‘It’s about heart’
LARAMIE – Chase Appleby was leaving the program.
He was brought in by the Dave Christensen regime and never saw the field during his first two seasons in Laramie. Admittedly, the defensive tackle was out of shape. But no one ever called him out on it. His confidence was shot. He watched many Wyoming games from his dorm room, wondering what he was doing in Laramie?
He wasn’t even on the traveling roster.
Things were glum, to say the least. Christensen was fired after
the 2013 campaign. Would the new staff even want Appleby? The last one sure didn’t
“I called my dad before spring ball started that season,” Appleby said Thursday morning. “I said, ‘hey, we have a new position coach. He was the running back coach. I’m not sure what he will even know.’ I thought, if this doesn’t work out, it’s been good, but I’m going to probably come back home.”
Chase Appleby / courtesy photo
That coach was Pete Kaligis, the only holdover from Christensen’s staff to join Craig Bohl in year one.
By now, you probably know the rest of the story.
Appleby played in just 23 games during his career as a
Cowboy from 2014-16, recording 52 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and a pair of
quarterback sacks. He also picked off a pass during his senior season.
You might remember that one. It came in the Border War, the
final game between the Pokes and Rams at Hughes Stadium. Wyoming climbed out of
an early 17-3 hole and Appleby put the exclamation point on the victory with a
55-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Against Boise State that same season, the senior strip-sacked Brett Rypien, giving the Cowboys a game-winning safety. It was the first time in school history the Pokes had bested the Broncos.
Those are all great memories, Appleby said, but none of
those moments happen without Kaligis.
“We learned together,” Appleby said. “He took me under his
wing and molded me into what happened my senior year. It was like, holy s---,
we finally made it. We went through tons of ups and downs, but he hugged me like
he was my dad … He loved on me more than a coach ever has. He always told me
how much he appreciated me. I never felt that from another coach.”
Kaligis wears a camouflage visor when he coaches from the box high above War Memorial Stadium. He swears he isn’t a superstitious man, but the reasoning behind his head ware would prove otherwise. He sports it because of the meaning behind it. That was the hat he wore when Appleby, Conner Cain, Sidney Malauulu, Dalton Fields and Youhanna Ghaifan helped lead the Cowboys to a berth in the Mountain West Championship game.
That was the group that finally shored up the interior
defensive line in Laramie.
“The one I am wearing is special to me,” Kaligis said. “It
reminds me that we were young, but I thought that was the year those guys did a
lot for us. Chase really built the culture. It’s tribute to the youth and it
reminds me that when I put this on, we have to play well.”
This current group of Cowboys reminds Kaligis a lot of that group. Wyoming has youth across the board. Depth is an issue. Losing Ravontae Holt during fall camp didn’t help that cause any. But like that 2016 front four, this group is overachieving. Cole Godbout and Mario Mora have seemingly come out of nowhere. Victor Jones and Javaree Jackson have playing time under their belts, but not much.
All this group has done is help lead the Mountain West in
sacks with 22, hold opposing offenses to just 100.9 rushing yards per game and
rack up 54 tackles for loss. Those are all good enough for Top 20 in the nation.
Kaligis knew the circumstances entering the season, but says
he isn’t surprised by the outcome thus far.
“I wouldn’t say I’m impressed, but I’m pleased with the way
they’ve worked,” he said of his current front four. “That’s why you love
coaching. That’s where the challenge is. That’s where the fun is. These guys
understand their craft and try to sharpen it. There’s a lot of work to be done,
but this is football now. Let’s go. Let’s play.”
Kaligis has been in Laramie for 11 years now, the last six spent with the defensive line. Though he learned on the fly, Kaligis can credit his own decorated college career with helping him understand the intricacies of the D-line. Kaligis was a 25-pound offensive guard at the University of Washington. He won the 1991 National Championship under the guidance of the legendary Don James.
The Huskies went 12-0 that season. They defeated Michigan 34-14 in the Rose Bowl.
It’s no secret that this staff’s blueprint has been to recruit guys with heart, not stars. Kaligis was once one of those kids. A diamond in the rough that played against guys that outweighed him by more than 100 pounds each week.
During weekly weigh-ins, Kaligis said he used to shove a
10-pound weight into his shorts to make the cut.
That’s why a matchup with Missouri doesn’t phase him as a
coach. If he learned one thing in the trenches, technique can level the playing
“It’s not about who we play, it’s about what we do and how
we execute,” he said. “It’s about that technique and takeoff. You have to believe
what you see. Trust your eyes. There has to be something inside you.
“It’s about heart. If you do it the right way, you can overcome a lot of stuff.”
AJ Cooper, Wyoming’s run-game coordinator and defensive ends coach, has had a front-row seat to Kaligis’ work. He has watched one looked over player after another come in and thrive at the Division-I level. It’s no secret, Cooper says, it’s about “being real.”
“His intensity is genuine,” Cooper said. “The kids see that.
Whether it’s the meeting room, football field or with his family, he is that
way in all facets of his life. He’s a great mentor of young men. We relate with
people who are real. That’s who he is. What you see is what you get.”
Kaligis isn’t a big fan of the limelight. He is perfectly
happy letting his players do all the talking. After all, they are the ones
putting in the work, he says.
He is humble. Even though he qualified for the 1996 Olympic
Trials in shot put, he says he didn’t belong on the same field as his
competitors. The best part for him was spending quality time with his father,
who was also his coach.
There’s meaning behind everything he says. It all starts, he
said, with his support system at home.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today with out my wife, Kristine,” he said. “She has made unbelievable sacrifices for me and my family. I owe her so much more than what she has given me. I’m blessed and fortunate to have a wife like her.”
Appleby repeated the word family. That’s how he felt as a young
kid from Texas, finally being accepted into the program that recruited him as
an 18-year-old. That assurance from Kaligis made Appleby want to work harder.
He trusted his coach. Still does.
“After each game, there was always an embrace,” Appleby said
of Kaligis. “It was always an accomplishment. It was like making your own dad
proud is how much you cared for him. I Look back, he’s one of the top-three
greatest men I’ve ever known.
“Me and him had a special bond. He told me how much he believed
in me. He saw how much I cared. I love the guy.”