‘I need to get better each game’
LARAMIE -- There's no denying it, getting Garrett Crall back in the lineup paid major dividends for Jaylen Pate.
He'll be the first one to admit that.
In the Cowboys' first three games of the season, Pate was credited with just one tackle. That was an assisted tackle, to be clear.
Last Friday in Las Vegas -- opposite Crall -- Pate posted four tackles and a sack. The redshirt freshman finally showed glimpses of why Bowling Green, Minnesota, New Mexico and Northern Illinois wanted a piece of the Chicago standout.
More importantly, it showed why Wyoming wanted the former two-star recruit so badly.
"He really has shown his ability to go out and make plays, and he's got good strength,” UW head coach Craig Bohl said Monday afternoon. "... (Crall) gave a real sense of confidence to Jaylen. UNLV was probably saying, 'shoot, we're not going run Crall's way anymore, let's run toward Jaylen.' He had some opportunities to make some plays."
Pate was named to the 2018 Chicago Sun-Times All-Public League football team as a senior. That honor came after posting 69 total tackles, 11 sacks and 27 tackles for loss. Pate also registered four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and even returned an interception for a touchdown.
Friday served as a glimpse of what to expect from the 6-foot, 3-inch, 241-pound defensive end.
But just how important was Crall to that success?
"Having him on the field was a big help," Pate said. "UNLV focused on him and that open things up for me. It paid off in a big way."
That's not the only scenario where the senior captain has lent a hand. It happened when Pate made the transition from the Windy City to the windier city of Laramie.
It's paid off in the weight room, the film room and the locker room, where the two are seated next to each other.
Pate joked that the duo calls itself "ebony and ivory."
"I'm chocolate, he's vanilla," Pate said with a smile.
Pate added that Crall doesn't hesitate to push him. He calls the former walk-on from Hicksville, Ohio, his mentor.
"He was big for me last year. It was a bit of a rough transition," Pate said. "He helped guide me through that. ... He has a unique personality, for sure. He's a football guy, straight up."
Pate said most would probably be shocked to find out Crall isn't from Wyoming the way he is so into the program.
That, he said, helps him forget about big city life, fancy restaurants and traffic.
Crall missed the Cowboys' first three games of the season, healing from offseason foot surgery. Despite not being on the field, the senior was still in Pate's ear. At home games, Crall would find him every time he came off the field. When Wyoming played in Nevada on opening night, Pate knew before he even looked who the flurry of text messages were coming from.
"It's not always in the most conventional way," Pate joked. "He's a great mentor to have in the room, for sure."
Speaking of that room -- the defensive end room -- Crall is the unquestioned leader. Solomon Byrd, who led the Cowboys in sacks in 2019, decided to opt out before the season because of COVID-19. Davon Wells-Ross followed suit. Victor Jones, who bounced between the end and tackle position because of depth concerns, was suspended indefinitely before the UNLV game.
What does that leave?
"The older guys are teaching the younger guys how they are supposed to prepare," UW defensive ends coach Marty English said. "That's invaluable right now. They get to learn from it and emulate it."
Those younger guys are Cameron Smith, Jack Boyer, DeVonne Harris, Sabastian Harsh, Oluwaseyi Omotosho, Braden Siders and others.
And, yes, Pate.
Crall got his first glimpse of what Pate can do opposite of him.
“He just played fast, and you can kind of see the wheels start turning in his head,” Crall said. “He's starting to understand the game and figure out the game and the flow of it. So, it's good to see. I'll keep pushing him in practice, because he still has a lot farther he can go.”
Once Pate got past the speed and physicality part of the college game, he said he's been settling down more by the week. He set goals for himself this offseason.
The main one -- compete for a spot.
I'm sure Pate didn't imagine injuries and depth would be what got him to a starting role, but does that really matter at this point?
"The defensive end room is very weird right now with three or four guys out," he said. "It's been a rollercoaster in that room. But this is the position I wanted to be in, getting an opportunity from the coaches and making the most of it. I need to get better each game."