When thinking about college football, it's a good bet very, very few people are thinking about the Wyoming Cowboys. And that's no slight on them, the program up there has been able to remain average for a while facing some pretty tough odds. The university's two big-time athletic programs continue to battle even though they are at a big disadvantage, something that is very difficult to overcome.
SB Nation sent writer Steven Godfrey to Laramie, Wyoming to check in on the program. For those of us around the rest of the country who never thought about what it's like to run a Division I athletic program in one of the least-populous parts of the country, with unforgiving weather at a high altitude, it's an eye-opener.
One of their problems is the lack of home-grown recruits in the state. As Godfrey explains:
He's referring to college football recruits, the sole resource that energy-rich Wyoming will likely forever be scant on. It's the 10th-largest state in the nation by area, but 50th by population, giving it the smallest marketing opportunity of any FBS program. There is currently only one Wyoming native on scholarship for football, senior tight end Spencer Bruce. The sole Wyoming signee of the Cowboys' 2013 class, Casper linebacker Ryan Anaya, left the team earlier in the season. Anaya, a two-star according to most recruiting services, was considered the top prospect in the state last season. Anaya's former teammate at Natrona County is three-star tackle Taven Bryan, who has committed to play at Florida, a first for the Gators. Without Bryan, the Cowboys currently have only one commitment for 2014, two-star Austin Fort of Gillette, Wyoming.
So if you just don't have the volume to recruit from inside your own state, then you have to go elsewhere. That's where the weather comes in. Imagine trying to recruit kids to Laramie. Especially kids who grew up in warm weather, or in East coast locales that are always close to media centers. Or just grew up in places where the air isn't 7,220 feet-thin.
The real danger, the most dangerous stretch of road in the entire state, is the old Lincoln Highway, now U.S. Interstate 80. It runs from the University of Wyoming just 60 miles east to Cheyenne, the state capital and its most populated city. Between the two towns is Sherman Summit. With an elevation of 8,640, it's higher than UW's War Memorial Stadium, which gasses visiting teams at a mere 7,220 and can easily trap motorists for the night (or worse).
"I was stuck in my car out there the day I graduated," Stevens tell me.
Like, in May?
"Yeah, late May, actually."
One night two basketball seasons ago, Stevens trekked I-80 to a home basketball game against BYU in minus-50-degree February weather. When he was a member of the marching band at UW, he had to keep his saxophone's mouthpiece in his mouth at all times, lest the reed freeze. During a home game against New Mexico, he claims a sousaphone player's lips become stuck to his mouthpiece, requiring paramedic help, just like "A Christmas Story."
"You ever seen it snow on the Fourth of July? I have, and it looks awesome," one of Stevens' friends says. "You step outside and the fireworks going on, and it looks like ash is falling over the world."
This whole article is a fascinating read, it opens up a world of college football most of us have never contemplated. Where else might the idea of the police cracking down on DUIs near the stadium be conflated with the removal of hitching posts for horses at the football stadium?
Do yourself a favor, go read it all.