LARAMIE -- In-state schools like UTEP, SMU, Texas State and UTSA wanted him.

So did Power-5 programs like Nebraska, Arkansas, Baylor, Kansas State, Oregon State and UCLA. There were more, too.

So why did Shae Suiaunoa pick the University of Wyoming?

The answer isn't that simple.

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Then 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, Suiaunoa was one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the Greater Houston Area. During his final season at Clear Lake High School, the three-star recruit threw for 1,020 yards and six touchdowns while completing 79-of-148 passes. He also rushed for 347 yards and found the end zone twice.

Suiaunoa rolled up 4,993 yards through the air during his prep career to go along with 39 touchdown tosses. He tacked on 1,652 rushing yards and even made SportsCenter's Top 10 after breaking out a spin move and leaving a jelly-legged defender in the dust. (Check it out at the 38-second mark)

Some of those top-tier teams wanted Suiaunoa under center. He said he simply waited too long to make his ultimate decision. It needed to be the right move for him.

Enter Craig Bohl.

"Other recruits committed," Suiaunoa said, referring to why he didn't end up at a bigger school. "Once they committed, they pulled (my scholarship). Thankfully coach Bohl wanted to talk to me."

He not only wanted to chat, he had a full-ride offer for the four-sport star. There was a catch though -- he would have to switch positions. Wyoming needed a linebacker.

"At that point, I just wanted to go to school on a full scholarship, so I was just blessed to have him come in late," he said. "I just wanted to play somewhere, you know what I mean? I played a little bit of defense in high school, definitely not as much, but I liked a little bit of defense because it's more free. You get to run around. Quarterback is a lot more stressful than any other position."

Now listed at 6-foot-3, 232 pounds, the sophomore with the poofy ponytail and the wide grin can only smile when he thinks about the transition. He even said he stepped under center one more time during his freshman season, serving as the Cowboys' scout team QB.

"It was fun playing quarterback," he said. "But, now, I'm a linebacker."

Suiaunoa earned his first-career start on the weakside last Saturday at Illinois. He had to fend off Michigan State transfer, Cole DeMarzo, throughout the spring and fall camp.

Were nerves present? You bet.

That will happen when you've been waiting your turn for three-plus years.

"I was behind some great linebackers," he said, referring to Logan Wilson, Chad Muma and Cassh Maluia, who all were drafted into the NFL. "I couldn't beat them out. I just took my time, stayed patient and trusted the process. The opportunity I have now, it's just an amazing feeling. You know, just being out there, playing ball again. I haven't had that feeling since high school."

How did he feel about his first outing as a starter?

It could've gone better. In fact, Bohl said during his weekly press conference that Suiaunoa "can play better."

"Oh, most definitely," he said of his game and the improvements that can be made. "I left my feet a lot on a lot of tackles and took some bad angles. But yeah, I played decently. It was definitely not where we wanted to play as a linebacker group or defense at all. I mean, that's part of the path and we have to just get better these upcoming weeks."

Suiaunoa finished with six tackles in his long-awaited debut.

Wyoming will get its second opportunity Saturday when Tulsa pays a visit to War Memorial Stadium. Suiaunoa said despite this roster being loaded with youth -- ESPN ranks the Cowboys the third-youngest team in the country -- the mindset is stronger than in year's past.

A loss, he said, can't turn into two, three or more.

"We just do our job and trust one another," he said. "Even though that loss wasn't the best loss -- I mean, it wasn't a good game at all -- we just put it in the rear-view mirror and keep moving on.

"So, I think, mentally, for this team, we're on the right path."

Kickoff between the Cowboys and Golden Hurricane is set for 1:30 p.m. Mountain Time. The game will be televised on FS1.

UW vs. NIU September 11, 2021

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