Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Thorburn: Jay Sawvel has quickly found his stride as Wyoming Cowboys head coach


Feb 9, 2024 Updated 16 hrs ago

Wyoming quarterback Evan Svoboda scores a touchdown in the Cowboys' 42-9 victory over Hawaii on Nov. 18 at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.

LARAMIE – Jay Sawvel didn’t feel quite right about asking someone to pick up his dry cleaning during a busy week.

“I’ve never done that in my career,” Wyoming’s new head coach said. “I feel terrible.”

Pokes fans should be feeling great about how Sawvel’s hectic first two months on the job have gone.

UW added 11 more players, including two impact transfers from the Power 5 level, during Wednesday’s signing day after landing 27 prospects in December as part of a recruiting class that remained intact despite Craig Bohl’s retirement and changes to the coaching staff.

Sawvel conducted Wednesday’s press conference via Zoom, but the excitement and momentum inside the High Altitude Performance Center was palpable coming through the computer screen.

“It’s really easy to come work in this building right now with the way our players are and the coaches that we work with and the people that we’re adding to the program right now,” Sawvel said.

Two years ago, Bohl posted a help wanted ad on social media seeking quarterbacks. The old-school coach had to recalibrate his approach to relating to today’s players and roster management following a mass exodus of talent to the portal.

Since the Cowboys capped Bohl’s four-decade career with a 9-4 campaign and a dramatic victory in the Arizona Bowl, no players that were expected to have a major role on the 2024 team have transferred.

UW added seven transfers, headlined by North Carolina running back DJ Jones and Texas Tech wide receiver TK King, to give brawny quarterback Evan Svoboda more explosive weapons to work with.

I asked Gordie Haug, the program’s executive director of recruiting, how the Pokes avoided attrition and accrued several high-end players during a coaching transition.

“It kind of just speaks volumes of the university,” Haug explained. “Our culture, our program, the athletic department, the fans, the support that we get … people are starting to understand it’s not always greener on the other side. This is a good place to develop and turn into hopefully the best player they can become.”

Three players that could have garnered significant interest in the portal – defensive tackle Jordan Bertagnole, wide receiver Alex Brown and linebacker Shae Suiaunoa – decided to return to UW as super seniors.

“It’s three really good recruits,” Sawvel said. “That’s probably the best work we could have done in the transfer portal.”

Bertagnole, an all-Mountain West player from Casper, was injured late in the season and wants to improve his NFL stock. Suiaunoa, arguably the most improved player on the team last season, will slide over to middle linebacker to continue the tradition of excellence at the position established by predecessors Logan Wilson, Chad Muma and Easton Gibbs.

Sawvel, who promoted Aaron Bohl to defensive coordinator, returns nine starters on that side of the ball.

There’s also a lot of potential on offense based on the small but tantalizing sample size the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Svoboda displayed in relief of Andrew Peasley.

Starting running back Harrison Waylee returns and will be pushed by Jones, Dawaiian McNeely, Jamari Ferrell and Sam Scott.

Svoboda already has great chemistry with his roommate, John Michael Gyllenborg, who has NFL tight end traits.

King adds Olympic speed to a promising, albeit unproven, receiver room that includes Devin Boddie, Caleb Merritt, Will Pelissier, Jaylen Sargent and Justin Stevenson.

Sawvel’s ability to connect and retain players has been as impressive as those three-piece suits he had dry cleaned.

What really stood out to me was what Sawvel said about Brown, who has really only had one shining moment – the game-winning touchdown catch at Colorado State in 2022 – during a quiet career.

“He just feels like he’s got unfinished business in the fact that he really wants to put together a really good last year. I like Alex a lot and I talked to him about that,” Sawvel said. “As a head coach, he’s a guy I want to put time in myself. I want to be a big cheerleader behind him because he’s a really good kid. He’s got a lot of talent, and I want to see him have a really good year and elevate himself.”

At his introductory press conference on Dec. 6, Sawvel made the analogy that the Cowboys’ pursuit of the program’s first MW championship was like a 4x100 relay.

Bohl ran the first three legs and handed the baton to his protégé with a lot of momentum for the final lap.

So far, Sawvel has quickly found his stride and the Pokes have not stumbled.


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