‘It makes complete sense’
LARAMIE – It was the winter of 2006 and Brian Hendricks had a decision to make.
Hours earlier, the senior linebacker at Burlington High
School toured Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins. He saw the campus, the weight
room, met coaches and players. This was nothing new for him. His father, Mike,
and grandfather, Joe, both played college football at Colorado State.
Surely Henricks would, too, right?
He wore the gear, never missed the Rocky Mountain Showdown
in Denver and pulled for the Rams every Saturday. He was earmarked. He was
destined to be a Ram.
There was even a full scholarship offer from legendary head coach Sonny Lubick.
Turns out, Henricks already had his mind made up. It wouldn’t
be a popular decision.
“I let my dad know prior to the visit that I was leaning
toward Wyoming,” Hendricks said. “He wanted me to take the visit to make sure.
That night, I talked to a Wyoming coach and told him I was making my mind up
soon. He told me to sleep on it.
“Then he said, ‘Well, you know, I think you know already.’”
That man was Marty English.
“I went downstairs and thought, ‘what the hell am I doing?' I went up and told my parents that I want to go to Wyoming,” Hendricks said. “I called Marty and he said, ‘what do you have for me?’ I told him – ‘I want to be a Poke.’
“He was a huge factor in my decision, if not the main
English coached the UW linebackers from 2003-08. He added the title defensive coordinator for the next three seasons. Last week, UW head coach Craig Bohl announced that English would become the Cowboys new defensive ends coach, replacing AJ Cooper, who departed for Washington State last month along with defensive coordinator Jake Dickert and cornerbacks coach John Richardson.
“I’m really excited to come back to Wyoming and work with coach Bohl and the rest of the coaching staff,” English said in a press release after he was hired. “I’m also looking forward to working with a bunch of tough, hard-working kids with great attitudes.
“My family and I are very grateful to be back in Wyoming.”
Hendricks story is not out of the ordinary.
Colorado kids, many from small towns, have flocked to Laramie and thrived for years, never more so than under English’s watch. Names like Gabe Knapton, Mitch Unrein, Weston Johnson, John Fletcher, and many more, were sought after and signed by English.
What’s the secret?
“He just shoots you straight, honestly,” said Knapton, who
is from Mead, Colorado, a town of less than 5,000 that sits on the prairies of
eastern Colorado. “He’s a guy you can sit down and BS with. Obviously, the way
he holds himself, kids respect him. I realized that right off the bat. When you
respect a coach it’s easier to play for him and you want to do well for him.”
Less than 40 miles up the road in Eaton, Unrein was a 210-pound linebacker with few offers. Certainly, none from any of the Division-I schools scattered up and down the Front Range.
That didn’t stop English from kicking the tires.
Unrein fit the mold. He was tough. He had a chip on his shoulder. He had a pedigree. It didn't hurt that English had recruited Unrein's older brother, Mike, who played for him at Northern Colorado.
“He’s a real guy,” Unrein said. “He doesn’t blow smoke. He tells you like it is. You respect that.”
Unrein, who went on to have a successful nine-year career in
the NFL, playing for the Texans, Broncos, Chargers, Bears and Buccaneers, was a
walk-on in Laramie. English told him to add weight and put his hand in the
dirt. He was destined to become a defensive lineman. He also told Unrein that
he had potential to become a scholarship athlete at UW.
He just needed to prove him right.
“I started eating a bunch,” Unrein laughed. “I was 225 when I
got there. After practicing for two weeks, Marty told me, ‘we’re going to put
you on full-ride next year.’ It was awesome.”
All three former Pokes raved about English’s toughness, communication skills and dedication to his craft. They all agree he’s a players’ coach. You know, the type you call when you have an issue. The guy you lean on for support. The guy who will be honest – brutally -- no matter the circumstance.
“He was like a second dad,” Hendricks said. “He would discipline
you like a dad. He wouldn’t get mad, but disappointed, which would crush you.
Whenever he walked in, everyone sat up a little bit straighter. You don't want
to piss off ‘Daddy English.’”
Hendricks said an underrated part of English’s coaching is
his ability to teach.
Admittedly, Hendricks didn’t know much about the intricacies
of the game. “I knew what a gap was and what a football was,” he laughed. “That’s
That didn’t matter to English.
He has a way of explaining things where everyone gets it,
Hendricks, Unrein and Knapton said. He slows the game down. English wants his
guys to think less, play faster.
“I thought, oh my God, this isn’t for me. I’m screwed,”
Hendricks laughed, discussing his linebacker’s meetings during his freshman
season. “I don’t know what he’s talking about. Once that became clear that I
didn’t know, he was able to water it down so I could grasp it and let it soak
Hendricks, a two-time team captain, went on to register 309
tackles during his four-year career in Laramie. He still owns the school record
for tackles in a game with 23 against Air Force in 2009.
Despite being a hard-nosed coach with an iron jaw, English
is also known for his dedication to “his guys.” Every season after fall camp,
English puts on a crab boil for the linebackers. He even occasionally invites a
straggler. Even guys like Unrein and Knapton who bulked up and played on the
“He’s your friend,” Knapton said. “There’s a lot of stories I can’t share, but we have a lot of great memories with coach. From the boil to tubbing at Curt Gowdy. He’s just a good guy.”
Knapton finished his career in Laramie with 368 tackles, which was good enough for fifth all time when he graduated.
Unrein, who racked up 162 tackles and 10.5 sacks at UW from 2006-09, also recalls getting stuffed on crab and playing bag toss in the lawn at English’s house. Not only did that show the admiration English had for the work his guys put in, Unrein said, it was a chance for the team to bond off the field.
“The camaraderie, brotherhood, really helps the team mesh
and gel really well,” he said. “Guys would hang out at practice and in the
weight room, but it was good to get guys outside of football and get to know
one another. It makes you want to play harder for the guy next to you.”
Are these guys shocked that English decided to come back to Laramie? Not even a little bit.
"I think it makes complete sense with his past, especially recruiting past in Colorado," Hendricks said. "He's a hell of a coach. He's spent his entire career in the Front Range area. The connections and relationships he has, it makes complete sense."
"He'll fit right in, along with the other blue-collar guys who come to work every day," Knapton said. "He wants to play tough football. That sold me right there. He loves the Wyoming brand and how things are done up there. He's a good fit. Tough football team, tough coach."
Another term associated with English is loyalty.
Yes, even though he left Laramie to coach at CSU, where he was a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator from 2012-17.
In 2012, out of football and sitting behind a desk at a Fort Collins insurance agency, Hendricks was admittedly miserable and at a crossroads. He loved football. A tryout with the Washington Redskins proved fruitful. He didn't know what to do.
That's when English recruited him again.
This time, as a graduate assistant at CSU.
"It's true. Five months I was there," Hendricks laughed. "Obviously, it was weird wearing those colors, but I thought I'd be there a few years, get my masters degree and get my foot in the door."
After a sort stint in Fort Collins, Hendricks was snagged by the Colorado School of Mines where he became a coach for the first time.
"I owe him a lot," said Hendricks, who is now entering his third season as the defensive line and assistant coach at Illinois State.