For Wyoming coach Dave Christensen, the difference in this year’s spring football and last year's is like night and day.
When Christensen took over for Joe Glenn last year, he had to instill a different work ethic and level of discipline that the players weren’t used to. He lost some players who didn’t want to do the work and some whose bodies couldn’t handle the work, but he came out of the spring with a team that was better equipped to handle the rigors of the Cowboys’ brutal schedule.
While Christensen said he felt like the team bought in early, it wasn’t until after its New Mexico Bowl win against Fresno State that he saw the attitudes change. Players started to believe in Christensen and his staff because they’d seen tangible results. So, this offseason, the Cowboys have been dedicated to winter workouts and coming into spring practice, which started last Saturday, as a team ready to experience success on a consistent basis.
“The work ethic has been unbelievable,” Christensen said. “Our kids are working extremely hard and were much more athletic and much faster and a more explosive football team than we were a year ago. They’ve been through it, they know that it works and now they’ve bought in and they’re giving great effort.”
One of the biggest advantages this year will be an increase in talent and a steady quarterback situation. Last year, three quarterbacks duked it out in spring football and none of them ended up being the starter. Freshman Austyn Carta-Samuels took the reins late in nonconference play and led the Cowboys to their first bowl game and winning record since 2004.
Carta-Samuels earned Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year honors after throwing for 1,953 yards, 10 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
“I’d say he exceeded my expectations,” Christensen said of Carta-Samuels. “He did a nice job of directing the team, made great decisions with the football and being a playmaker with his feet to get out of trouble. Yeah, I’d probably say he did exceed my expectations.”
Carta-Samuels will have some extra help this year with junior college wide receivers Mazi Ogbonna and DeJay Lester and freshman running back Nehemie Kankolongo joining the mix.
The addition of some better playmakers means that Wyoming can actually expand its offense and not rely on Carta-Samuels so much. Christensen was not able to put his entire playbook in place as he was tailoring it to his personnel. But this year, Christensen is confident that he’ll have the people around Carta-Samuels to make the Cowboys even better than they were a year ago.
“It’s going to make it a little easier for [Carta-Samuels] not having to make all the plays,” Christensen said. “To have offensive success, you have to have a number of playmakers to get the ball in their hands. We can’t just rely on one guy. We need five or six guys to make that happen and I think we'll have those guys.”