive to the western suburb of New Hope.
There, a raw 6-foot, 5-inch, 300-plus pound lineman at
Robinsdale Cooper High School was climbing the recruiting ranks. He was on
every radar in the Big Ten. He was considered the No. 2 player in the entire
Miller liked his footwork, strength and knowledge on the
football field. In fact, he was so enamored with the three-star recruit he
offered him a scholarship.
That player was Eric Abojei.
Obviously, he decided not to become a Gopher. Miller, who
left Minneapolis in 2016, wouldn’t have coached him there anyway.
“It’s kind of neat the way it all worked out,” Miller said
Monday afternoon in Laramie. “I think it helped with the transition for both of
us. He trusts me and knows I have his best interests at heart. At least I hope
All kidding aside, Abojei has transformed himself into a dominant
guard in not only the Mountain West, but the nation. Fans coast to coast got a
glimpse of the 354-pound sophomore in the season-opening win over Missouri.
On Xazavian Valladay’s 61-yard touchdown dash in the second quarter, Abojei led the way, hammering All-American linebacker, Cale Garrett, out of the way before moving on to the safety.
Watch this masterpiece:
Getting to this point hasn’t been a walk in the park for
After what Miller called a “poor outing” in the final fall scrimmage, Abojei’s fellow linemen called him on. Miller said they all expected more from him. They knew what he was capable of – and if he didn’t start producing soon – Patrick Arnold would be the starting left guard on opening day.
“Maybe that lit a fire under him,” Miller said. “The next
week was a complete 180. He won the job outright before the Mizzou game.
“He was truly dominant against them.”
So, what changed? Abojei said he reverted to the mindset he
had in high school – lay down the law.
“I told myself that I needed to step up my game,” Abojei
said simply. “I wanted to make a better choice for myself, my team and my
future. The only way to do that is to be on the field. I had to make a quick
That he did.
Monday in the meeting rooms in Laramie, Abojei strolled in with a boot on his right leg. He said he got rolled up on early in the 53-17 win over UNLV. He said he was fine, but the bye week came at the right time for an offensive line that has been beat up, but not broken.
Abojei eluded to the fact that maybe in years past this
injury would’ve forced him to the sideline. Not this year.
In the linemen’s meeting room, there’s a saying: “The
mountain doesn’t care.”
Take a mountain climber for instance, Miller said. The snowy
peaks don’t care if your cold, tired or your buddy just fell to his death – you
must keep climbing – even though the mountain is trying to kill you, too.
What does that equate to?
It doesn’t matter if a lineman is injured – next man up.
It doesn’t matter if you screwed up the last play – move on.
Oh, you’re tired – find another gear.
No one does that with more gusto than Abojei.
“He’s played very well this season,” Miller said. “He’s
playing with a lot of confidence that I’m not sure he had in the past … we
subbed him in and out at the beginning of the year, but he started playing so
well that we didn’t need to. People have started to realize that he is a force.”
Here’s a scary thought -- Miller said he still has plenty of
room for growth.
“He has some things he needs to improve on like technique
and weight management, things of that nature,” Miller said. “We ask our guards
to do a lot and he has physically adapted to that. He pulls well and has really
played himself into one of the better guards in the conference.”
Abojei has plenty of belief in himself. His goal is to make
everyone believe him – even his opponents.
“I always try to keep the mindset that I am unstoppable,” he
said. “I am going to drive them off the ball regardless of who they are, how
big they are and what school they play for. That’s my style of football. I want
my backs to know that when No. 69 is leading the block, he is going to open the
hole. I want every opponent we play to say they need to control what 69 does.”
So far, that has absolutely been the case.
Look at these clips from the UNLV game. You think Valladay
likes running behind Abojei?
Abojei isn’t about to take all the credit though. This line is a unit. The family, he said he was looking for when he made his college choice.
These guys live together.
They eat together.
They lift together.
How tight are these guys? Miller pointed to once instance
that really says it all.
“When Logan went down, Eric was a mess on the field,” Miller said of Logan Harris taking a blindside hit in Tulsa that sent him to a local hospital. “It was the middle of the third quarter. Everyone was concerned about Logan, myself included, but we still had a game to play … We got him composed and he went out and played great. That’s a credit to Eric and how far he has come. I don’t know if that happens last year.”
Abojei said the offensive line has earned the nickname “The
Dirt Dogs.” That’s because of its brutal style of play and the way they take
care of business. It’s a new mindset that came in with Miller, Abojei said. These
guys strut around differently in years past. They have a nastiness. An edge to
“In the spring we preached swagger,” Abojei said. “We want to be the most dominant line in the Mountain West, the nation and all around. For us to do that, we needed swagger. We want to rule any defensive line that comes across us. Whoever we play, we want to make sure they have to put their all into it.”
The Cowboys offensive front has been nothing short of a strength
through the first five weeks of the season. Wyoming is averaging 248 yards on
the ground per game and have allowed just four sacks.
Miller said this young corps is ahead of schedule.
Guys like No. 69 have made that possible.
“We have to be strong as a unit,” Abojei said. “We have to
be able to communicate and trust each other. We have each other’s back. It doesn’t
matter who is in the game. We stay strong through thick and thin.
“We are truly a family.”