LARAMIE -- Dawaiian McNeely was supposed to get his first carries of the season in the second half at Northern Illinois.

That didn't happen.

Wyoming watched a commanding 42-16 late third-quarter lead turn into a one-point deficit in the blink of an eye. The starters remained in the game and eventually pulled off a 50-43 victory in DeKalb.

Waiting one week is no big deal.

McNeely has been clamoring for his turn in the Cowboys' backfield since he arrived in Laramie in the fall of 2019.

In a Week 4 meeting with UNLV last November in Las Vegas, McNeely's number was finally called. Thirteen times, to be exact. The redshirt freshman rolled up 54 yards on the ground, including a 14-yard burst through the Rebels' defense. One week later, McNeely finished with one carry for a single yard in a surprise loss to New Mexico.

While those stats don't jump off the page, McNeely said those rushes were priceless.

"It definitely put my mindset in a better place," he said. "I was able to get my feet wet last year and get a feel for the game and how fast college football is."

With the Cowboys leading 17-0 over Ball State late in the first quarter last Saturday in Laramie, McNeely rested his hands on his knees and his heels on the Cardinals' 24-yard line. Quarterback Sean Chambers took the snap, turned and extended the ball.

The Ceres, Calif., product took the handoff and ran full speed into the Cardinals' front five.

Only he didn't make it quite that far.

Instead, he blasted his own center, Keegan Cryder, in the back and bounced to his left before outracing the Ball State secondary to the end zone for his first-career touchdown.

"It was definitely a good feeling. It's something I've never felt before," said McNeely, who racked up 48 yards on just six carries. "It was an all around good day, good experience and a good team win."

He caught his quarterback's attention.

"He's a special guy," Chambers added postgame. "He's a really good football player."

UW running backs coach Gordie Haug said McNeely actually seeks out contact when the ball is in his hands. Running into his own teammate wasn't part of the plan, but Haug said that gives a small glimpse into the style of player he is.

No wonder Power-5 programs Arizona State and Oregon State, along with Mountain West foes Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada, Hawaii and Utah State wanted a piece of the former three-star recruit from Central Catholic.

"He practices the way he plays," Haug said of the 6-foot-2, 190-pound back. "You got to see firsthand just how physical he is. He hits a different gear ... He's an aggressive, tough runner.

"He's only going to get better."

 

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After the 16-yard touchdown run, McNeely made his way back to the home sideline. There, fellow UW running backs Xazavian Valladay, Trey Smith and Titus Swen, among others, were the first to greet him.

"I was very juiced up when Dawaiian got a chance to score," Valladay said. "We always talked about it that his time would come ... You just got to wait for your number to be called. Everybody was juiced up for him."

That moment wasn't lost on McNeely.

"It was definitely a good feeling just to know I did something right," he said. "Those two older guys -- X and Trey -- they have a lot of experience and they've been around a long time. I got a real sense of accomplishment from them. It definitely felt good."

He also takes something else from those two.

"I learn humbleness from them," he continued. "Football-wise, they have so much knowledge of the game and experience that I don't have yet. Anything they tell me, I make sure I listen."

Don't be surprised if you see more of No. 30 in the backfield this season. Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said he likes McNeely's forward lean and big frame.

"He doesn't have a lot of weight yet, but he can pack a lot of punch," he said. "He's a hard guy to tackle."

Haug said McNeely has a full understanding of the offensive scheme, but said in-game reps will only expedite his growth and maturation at the position.

"He's going to turn into a very good running back," he said. "... He's a really smart player. Now, he's live and doing it on the field."

Saturday, McNeely said, was a fun "family event." His parents, along with both sisters were in attendance inside War Memorial Stadium for his big day. His younger sister, Jazmin McNeely, had a front-row seat. She's a member of the UW spirit squad.

McNeely can't deny it, having a sibling in Laramie -- being more than 1,100 miles from home -- has been a cool experience.

Playing, well, that's been pretty sweet, too.

"That wasn't my best game by any means," McNeely said. "That just fuels me to work harder on stuff I need to get better on."

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