UW’s Top 50 football players: No. 11
LARAMIE -- During this summer series we are going to countdown the Top 50 football players in Wyoming history, presented by Premier Bone & Joint Centers, Worthy of Wyoming.
The rules are simple: What was the player's impact while in Laramie? That means NFL stats, draft status or any other accolade earned outside of UW is irrelevant when it comes to this list.
This isn't a one-man job. This task called for a panel of experts. Joining me is Robert Gagliardi, Jared Newland, Ryan Thorburn and Kevin McKinney. We all compiled our own list of 50 and let computer averages do the work. Think BCS -- only we hope this catalog is more fair.
Don't agree with a selection? Feel free to sound off on our Twitter page @7220sports.
Safety, 2015-18, Arvada, Colorado
Here's why: Is it really a surprise to anyone that Andrew Wingard is a safety in the NFL, picking off passes from future hall of fame quarterback Phillip Rivers -- twice?
We all saw it coming, right?
Wingard always had a nose for the football during his four years in Laramie, too. The long-haired Colorado Cowboy snagged 10 interceptions in UW's secondary. He forced five fumbles and recovered one.
Good things happen when you're around the ball.
Wingard was around the ball -- a lot.
Aside from being tied for most tackles in Mountain West Conference history, Wingard's 454 takedowns also puts him second all-time in Wyoming history behind only Galand Thaxton, who finished with 467.
In 2016, the same season the Cowboys punched their ticket to the MW title game, Wingard tallied 131 tackles. That is the 10th best single-season performance in the history of the program. The five interceptions he hauled in during the 2017 season is still tied for the eighth best single-season, too. Wingard joined other names like Je'Ney Jackson, Paul Wallace and Julius Stinson, among others.
Wingard kept the tradition of great safety play alive and well in Laramie. And to think, none of his home-state schools -- or his father's alma mater, Nebraska -- offered him a scholarship.
Wingard, like teammates Logan Wilson, Marcus Epps, and plenty of others, helped turn Craig Bohl's Cowboys from a two-win team in 2015 to bowl champions in just three seasons.
Wingard was named a first team All-Mountain West selection during his final three seasons in Laramie. As a freshman, he earned second-team honors.
Despite going undrafted in 2019, Wingard landed on the Jacksonville Jaguars roster. In parts of two seasons, he has registered 75 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and those two picks off Rivers.
Just another day at the office for this guy.
Gagliardi's take: The tackles and overall play on the field made Andrew Wingard one of Wyoming’s all-time great football players. The former safety ended his career with 454 tackles, second-most in school history and tied for the most in the Mountain West. Wingard’s 10 interceptions is tied for the third-most at UW.
There also was the hair. The long, blonde locks identified Wingard with most, but not as much as his play on the field.
“He is the first guy you look for when you watch film,” former New Mexico coach Bob Davie said. “I’m sure they built their culture on defense around him.”
Wingard had no other FBS offers other than from UW out of Ralston Valley High in Arvada, Colorado. Cowboys coach Craig Bohl coached Wingard’s dad, Dan, at Nebraska when Bohl was an assistant and Dan was a punter. Bohl said Andrew was “172 pounds dripping wet” when he signed with the Cowboys. Bohl and Co. saw athleticism (Wingard not only played football in high school, but was a hurdler in track and also an accomplished skier) and that dreaded “P” word — potential — in Wingard.
Wingard recorded 100-plus tackles in his first three seasons. Only two other players have done that in school history: safety John Salley (1980-82) and linebacker Jim Talich (1995-97) — both on this top 50 list. In 51 games played, including 50 consecutive starts, Wingard had 23 with double-digit tackles.
Wingard may have been known mostly for his tackling prowess, but over the last two years at UW he developed into a well-rounded player. An example was in pass coverage where seven of his 10 career interceptions came over his last two years.
“Our biggest challenge since we’ve been here is making sure he’s not making 100-plus tackles a year,” said UW safeties coach Jake Dickert, who coached Wingard his junior and senior seasons. “He is talented in the deep half of the field covering guys. His man-to-man skills are way better than in the past. Sometimes he is like an outside linebacker, a nickel and a safety. He does so many things, and he is able to process all of it. People don’t understand how hard that is. We put a lot on his plate. He is playing his best football. Sometimes the bar is set so high that you look at the stat line and you don’t see it.”
Wingard helped UW play in back-to-back bowl game in 2016-17. He said winning games was more important than personal records or accolades (Wingard was a first team All-MW selection his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, and a second team pick as a true freshman).
Dickert said Wingard’s footwork and balance were keys to his tackling prowess, along with his smarts and instincts. Wingard simply said: “I just pride myself in being an athlete.”
How the panel voted: Cody Tucker (12), Robert Gagliardi (6), Jared Newland (9), Ryan Thorburn (8), Kevin McKinney (21)
Previous selections: No. 50, No. 49, No. 48, No. 47, No. 46, No. 45, No. 44, No. 43, No. 42, No. 41, No. 40, No. 39, No. 38, No. 37, No. 36, No. 35, No. 34, No. 33, No. 32, No. 31, No. 30, No. 29, No. 28, No. 27, No. 26, No. 25, No. 24, No. 23, No. 22, No. 21, No. 20, No. 19, No. 18, No. 17, No. 16, No. 15, No. 14, No. 13, No. 12
Cody Tucker: Brand Manager and creator of 7220sports.com. Tucker has covered the Cowboys since June of 2019, but was a season-ticket holder for nearly three decades. Tucker has also covered Michigan State University Athletics for the Lansing State Journal and Detroit Free Press and the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins during his 10-year journalism career
Robert Gagliardi: Former sports editor and University of Wyoming beat reporter for WyoSports. Gagliardi covered the Cowboys from more than a quarter century. He also covered the team at the Branding Iron, the UW student newspaper. Gagliardi also co-authored the book: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming
Jared Newland: Currently the local sales manager for Townsquare Media SE Wyoming, Newland worked with and around Wyoming athletics for 20 years, starting as a student athletic trainer in 1990. Newland has also served in the Sports Information Office, the Cowboy Joe Club, Wyoming Sports Properties and was a UW Athletics Hall of Fame Committee Member from 2002-14.
Ryan Thorburn: Currently covering the Oregon Ducks for The Register-Guard, Thorburn also covered the Cowboys in the early and mid-90's for the Branding Iron and Casper Star Tribune. He has also written four books about Wyoming Athletics: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming, Cowboy Up: Kenny Sailors, The Jump Shot and Wyoming’s Championship Basketball History, Lost Cowboys: The Story of Bud Daniel and Wyoming Baseball and Black 14: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Wyoming Football
Kevin McKinney: Currently the senior associate athletics director for external affairs at the University of Wyoming, McKinney also serves as the radio color commentator for Wyoming football and men's basketball. McKinney has been involved with UW Athletics in some capacity since 1972. He was also inducted into the Wyoming Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2015.