‘I’m still a little mad’
LARAMIE – The text messages came flooding in.
Not dozens, but hundreds.
Most offered congratulations. Some praised him. Others,
well, he’s still getting some grief.
“A lot,” Wyoming’s senior strong safety, Alijah Halliburton laughed. “I’m not even going to lie to you.”
With just a few ticks left on the clock during the first half of the Cowboys home opener against Missouri, Tiger running back, Larry Rountree, fumbled at the goal line. The ball popped up right into Halliburton’s hands. After one sudden juke of Mizzou quarterback, Kelly Bryant, he was off to the races down the sideline.
He was dragged down around the 11-yard line. Bryant never
gave up on the play. He also pulled Halliburton down by the back of his
shoulder pads, leading to a horse-collar penalty.
That was a major break for the Cowboys, who received an un-timed down with no time left on the game clock. Cooper Rothe stepped in and booted a 23-yard field goal to give Wyoming a 27-17 lead at the break.
“A lot of it is sarcasm,” he said of the razzing he’s
received since being caught from behind by a quarterback. “I was tired. I’m
still a little mad.”
After a grunt and still in disbelief, Halliburton gave
credit to Bryant.
“That’s the only QB, I swear, in the nation, that runs that
fast,” he grinned. “He was really hauling and running fast.”
When Bryant closed on him around the 40, Halliburton nearly came to a stop. He thought he could evade the Clemson transfer again.
“I was thinking about going to other side, but he had good leverage,” Halliburton said. “He was pretty quick though. That was the only way he was going to get me down was a horse collar. I was trying to go for six.”
He sure was:
Teammates and friends can heckle him all they want. Halliburton got the last laugh. Not only did Wyoming stun the Tigers, 37-31, he was named the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Week. Tallying 17 tackles, one for loss and picking up a fumble will land you accolades like that.
The awards didn't end there, either.
Halliburton was also named the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.
What makes this effort even more impressive is considering who Halliburton is replacing in the lineup. Last season, he saw plenty of playing time, racking up 61 tackles, which was good enough for fourth on the team, but he did it in a back-up role behind two of the best safeties to ever come through Laramie in Andrew Wingard and Marcus Epps.
Halliburton was quick to credit those two with his breakout
He said he learned about tackling techniques, swatting away
arms and stiff-arming from Wingard. Epps helped him work on his footwork and controlled
movements on breaks.
That, he said, helped lead to what he displayed Saturday
night in front of 26,000-plus inside War Memorial Stadium.
“It means a lot,” he said of receiving player of the week
honors. “It’s baby steps though. I’m still not going to be complacent with that
reward. I want to be much, much more than that. It’s a big accomplishment. I
had my mom calling me very excited, screaming and stuff. That’s over now. That
week is done.”
The 6-foot, 2-inch, 190-pound Aurora, Colo., product also passed praise around the locker room, especially the safety group. He was impressed with redshirt freshman free safety, Rome Weber. He agrees that the hit Esaias Gandy landed on Bryant was what turned the game in the Cowboys favor.
He also liked what he saw out of cornerbacks, Tyler Hall and Antonio Hull.
Wyoming (1-0) will travel to San Marcos, Texas, this Saturday to take on the Texas State Bobcats (0-1) at 5 p.m. They might be heading south without Hull, who is back in California dealing with a “personal matter.”
Halliburton said the team is ready to rally around the fellow
“It’s 50-50 with him,” he said of Hull. “I’m praying for
him. Whatever is going on, we’re still going to come out and play for him. He
knows we are always behind him and have his back. We’re going to show up.”
There’s another reason Halliburton wants to win this next
game so badly.
“I expect a lot of people think it’s a fluke,” he said of
Wyoming’s win over 18-point favorite, Mizzou. “I’ve been hearing that this was
an upset. No, it’s not an upset. This is what we prepared for.”