‘This is what I do. I’m a football player’
LARAMIE -- Was Garrett Crall nervous Friday before he stepped on the turf at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas?
Not one bit.
Wyoming's senior defensive end was all smiles as he addressed the media for the first time since he played in an actual football game.
That grin, it's safe to say, hasn't left his face since Thanksgiving.
"It was a lot of fun, honestly," Crall said of the 45-14 road win over UNLV. "I had fun the whole trip -- flying there, in warm ups -- it was just fun. Obviously, it's been a long road, but I'm glad to be back."
Crall had a more turbulent offseason than most.
A labrum surgery on his shoulder came first. Then there was the three foot surgeries that followed after the Arizona Bowl. Let's not forget the current world we are living in. Yeah, Crall was forced into quarantine, too.
When asked if he had butterflies before his first outing of the season, Crall was almost poetic in his response.
"Playing that game Friday was the easiest thing I've done in eight months," he said. "I've had four different surgeries. The physical pain, the emotional toll and the mental stuff I went through -- the rehab, long nights of no sleeping. My mom and I talked about it and she asked, 'are you sure you're ready?'
"This is what I do. I'm a football player."
Crall said he didn't know until last Wednesday that he would have the green light to play. That came from the trainers, doctors and strength staff. Craig Bohl had the ultimate say.
He must've liked what he saw.
UNLV sure didn't.
On the Rebels' first offensive play from scrimmage, Crall stayed home on a misdirection play. He swarmed running back Tyleek Collins in the backfield for a nine-yard loss.
Crall got up wagging his right index finger.
There was also a sack, two tackles for loss, five total tackles and a swatted pass.
"It helped everyone on defense," Bohl said of having Crall back in the lineup. "Garrett has a great presence in the locker room, great playmaking ability, confidence and leadership."
Marty English, Wyoming's first-year defensive end's coach, finally got to see his best player in action.
He might have been less stunned than Crall about the senior's opening act.
"Not at all," English said. "His preparation, with his attitude and approach to the game, I was not surprised. That's exactly what we expected."
Known for his quirky, laidback attitude and long, flowing blonde hair, Crall is a character off the field. On it, arguably no one wears Wyoming across his chest with more pride than No. 88.
Fellow defensive end Jaylen Pate talked about Crall being his mentor, helping him with technique, film work and the flows of college football at this level. He also aided in Pate's transition from Chicago to Laramie.
No small task.
He's no dummy, either. Having Crall back Friday paid off for Pate, too.
"That was a big help," said Pate, who had a career day, tallying a sack, four tackles and a tackle for loss. "UNLV focused on him and it opened things up for me. It paid off in a big way."
The defensive end room isn't filled with names like Carl Granderson, Kevin Prosser and Josiah Hall anymore. Now, it's guys like Cameron Smith, DeVonne Harris, Jack Boyer, Sabastian Harsh, Oluwaseyi Omotosho and others.
Solomon Byrd and Devon Wells-Ross opted out this season. Teagan Liufau is dealing with injuries. Victor Jones was suspended indefinitely last week.
In other words, experience is not the strong suit of this unit.
That's where Crall comes in.
English said even with Crall on the sideline in street clothes, the former walk-on brings out the best in his peers. Whether that's habits, tough love or anything in between, Crall is essentially another coach on the field.
"He teaches younger guys how to practice and prepare," English said of Crall. "He's meant everything in that regard. He's out there at every practice, coaching these guys and teaching them where the bar is supposed to be set."
Pate joked that you wouldn't know that Crall is from Ohio. That's how much he loves Wyoming.
So, did he ever think about opting out this year? What about when the Cowboys started losing games to COVID-19?
Not a chance.
"It honestly never crossed my mind," he said. "Opting out was not an option to me. I never thought about it. I wouldn't do it."
Crall wants to make it clear he respects others decisions not to play this fall, but for him, he said, there's a reason he's here.
"I came here to play football," he continued. "The only way to get better is playing football. I am never going to leave. I have 100 other brothers here who chose to play. Bonds are formed in adversity."
Crall said the sacrifice has been immense. Players don't see their families. Players don't get to be regular students. Precautions have taken center stage.
"The only family you have is right here on the football field," he said. "This is all we got."