LARAMIE, Wyo. — Coming into the season, it looked like the Wyoming Cowboys’ running attack would have a vastly different identity than the previous two years. The more the 2017 season goes along, however, the more the Pokes’ backfield begins to resemble its predecessor.
Running back by committee was the mentality coming in, and Milo Hall, Kellen Overstreet and Nico Evans were that committee’s chairs.
But since converting from linebacker to running back after fall camp, true freshman Trey Woods has only expanded his role in Wyoming’s offense. Monday, he was named starting running back for the Cowboys’ game Saturday against Texas State.
“He’s been working hard,” quarterback Josh Allen said of Woods. “He’s getting a lot of reps in practice, and he doesn’t run from it. He welcomes it, and he’s a guy who wants to play, who wants to win. … That’s kind of the epitome of this team is we’re a bunch of dudes that want to win.”
The Cowboys got off to a slow start this year in replacing Brian Hill, and understandably so, considering Hill was the program’s all-time and single-season leading rusher. Like Woods, Hill had a defensive background, though not at Wyoming.
“Now, Brian was a linebacker in high school, but he started out as a running back (here),” head coach Craig Bohl said. “Trey started out as a (linebacker), and then we began to look at what skill set he has during the course of camp and then during fall. Particularly with freshmen, sometimes, you do that quite a bit. We have done that.
“The things that we liked about Trey, how he covers ground in a different manner than maybe some of the other guys that we have, and that size, and he’s shown some power running and then his speed. I think the future really looks bright for that guy, because if you look at his weight right now, I think he’s about 209 pounds. He’s awfully lean, and you’re looking at a 6-foot-3, 230-pound guy as we go. And those are the typical prototype guys that we like at our tailback spot.”
That combination of size, speed and physicality earned Woods comparisons to Hill early on. After two carries for 15 yards against Gardner-Webb, Woods had 11 for 42 against Oregon and 15 for 135 in the Cowboy’s overtime win over Hawaii.
Prior to that game, Wyoming hadn’t had a running back rush for 100 combined yards in its first three games. It was the first time a Wyoming back had crossed the century mark in a game since Hill did it in the Cowboys’ 2016 regular-season finale against New Mexico.
“I just can’t thank my teammates enough and my coaches for helping me get here,” Woods said afterward. “Each practice I go through my struggles, and it just helps to have them pick me up and tell me I can do better. With them pushing me, it just makes it worth it when I can actually do it on the field for them.”
His Hawaii performance included a 34-yard touchdown, at the time Wyoming’s longest run of the season, and a 59-yarder, now the holder of that distinction, to set up an Austin Conway touchdown.
“The emergence of maybe a superstar in Trey Woods,” Allen said. “That dude’s a special kid, and people saw that tonight.”
Though Woods is now a starter, he doesn’t see the Cowboys taking a one-man approach to running the ball the way they often did with Hill.
“I definitely love getting the ball, but all our other backs are special, and we all love working hard together,” Woods said. “We’re all picking each other up. I’m good with the carries, but if one of my brothers is in there as well, I know I’m confident that they’re going to make plays, too.”
While no other running back had more than three carries against Hawaii, the power run game as a whole appeared improved. Hall, Overstreet and Evans combined for 30 yards on five carries (6.0 avg.).
“We were completely focused on making sure we established the run game throughout practice last week,” Allen said. “Going a few live periods just to start getting people amped up in the game and continuing to keep us hungry. Our coaches made a huge emphasis on that, and we executed fine.”
Wyoming has upped its rushing total in every game so far this season, but the Cowboys still rank dead last in the Mountain West in rushing offense.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Woods said. “We’ll get there. I wouldn’t say we’ve found our identity yet.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com