‘My mindset is to just keep my motor going’
LARAMIE -- Unathletic. A little trashy. Not the best.
Those are just a few assessments that went through Jordan Bertagnole's mind in film study the Sunday after his first college football game.
The previous night in Reno -- with no fans inside Mackay Stadium -- the 6-foot-4, 283-pound defensive tackle was forced into action in the oddest season opener in program history. Mario Mora and Claude Cole opted out of the 2020 season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Ravontae Holt wasn't quite at 100% after recovering from a major knee injury.
Who in the world is No. 96? How do you pronounce that name? You might have asked yourself those exact questions. The reporters in a mostly baron press box certainly did.
"Coach (Pete) Kaligis told me, 'you're going to be playing,'" Bertagnole said, still raising his eyebrows more than two years later. "I just thought, 'All right, let's get after it.'"
The Casper product did just that.
With 11:17 remaining in the second quarter, fellow tackle Cole Godbout beat his man around the edge and wrapped his arms around the waist of Nevada quarterback Carson Strong. The suplex that followed forced a fumble. Bertagnole was Johnny on the spot, pouncing on the loose ball at the Cowboys' 38-yard line.
Everyone knew the name Bertagnole after that play.
"I remember getting in the locker room -- I mean, that was the first time anybody had seen me play a Division-1 football game -- and my phone was blowing up with videos of the TV screen and from people watching me back home," he said, following that 37-34 overtime loss to the Wolf Pack. "It was definitely a good feeling."
Bertagnole was his harshest critic after his debut. Hence the words above.
The former walk-on registered 30 tackles and added 2.5 sacks in just six games. Mora never played another snap in a UW uniform. A preseason injury in 2021 handed Cole the same fate. Holt, again, is coming off an ACL tear.
Now, Bertagnole is entrenched in the starting lineup.
In 10 games last fall, the redshirt freshman tallied 36 tackles. He forced a fumble. He scooped up another. In a 31-17 victory over Border War rival Colorado State, he teamed up with his buddy Godbout once again for a meeting with Rams' quarterback Todd Centeio. That was his lone sack stat of the season.
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Bertagnole, along with Godbout, will undoubtedly play a major role on UW's front four this season. They have to. Garrett Crall graduated. Jaylen Pate and Victor Jones both entered the NCAA Transfer Portal. Holt is attempting a comeback but hasn't taken a snap this spring.
Should fans be worried?
"We for sure lost a lot," Bertagnole said. "But we can definitely be super talented. I mean, we have a lot of younger guys that are really stepping up to the plate right now. I mean, throughout practices, we're bringing some of the guys that are with the twos up with the ones right now. They're definitely stepping up.
"I think that we're going to have a lot of depth this next season. I think we're going to be able to eat some guys up."
You will be introduced to relative newcomers like Gavin Meyer, Caleb Robinson, Ethan Drewes, JJ Uphold and others.
Remember, you once asked who this kid from Natrona County High School was.
Long gone -- he hopes -- are the days he looked out of place on a football field, getting swallowed up by double teams and losing his balance. He now views those as valuable learning experiences. Like the time he got manhandled in the 2020 finale by a pair of Boise State offensive linemen in a driving snow storm inside War Memorial Stadium.
Bertagnole called it his "Welcome to college football moment."
Linebacker Easton Gibbs, who was making his first-career start that November day against the Broncos, was sprinting toward the line of scrimmage to make the tackle. He got stopped in his tracks -- by Bertagnole. Well, the backplate of his shoulder pads, anyway.
"It got flicked up," he said with a grin. "He was coming to hit the hole and it hit him right in the right in between (his facemask). He wears a visor now because I hit him right in the nose."
The goal this season?
Be a more aggressive pass rusher. Stay in his gap, no matter how badly he might be outnumbered. Always have a second move in his holster.
"My mindset is to just keep my motor going," he bluntly said.
Bertagnole is one of 13 Wyoming natives on this roster. Those rough moments on the field are far and few between these days, but there's one symbol all over campus that always keeps things in perspective -- Steamboat.
"This is what I wanted to do ever since I was a kid," he said. "So, I'm living the dream right now. How can I let how I feel on a certain day set me back when I'm living the dream?"
University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players
- University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players