Which Wyoming Cowboy wore it best? No. 97
CHEYENNE — Do you ever see a number on a Wyoming football jersey and think of all the great players to wear it? Yeah, me too. In this daily series, I’ll give you my take on which Pokes’ football player was the best ever to don each number. The criteria are simple: How did he perform at UW? What kind of impact did he have on the program?
No. 97 – Thomas Williams
Defensive tackle, 1989-90, 92-93, Pueblo, Colorado
Résumé in Laramie
Thomas Williams earned second-team All-Western Athletic honors in 1990 after registering 11 sacks and 79 tackles for the Cowboys. As a senior, he earned an Honorable Mention nod by the conference. He also was a part of two Copper Bowl teams during his four years as a starter in Laramie. Williams is still in the school's top-5 in single-season sacks and career sacks.
You see that photo above of Thomas Williams?
Yeah, he's not a fan.
He laughed when I told him that was the only picture I had of him. "You're not going to use that picture are you? You sure you don't have another one of me playing?" he said.
Williams said that photo will follow him forever. He used to be ashamed of it. That was a borrowed suit jacket. The glasses, those were government issued. That represented a time when Williams was young, broke and simply in Laramie to play football and better his life for him and his family back in Pueblo, Colorado.
"That picture drives you to make it as far as you can," Williams said over the phone Monday morning. "Back then, if I was to come home, I failed. When I look at that picture, you know what, I appreciate it. It drove me to do well in football, go hard all the time or go home."
Williams is indeed back in his hometown. That was by choice. After a brief stint with the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent in 1994, where he was teammates once again with Wyoming Hall of Fame defensive end Mitch Donahue, Williams "disappeared" to Gillette where he worked in the coal mines for more than two decades.
Speaking of disappearing, it was easy to get lost on a defensive front under Paul Roach that included names like Donahue, David Edeen, Jeff Knapton, Pat Rabold, and many, many others.
Williams was definitely on the mind of opposing teams.
In 1990, Williams registered 11 sacks from his defensive tackle position. That mark is tied for fifth all-time in a single season with Brent Schieffer, Craig Schlichting and Edeen. Williams is also fifth in the record books for career sacks with 24. He's tied with fellow Colorado native, John Fletcher.
Williams earned second-team All-Western Athletic Conference honors that season, finishing with 79 tackles.
"That's pretty cool," Williams said. "I didn't even know that. I didn't do it for records though, I did it as a guy who loves to play and give everything I had."
Williams said he is one of only two freshmen to start for Roach, though he doesn't know the other player. Roach wasn't a fan of youth and inexperience, especially on the lines of scrimmage. Weighing in at 285 on his first day on campus might have just done the trick.
Known as more of a run-stopper than anything, Williams earned Honorable Mention All-WAC honors as a senior during his lone season under Joe Tiller.
Why so much success? Williams said that is a simple answer.
"We had a good defense and a good defensive line," he said. "I had Donahue on my left and Doug Rigby and Craig Schlichting on my right. Between all of us, we were in the top-5 defensive lines in the nation."
Williams was a part of two Copper Bowl teams. He missed the first one against Cal with a knee injury. He was limited against Kansas State as a senior.
When Williams looks back on those years, he says a smile comes across his face.
"In those days I kept thinking that half of your football team is going to get hurt today," he laughed, talking about the opposition. "We played smash-mouth football. Pure smash mouth. We had straight athleticism and just attack, attack, attack."
For the past five years or so, Williams has made trips back to War Memorial Stadium to watch his former team. He has become more of a fan these days.
Recently Williams received an unexpected call from the school. They wanted to know why he hadn't finished his degree.
"I never finished my original degree," he said, adding that he received his fire science degree from Casper College. "They said, 'you know we owe you that.'"
Now, he is one class away from graduating. That will come later this summer.
"It's just something that is unfinished," he said. "I don't like unfinished things. I worked hard back then. It's time to finish it."
Who else wore No. 97
Gavin Shearer, Jason Dreessen, Chad Beuhler, Jake Mayes, Alex Stover, Dan Crook, Tristan Bailey, Ja’chai Baker, Caleb Cantrell, Mario Mora
*** All available rosters and photos courtesy of the University of Wyoming. If we missed one, please email Cody@7220sports.com. ***