Wyoming’s Newest Running Back Looking for Larger Role in Laramie
LARAMIE -- Vanderbilt called. So did Boston College. Kansas State kicked the tires, too.
Harrison Waylee, though, already had his mind made up. You can thank running backs coach Gordie Haug for that.
The minute the dynamic speedster from Northern Illinois hit the NCAA Transfer portal, his phone rang. Or so it seemed, the junior joked last week after the Cowboys completed their second practice of the spring.
It was not only the timing that swayed the Johnston, Iowa product, it was the consistency. The relationship. Haug showed he cared, valued Waylee's talents. That wasn't lost on him.
"I got interested in the school so I started searching and looking at the facilities, looking at the classes and all of that," he said. "Then when I actually came up here what really got me was it had all the resources I needed, the fan base I needed everything here. So, I was like, this is the place to go."
Craig Bohl's run-first attack certainly didn't hurt the sale pitch, either.
"I loved it," Waylee laughed. "I love it because when we played (Wyoming) I saw how Xazavian Valladay and Titus Swen ran the ball ... To watch them run the ball and pound the rock was something that really interested me."
In the game he is referring to, Valladay eclipsed the century mark on the ground. Swen busted a 22-yard touchdown run to put the visitors on the board early on a muggy September afternoon in DeKalb in 2021. Wyoming cruised to a 42-16 third quarter lead.
It was a laugher.
"Was" being the keyword.
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Waylee sparked a furious comeback with a 75-yard touchdown run. He added a 14-yard scoring scamper on the very next drive. Before you knew it, the Huskies were up 43-42 with 5:02 remaining.
Yes, the Cowboys would go on to win that one on a Sean Chambers touchdown run, but when the dust settled on that 50-43 escape act, it was the performance of Waylee that left the biggest impression.
The then-freshman rushed for a game-high 179 yards on just 26 carries. That's an average of nearly seven yards per carry.
"It's embedded in my brain," Bohl joked last December after the ink dried on Waylee's national letter of intent. "We're excited about having him. He left an indelible impression on me when he raced down the far sideline and we couldn't catch him."
Let's put it this way, the UW staff didn't need to comb through hours of tape on this guy. Not only did they get a first-hand look at the 5-foot-10, 192-pound back, a week prior he gashed Georgia Tech for 144 yards and a score.
"I think he fits what we look for in the running back room with the dynamic explosiveness," Haug said on signing day. "And him being ready to roll, I mean, that's one thing that we're really excited about."
Last fall, Waylee rushed for 899 yards and found the end zone five times. His breakout performance came in a double-overtime loss to Ball State where he amassed 230 yards and scored three times. He is just 71 yards shy of eclipsing 2,000 yards on the ground in his three-year career. He has added 10 rushing touchdowns and another one through the air.
Waylee said he hopes to be utilized even more in Laramie.
"At NIU, I actually felt like I was being held back from what I can actually do," he said. "At NIU, they kept me in as a blocking back and a running back, I didn't really do too much in the passing game. Here, they want to use me everywhere and I'm glad to do that."
Waylee is currently in the process of learning UW's pro-style offense. He isn't used to "dotting the I," instead taking handoffs mostly from the shotgun. That has been an adjustment. So has his move to the high plains. Born on the Ivory Coast of Africa, Waylee and his family moved to the United State when he was 2 years old. They landed on the outskirts of Des Moines.
Yes, it snows in Iowa, but that's where the comparisons pretty much come to a screeching halt.
"It's a pretty view," Waylee said about Laramie, adding that he is not much of an outdoors person.
That changed, at least briefly, when he arrived last winter.
"I actually went snowboarding," he said. "That was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It works every muscle. I remember I was just trying to go down straight. I ended up turning to the side then going straight down. I didn't know how to stop, so I just laid down on the ground.
"That was the first time on a mountain, around a mountain, on a snowboard or at a snowy range."
Stick to your day job, Harrison. We know you can do that.
"I'm ready," he said with a smile. "I'm ready for the season to start."
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