LARAMIE -- A couple years ago, Craig Bohl made the two-plus hour trek north to a remote log cabin in the shadow of Laramie Peak.

There, members of the 1987 and '88 Wyoming football team meet each summer for a reunion inside the second home of Tyrone Fittje, a former first team All-Western Athletic Conference selection at offensive guard for those legendary UW teams.

This homestead is dubbed "Cowboy Camp."

The atmosphere can only be described as relaxed. Old tales of gridiron glory flow like the whiskey lining the counter tops.

For Wyoming's current head coach, this trip wasn't about reminiscing or sipping a stiff drink. He had a serious question for players like Mike SchenbeckCraig Schlichting, Doug Rigby and others -- What was the key to winning a conference title in Laramie?

He came to the right place. Those Cowboys won 16 straight league games and claimed back-to-back WAC championships, including repeat trips to the Holiday Bowl.

It had little to do with x's and o's. Talent, yeah, that's important, but it's not the crucial component if you ask these guys. Admittedly, luck has to be on your side from time to time. Doing the little things right never hurts, either.

The answer is not as complicated as one might think.

Brotherhood.

Accountability.

Love.

That's what Paul Roach's teams of the late 80's had in spades. That's why this group of men, nearly 35 years removed from their playing days, make it a priority each summer to meet in this serene place. That's why most of their children attend the University of Wyoming. That's why these guys all have shiny gold rings encrusted in diamonds.

It's those exact principles that Bohl has attempted to instill in his own players.

That's just part of what made the 2020 season so trying for the 63-year-old head coach.

COVID-19 affected nearly every aspect of a program that is built on relationships, bonding and development. Zoom calls and to-go lunches were the new norm. Social distancing, isolation and weekly testing protocols were the priority.

And for what? To play -- maybe -- in front of an empty stadium each Saturday?

Bohl doesn't do end-of-year exit interviews. That changed last December on the heels of a deflating 2-4 campaign. The animated tone in his voice and scowl plastered across his face told the tale of a year that mostly consisted of underachievement and upheaval.

"I've coached for 38 years and I've never been through more of a frustrating time my whole life," Bohl said that day. "It was the most trying year I’ve ever had as a coach."

While few positives emerged from that mostly forgettable season, self-reflection became a theme throughout this program this offseason, starting with Bohl himself. He saw some complacency when he glanced in the mirror.

You'd have to imagine that wasn't an easy admission for a man with three national championship rings in his possession.

"It was a bad movie," he said. "... That sometimes gives you a little fire under your butt to get going."

It's that extra motivation that could lead to something special this fall.

 

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The emotion and conviction Bohl has displayed this offseason has set a tone. As he likes to say, the price of poker just went up. That's not just a cute slogan destined for a t-shirt, either.

Players are tossing around the word "championship" like never before. Is that always the ultimate goal? Sure. But this sounds different. It looks different. It feels different.

"That season is coming," Bohl said.

Is this that season?

Wyoming is welcoming back more than 90% of its roster. Its offensive line has 145 combined starts. The Cowboys featured the 16th-best defense in the country a year ago led by middle linebacker, Chad Muma. Nearly every starter is back, including 2020 opt-outs Rome Weber, Claude Cole and Solomon Byrd. Xazavian Valladay has led the Mountain West in rushing the previous two seasons.

Sean Chambers is 9-4 as a starting quarterback. He is one of the most dynamic runners in the nation. This team follows his lead.

The better question might be -- if not now, when?

Are there concerns? Of course.

Despite the intangibles Chambers brings to the table, the fact of the matter is he isn't yet a proven passer at this level. Watching his last three seasons prematurely end because of injury is always a concern, too. With an ineffective passing game also comes inconsistency at the wide receiver spot.

Can Ayden Eberhardt, Isaiah Neyor, Alex Brown and others add a new element to this offense?

Wyoming will also have to navigate a late slate of tough road tests, including trips to San Jose State, Boise State and Utah State. The Cowboys have won just two of their last 10 games away from War Memorial Stadium.

The elephant in the room, of course, is in the form of this virus that just won't go away. I think we know how that story unfolds. Goodbye fans. Goodbye games. Goodbye season.

This program hasn't claimed an outright conference title since that 1988 season.

To end that 33-year drought, schemes, skill and some fortunate bounces will surely need play a major role. So will these factors:

Brotherhood.

Accountability.

Love.

The journey starts today.

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