UW’s Top 50 football players: No. 43
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, 1979-82, Lakewood, Colorado
Here's why: Who do you think of when the topic of Wyoming safeties comes up?
Selmer Pederson? Aaron Kyle? Brian Lee? John Wendling? Andrew Wingard?
There are plenty to choose from. And that list is just the tip of the iceberg.
If you watched the Cowboys in the early 1980's though, chances are John Salley is your guy. He was a sledgehammer out of the Wyoming secondary, tallying 379 tackles during his four-year stint in Laramie. When he left campus in 1982, Salley was the proud owner of the most tackles in school history. His 143 tackles during his senior season is second-most all-time to this day behind only Galand Thaxton.
He's currently fifth all-time in the history of Wyoming tacklers behind Thaxton (467), Wingard (454), Jim Talich (440) and Logan Wilson (421).
Despite playing for three different head coaches -- Bill Lewis, Pat Dye and Al Kincaid -- Salley was a model of consistency during a time of uncertainty. The Cowboys hovered around .500 until Salley's junior season.
UW finished 8-3 under first-year head coach Kincaid, knocking off 13th-ranked BYU and Border War rival Colorado State in back-to-back weeks. The Pokes also won road games at Air Force, San Diego State and New Mexico. Salley was a team captain that season.
This bunch of underdogs even went into Norman in Week 2 and battled the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners throughout a game they would eventually lose, 37-20.
Following Salley's sophomore season, he was named to the All-Western Athletic Conference team. He would also go on to hear his name called in the 11th round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons.
McKinney's take: Wyoming has been blessed with a number of great safeties through the years. One of the best of those outstanding Cowboys was John Salley, who played for the Pokes from 1979 through 1982.
In every sense of the word Salley was a “free” safety because the entire secondary was his home. He patrolled the defensive backfield with extraordinary range. He was everywhere, and when he arrived at the ball there was generally a major collision.
John was one of the fiercest hitters I’ve seen at Wyoming, and he only weighed 188 pounds!
To say he enjoyed contact was a gross understatement. He loved crashes. He was described by one newspaper scribe as a heat-seeking missile flying around in the secondary.
If something was going on beyond the line of scrimmage, count on No. 8 being involved.
He lead the Cowboys in defensive points as well as in tackles for three consecutive season, posting 106 tackles as a junior and another 143 as a senior. That’s all coming from the safety position! During his time in the Brown and Gold he was considered the best safety in the Western Athletic Conference while earning multiple all-conference honors. He will go down as one of the most exciting, most active safeties in Poke football history.
Tucker's take: There are a few rules to entering the UW Athletics Hall of Fame:
* You're 10 years removed from playing
* Athlete must've received two varsity letters
* Player had to be recognized by the conference
* Demonstrate leadership
Check, check, check, check.
Why isn't this guy in the Hall again?
Salley was the school's all-time leading tackler the day he walked off campus. Can't ask for much more production than that. He was a team captain. I don't think guys who aren't considered leaders earn that type of recognition from their peers and coaches.
For a program that has been known throughout its history to produce NFL-caliber safeties, at one point, Salley was arguably the best. Consider the fact he played for three different head coaches in Laramie. Imagine if that happened in today's game?
Thaxton is in the Hall. Someday, Wingard, Talich and Wilson will be, too. Will Salley? He certainly has a case and meets all the criteria.
How the panel voted: Cody Tucker (33), Robert Gagliardi (27), Jared Newland (NR), Ryan Thorburn (NR), Kevin McKinney (NR)
Cody Tucker: Brand Manger 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.