MSU transfer Cole DeMarzo battling for outside linebacker spot in Laramie
LARAMIE -- First came the phone call from Aaron Bohl. Then, research ensued.
How did a kid from South Carolina, who spent his first two collegiate seasons at Michigan State, end up selecting Wyoming as his hopeful final football destination?
Well, the tradition of linebacker play in Laramie during the Craig Bohl era certainly didn't hurt.
"Oh, for sure," Cole DeMarzo said when asked that very question. "The first two guys you see are Logan Wilson and Chad Muma. Watching their tape and watching their experiences -- now in the league and going into the league -- that made the decision 10 times easier."
A final conversation sealed the deal.
"I actually got on the phone with Chad before I committed," he continued. "Just wanted to see how his process at Wyoming went. I was just sold since then."
After racking up 102 tackles, three sacks and 10 pass breakups during his senior season at Hilton Head Island High School, DeMarzo, despite playing safety, was named the fourth-best linebacker prospect in his home state. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound also added eight tackles for loss, a pair of forced and recovered fumbles and two interceptions.
Just to tack on to his impressive overall resume, DeMarzo also snagged 36 passes for 663 yards and two touchdowns at the wide receiver spot.
With numbers like that, it's no wonder Mark Dantonio had big plans for him in East Lansing.
"Had" being the keyword.
Before DeMarzo arrived on campus, Dantonio retired after a 13-year run at MSU. New head coach Mel Tucker honored the scholarship, but that offered no guarantees when it came to playing time.
He never stepped foot on the field during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign, though DeMarzo did earn scout team Defensive Player of the Week honors before the Spartans waltzed into Ann Arbor and upended rival Michigan, 27-24. He did the same thing before the Northwestern game.
DeMarzo did see the field briefly last fall. That came on special teams in a 31-13 road rout of Rutgers. He didn't record any stats.
The plan under Dantonio was to play a hybrid outside linebacker-safety role. Tucker's 4-2-5 scheme eliminated that possibility.
"I was still kind of light at the time, so I was still getting the feel for that inside linebacker spot," he said. "I'm just looking for an opportunity to get on the field. I felt like I could do that anywhere, but I just wasn't getting the chances there."
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With Easton Gibbs sliding over to the middle this spring, there's a vacancy sign hanging above the outside spot on the Cowboys' depth chart. On a team that features youth throughout, this unit is deep, despite lack of experience.
Shae Suiaunoa finished the 2021 season with four tackles and a pass breakup. Connor Shay finished with two, both on special teams. Sam Scott is another name to keep an eye on. So is Read Sunn, according to UW linebackers coach Aaron Bohl.
So while DeMarzo might not be leading the way yet -- the staff said they won't release a depth chart this spring -- the transfer is impressing early on.
"He's doing a good job picking up stuff," Bohl said, adding that some of the verbiage and schemes are the same ones current MSU defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton used while he was in Laramie from 2017-18. "He's long and he runs well. He wants to learn, that's the biggest thing. He wants to be really good, so I've been pleased with him and others. He's shown everything I want to see at this point, but so have a lot of other guys, it's going to be a really good spring."
The head man likes what he sees so far, too.
"I'm encouraged," Craig Bohl said. "You know, on the hoof, he looks good. He's long and he's put on some lean-muscle mass. I think he's picking up our system fairly well."
When DeMarzo cruised into Laramie last January, he said it was about 40 degrees and sunny. He picked a good day. It's still surreal for the redshirt freshman to wake up and see the vast landscape all around him. The elevation, that has been an adjustment.
"It's something I've never lived in or experienced before," he said with a grin. "It's awesome to be able to see the mountains and everything. Growing up in South Carolina - below sea level -- you don't see those kinds of things."
DeMarzo isn't worried about who has the leg up on snatching that outside spot quite yet.
It's a marathon.
"I just feel like it's a good competition between everyone," he said. "We're always putting our skills out there and showing what we can do."