LARAMIE – “I know that my decision will excite some and
disappoint others as I am not choosing to stay in my home state. I grew up a
Cowboy fan and the utmost respect for the new staff. The recruiting process has
been very cumbersome and there are a lot of factors that go into a decision
that the public is not privy to …”

That, in part, was the letter that Cheyenne’s Tevis Bartlett sent to the local media in 2014 after committing to the University of Washington where he played football for the Huskies from 2015-18.

That recruiting process Bartlett spoke of weighed heavy on Mark Branch, too.

Wyoming’s head wrestling coach said he tried nearly
everything to lure the four-time state champion to Laramie.

It took a little longer than expected, but Branch finally
did it.

Bartlett, a former East High School standout in wrestling,
football and track, has joined the Cowboys wrestling team and will have one
season with the team as he works on his master’s degree.

“It happened suddenly, but it’s been a thought in our head
for years,” Brach said in his office Monday afternoon. “It’s pretty exciting.”

Branch said he stayed in contact with Barlett’s father, Dave Bartlett, even after Tevis decided to go to Seattle. They always joked about what-ifs and what could have been. Because Bartlett played for Washington as a true freshman, he never used a redshirt season. That’s what really made this dream a reality, Branch said.

“I Sent him a message saying, ‘hey, if you want to get on
the mat let me know,’” Branch joked. “I didn’t hear anything for a while and
then a week before school starts, I sent another message asking him if he was still
in Cheyenne? I said, ‘ever think about working on a masters?’ He called me and
said he was trying to get in at the school and wasn’t getting very far.

“I told him to let our people work on that. We have a few
more connections. He was on campus the next day getting admitted.”

Bartlett was a dominant wrestler for the T-Birds, becoming just the 18th wrestler in Wyoming history to win four state championships. According to his Washington bio, Bartlett won his last 106 matches. He also won national titles as a freshman and sophomore. He was a national champion in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling in junior high.

That’s around the time Branch first laid eyes on the
youngster he has heard so much about. Bartlett came to camps in Laramie and
impressed on the high school stage. Branch makes no bones about it – he wanted
him.

“Tevis told me his dad is really fired up,” Branch said. “I
think, deep down, Dave always wondered what would happen if he wrestled at the
Division-I level. It will be fun to get those questions answered. There’s nothing
to lose here. A year from now he might find himself in the NFL. We are going to
train him a little bit.”

Bartlett recorded 158 tackles for the Huskies, including 26 for loss. The 6-foot, 3-inch, 233-pound outside linebacker also tallied nine sacks and intercepted a pair of passes. In 2016, Bartlett helped lead Washington to the College Football Playoff and a meeting with No. 1 Alabama. He also played in the Fiesta and Rose Bowl.

After his senior season, Bartlett was selected as the
Wuerffel Trophy recipient. That awards is given annually to the player who “best
combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.”

Bartlett went undrafted last spring but was invited to two
NFL minicamps with the Giants and Titans.

Branch said pursuing a professional football career is still
very much on Bartlett’s mind. That’s why, Branch said, they want to keep
Bartlett’s weight around 230 or 240, which could give some college heavyweights
a 40-to-50-pound advantage this winter.

“I’m excited for the opportunity that’s there,” Branch said.
“I’m not getting overly excited though. It will be a challenge for him to get
back to the level he was at. We will take it one day at a time and see what
happens.”

Bartlett was sought after by major college wrestling
programs around the nation, including Brown, Cornell, Nebraska, Iowa, Stanford
and many others. Branch said Bartlett was considered one of the Top-5 wrestlers
in the nation in his weight class.

Power-5 college football programs came calling, too.

Bartlett received offers from California, Colorado, Iowa, Oregon and Utah, among many others.

The day Bartlett signed his letter of intent in the hallway
at East High, he expressed to reporters that Wyoming was in the mix until the
end, for both football and wrestling.

“When I was looking at everything, Wyoming was right in
there," Bartlett told reporters. "The opportunity to play quarterback
was very intriguing. The opportunity to compete for my home state is something
that I’ve always wanted to do. But when it came down to it, this is a decision
that is going to impact the rest of my life. Up to this point, it’s the biggest
decision I’ve ever made.”

Branch said he feels like Bartlett may have always felt some
“guilt” over his decision to leave Wyoming.

“A lot of fans were really upset and took it personal,” Branch said. “Tevis said something the other day. He passed (Craig) Bohl and turned his head and looked away. I don’t know, but I would doubt coach Bohl has lost a lot of sleep over the deal.

“Tevis still has that guilt a little bit, but he’s going to
find out really quick that our fans are excited to see him here and what he can
do on the mat. He’s competitive and he’s going to be good in that (wrestling) room
regardless.”

Branch joked that Bartlett has struggled through conditioning
in the early going, including running steps at War Memorial Stadium last week.
He knows it could be a while before he gets back in “wrestling shape.” Branch
said it didn’t take long for muscle memory to return for the transfer, either. Brach
said he expects the transition to go smoothly.

Is it crazy to think Bartlett could challenge for a Big XII
title – or even a national championship?

“I’m sure I’ll know a lot more in six weeks,” Branch smiled.
“Right now, I’m just glad to have him with us and to give him a chance. He
brings a lot of positive things to the program. It’s a lot to gain for us.”

OK, but can the Cowboys at least schedule a last-minute duel
in Cheyenne?

“Not at this point, but it would be pretty cool,” Branch laughed.
“They would love that over there.

“Everyone is excited.”