Last year the most overworked pony west of the Mississippi was Cowboy Joe II, the Wyoming mascot that has to gallop around the field every time his team scores. With a well-balanced offense being led by a converted defensive backfield man, Wyoming ran up scores like 47-14, 55-0 and 40-7 as it posted a 10-1 record and won its first Western Athletic Conference championship. Happily for Cowboy Joe, he had no responsibilities when the Wyoming defense was on the field, for the defense was even better than the offense. It was the strongest in the country against rushing, allowing opponents a mere 38.5 yards per game (only two teams in the past 20 years have given up less: Penn State's 17 yards per game in 1947, and Syracuse's 19.3 in 1959).
Now Cowboy Joe has had nine months of rest, but he is in a familiar situation. Once more a converted defensive back has been called upon to run a potent Wyoming offense, and once more the defense looks strong enough to make the Cowboys a conference winner.
Since there are not many high schools in Wyoming to recruit from, Coach Lloyd Eaton has what is known as an air-travel-card team. This means the assistant coaches are given air-travel cards, and Eaton makes a team out of what they bring back. Wyoming's 96-man spring roster included only eight home-state boys, but there were lots of New Jersey tailbacks, Minnesota tackles, Pennsylvania safeties and Massachusetts ends. In all, 24 states were contributing to football excellence at Laramie, and the guests were more than welcome.
"We are going to begin this season with as much potential as we had last year," says Coach Eaton. This is quite a statement when you consider the starting quarterback is gone and three of the defensive linemen now can be found wearing uniforms that say San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.
The defensive line may be weaker. Two juniors, Pete Schoomaker and Tom Thompson, will step in at left tackle and middle guard. Both are strong—Schoomaker weighs 226—but lack experience, and Thompson will have to recover well from a spring knee injury. A senior, Jack Bowen, will move up to one starting end position. At the other end is Tim Gottberg, a returning starter whose ability is needed, and he, too, must recover from a knee injury. In fine shape, however, is Mike Dirks, who was second in number of tackles and assists on the team last year and who had an excellent spring.
Behind the line, the Cowboys are better off. Both linebackers, Bob Aylward and Jim House, return. One of the halfbacks, 176-pound Vic Washington, led the country in punt returns (34 for 443 yards and two TDs) and can beat anyone in the state of Wyoming in the 100-yard dash. Dick Speights, the other halfback, has two years' experience. There is slightly more trouble at the safety spot, where juniors Jim Stankus and Dennis Devlin, a tight end last season, will be sorely tested by teams that do not care to brawl with Wyoming's esteemed rushing defense.
The most significant change for the Cowboys is the shifting of Paul Toscano, a safety, to quarterback to replace graduated Rick Egloff, who had also been a safety man. Toscano came to Laramie from Congers, N.Y. as a quarterback, and last season was on the All-WAC second defensive team. He could use more speed, but with the running backs that Wyoming has behind him, all he has to do is get rid of the ball with dispatch. The best of the runners is Tailback Jim Kiick (pronounced Kick), the Most Valuable Player in Wyoming's 28-20 win over Florida State in the Sun Bowl. Kiick probably is the best back at Wyoming since 1950, when Eddie Talboom, then 31, married and the father of three children, was named to several All-America teams. Kiick, who is 21, has speed, power and a fine second effort. Tom Williams, a fullback, Dave Hampton, a tailback-fullback and Hub Lindsey, a wing-back, round out a group of what Eaton calls "some of the better running backs in my 10 years at Wyoming." In addition, if the defense can spare him, Washington will be borrowed to add speed to the offense. The passing game will be just that—a game. Toscano is an average thrower, no better, and his receivers are merely adequate.
The offensive line, led by two all-conference veterans, Guard Dave Rupp and Tackle Mike LaHood, is almost intact. The lone hole is at center, where sophomore Paul Oswald looked promising in a spring practice that was marked throughout by unusually hard hitting.
One final element of the offense, and a significant one, is Jerry DePoyster, who led the nation last year in scoring by kicking. He posted 71 points for the Cowboys, including two 54-yard field goals against Utah. In practice he has scored from more than 60 yards out. On kickoffs he generally booms the ball through the end zone, and his punting average last season was a distinguished 40.2 yards.
One of the factors in the Cowboys' success last season was a very favorable schedule. Only one league game, against Brigham Young, was on the road. This year Eaton and his team will be traveling all over the Rocky Mountains, with four conference games that have to be played away, and their last four games of the year away. But the Cowboys should fare well. As one player put it, "The football pride at Wyoming gets more intense every year. Once you've been up, you never want to be down again."