LARAMIE -- Slim pickings.

That's one way to describe Wyoming's running back room at this time a year ago.

Titus Swen, fresh off a 1,000-yard campaign during the regular season, was dismissed from the team. Dawaiian McNeely was banged up. So was DQ James. Joey Braasch entered the NCAA Transfer Portal at year's end.

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One player jokingly offered to make the move.

It fell on deaf ears.

"You need an extra back today or what? Give me a couple reps," Wyett Ekeler said, referring to his playful badgering of the Cowboys' running back coach, Gordie Haug. "I also did that after the last game."

In a 42-6 road rout of Nevada in the season finale, Ekeler picked off a Shane Illingworth heave in the second quarter. The 5-foot-11, 204-pound free safety simply played center field and snagged the can of corn with ease. It's what he did after the interception that raised eyebrows.

He dodged, weaved and stiff-armed his way through five would-be tacklers before capping his 38-yard jaunt with a dive into the end zone.

That was no fluke.

During his senior season at Windsor High School, Ekeler earned First Team All-Northern Colorado honors and was named the 4A Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,435 yards and 22 touchdowns. He did all that damage on just 146 carries. That's an average of 9.8 yards per rush. He eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark seven times during that 2019 campaign.

"It honestly brought me back to my high school days of running the ball and going out there and putting the moves on them," he said. "It was an awesome feeling, man. I was just trying to play ball. I honestly don't even remember what happened. I remember picking the ball off, throwing a stiff arm on someone and then it was all a blur."

That return even impressed Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler -- his older brother.

"He said, 'good job. I'm proud of you,'" he said with a grin. "It was good."

 

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Oh, by the way, Ekeler is a pretty darn good safety, too.

He earned Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week honors after that performance in Reno, which also included five tackles and 1.5 stops in the backfield. It was the second time the junior has earned that recognition this season. The first came in a 35-26 victory over New Mexico in Week 5.

Twice Ekeler came around the edge untouched. Twice he lit up an unsuspecting Lobo quarterback Dylan Hopkins. The first came on a crucial third down. The next included a forced fumble just before the half.

It was the one that didn't count, however, that may have been the most effective.

Again coming off the corner, Ekeler blindsided Hopkins. Only this time a pre-snap whistle wiped it off the stat sheet. Hopkins would leave the game and never return. Ekeler capped his day with four tackles and a pass breakup.

Ekeler is currently the team's third-leading tackler behind linebackers Easton Gibbs and Shae Suiaunoa, respectively. He has 75 stops, 47 of which are the solo variety. During this breakout season, Ekeler has also broken up six passes. He has a pair of interceptions.

That number should be higher. "Much higher," he added with a slight shake of the head.

Craig Bohl says the drops have gotten under Ekeler's skin this season. That is an understatement.

One that still sticks in his craw came in front of 100,000-plus fans inside Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin. Quinn Ewers attempted to connect with tight end JT Sanders in the end zone to put the No. 4 Longhorns on the board early. Ekeler jumped the route and skied for the pass only to watch it bounce off his hands. Texas tacked on a 37-yard field goal on the next snap.

"I literally almost cried," he said. "I was like, how do you drop that? Oh, my gosh. There should not have been points there. That was a killer for me."

How about a glass-half-full approach?

Sanders, who landed on the All-Big XII First Team after hauling in 39 passes for 607 yards and two touchdowns, was shut out that night against the Cowboys. That's the only game all season Sanders failed to make at least one catch.

"We did a really good job against him, for sure," Ekeler said. "He's a great tight end."

Ekeler and the Cowboys will take on Toledo today in the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl. Despite all the off-the-field news coming out of Laramie this month -- Bohl's retirement announcement, Jay Sawvel's promotion, departures via the transfer portal and 26 incoming freshmen, among other headlines -- Ekeler said his focus hasn't wavered.

He wants win No. 9. He wants to hoist a trophy. He wants to add to that interception total.

"It's been bugging me for a while, so I've been focusing on catching the ball a lot more lately," he said with a laugh. "I need to get on (JUGS machine) more and more, honestly. I need to get on that thing after practice every day. This cannot happen next year."

The Pokes and Rockets will kickoff today at 2:30 p.m. Mountain Time. The game will be televised on The CW and streamed at barstoolsports.com.

 

Here is all you need to know -- and the links -- for Saturday's tilt in the desert:

WHO: Wyoming (8-4, 5-3) vs Toledo (11-2, 8-0)
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 30 at 2:30 p.m. MST
WEATHER: High of 75, low 41, mostly sunny, wind 10 mph
WHERE: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz. (50,782 capacity)
TRAVEL: AZ 511
STREAMING: Barstool Sports
TV: The CW
RADIO: Cowboy Sports Network
TICKETS: Wyoming Ticket office
BOX SCORE: ESPN
ROSTERS: Wyoming / Toledo
HISTORY: Series tied at 1-1
ODDS: Wyoming (-3.5)
HEAD COACHES: Craig Bohl / Jason Candle

University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players

During the summer of 2021, 7220Sports.com counted down the Top 50 football players in University of 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 7220's Cody Tucker are Robert GagliardiJared NewlandRyan 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 fairer.

Don't agree with a selection? Feel free to sound off on our Twitter: @7220sports - #Top50UWFB

Gallery Credit: 7220Sports.com

- University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players

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