LARAMIE -- In Sabastian Harsh's final high school football game, he rushed for 216 yards and three touchdowns in a heartbreaking 21-20 loss to Skutt Catholic in the Nebraska state championship.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior quarterback also played on the other side of the ball, racking up seven tackles, including one for loss, from the linebacker spot. The Scottsbluff star even picked off a pass.

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It was a memorable performance. You can see why. But none of that dominance above was responsible for the flood of text messages flashing across his cellphone screen the following morning.

That was expected.

His potential game-saving play on special teams, well, the name is fitting -- it was special.

With just 1:21 remaining in the first half, Harsh, who also served as the Bearcats' punter, awaited the snap around his own 10-yard line. The snap sailed over his head and into the end zone inside Lincoln's Memorial Stadium.

He retreated, corralled the football, took one step and unleashed a 79-yard boomer, pinning Skutt inside its own 20.

"I kicked it as hard as I could and just saw it flying," Harsh said with a wide smile. "I look at the video here and there ... Each time, I look at myself and look at the ball and kind of just walk off like, I tried to act like nothing happened."

The highlight was featured on ESPN, CBS Sports and a number of other national outlets.

The texts, they just kept coming.

In fact, even entering his third season as a defensive end at the University of Wyoming, he still gets reminded of that punt. Even from his own head coach.

"Oh yeah, he's known all over the state," Craig Bohl, a fellow Nebraska native, said with a grin.

Bohl won't be asking Harsh to kick or line up under center in Laramie. Now, his job is to stop the guy with the ball and put opposing punters to work. So far, he's doing exactly that through Wyoming's first seven practices of the spring season. Bohl, on numerous occasions, has mentioned Harsh and the dynamic pass rusher he is becoming.

The Cowboys will need that production from that position, too. Garrett Crall graduated. Jaylen Pate, Victor Jones and Solomon Byrd all entered the NCAA Transfer Portal.

The cupboard is simply inexperienced, not bare.

"I continue to feel good about some of the young defensive ends, particularly Sabastian Harsh," Bohl said. "I think he's really got some movement that is hard to coach. You saw that with him covering kickoffs last fall. It's starting to transition with the defensive end position."

Harsh, a sophomore, registered seven tackles on kick coverage last fall, including two in the Cowboys' 52-38 victory over Kent State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

 

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There's no denying it, like most football players from the state to the east, playing for the Cornhuskers was Harsh's goal. His bedroom at home featured red and black stripes. His mother even painted a depiction of Herbie Husker bursting through his wall.

"I wanted to be a Nebraska football player," he said. "That was the dream."

Was is the keyword in that sentence above.

As Harsh made his way through high school he quickly realized there were other options. South Dakota State showed interest. Nebraska did, too. But it was Bohl and Co. who were the most consistent.

"Wyoming is the one that stuck with me, the one that believed in me," Harsh said. "After I committed, literally a couple days later, my room was painted gray. Now there's Wyoming memorabilia on the walls."

This isn't your typical case of loyalty.

Yes, Bohl wanted Harsh, but his high school GPA was doing him no favors. With his academics in question, Wyoming's staff still wanted to extend an offer -- walk on and prove it.

"He was above the bar as far as our evaluation, athletically," Bohl said. "In my experience of what a Nebraska player looks like, and that transitions into success on the field. We felt good about his athleticism. He was off academically.

"We sat down with his parents and said, 'All right, the deal is going to be, you come in and you perform academically. After your first year, we'll put you on scholarship. But you have to hit the books and you have to do right in school.' He did. He answered the bell there, so I was really pleased with his progress."

Harsh credits his mother with pushing him toward the finish line. She took time off from work. She helped with homework. She sacrificed to hold him accountable.

"It just showed me that if she's willing to do that for me, why can I just do it for myself?" Harsh said. "Ever since then, I've just been making sure to take accountability for my own grades, my own schoolwork and just making sure that everything is straight."

He has responded on the field, too.

"His productivity athletically does not surprise me at all," Bohl said of Harsh, who is now checking in at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds. "... You know, it's dangerous for me to elevate a guy before he's really done it, but I think my eyes are pretty damn good as far as seeing athletic guys. It's going to be fun to see him over the next couple years."

Now, Harsh's plan is to prove his coaches made the right decision.

"They knew what I could be," he said. "They knew I could get it done, too, even though I was still low. They knew that deep down inside of me they could set a fire and just get me going.

"... It meant the world that they trusted me."

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Just The Facts: Size Doesn't Matter For Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium

Did you know it would take the populations of Gillette (32,857), Laramie (32,381), Rock Springs (23,319), Sheridan (17,844) and Wright (1,200) to create a sellout inside Michigan's famed 107,601-seat Big House, the largest college football stadium in the nation?

For those of you not familiar with the Cowboy State, those are Wyoming's third through sixth most inhabited cities, along with the small mining town in Campbell County.

- Just The Facts: Size Doesn't Matter For Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium