LARAMIE -- The unknown, Wyett Ekeler claimed, could've caused a mad dash to the transfer portal.

Andrew Peasley said half of Wyoming's roster would've likely tested college football's version of free agency. He would know, too. Something similar happened during his time at Utah State.

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That's how important the in-house hire of Jay Sawvel was, according to those two.

"It would just be a totally different culture," Peasley said last December. "It would be weird."

Tom Burman, Wyoming's Director of Athletics, was conscious of all of the above. That's why he pulled the trigger, inking the rookie head coach to a 5-year deal worth $5.8 million.

So far, it's paying major dividends.

Just five players hit the open market. Not one of those guys was a starter at season's end. Two never stepped on the field and one, running back DQ James, was dismissed from the team before conference play even started. Only three -- Kolbey Taylor (Vanderbilt), Brady Hultman (Missouri) and Cayden Hawkins (Louisiana Tech) -- have found new homes.

Former head coach Craig Bohl, by numerous accounts, wasn't referred to as a player's coach. Neither was Dave Christensen before him.

Sawvel is.

He's also proving to be more relaxed, starting with opening two spring practices to the public. The first will be in Laramie April 6. Fans will have a chance to watch this Cowboys team the following Saturday, too.

Earlier this month, Sawvel posted a video on social media. That alone is something Bohl wouldn't dream of. It featured the 53-year-old, backward hat, earphones in, slowly laying down on a bench inside the weight room in the High Altitude Performance Center. With the team gathered around, the Ohio native and former linebacker at Mount Union, put up 305 pounds worth of plates, his spotter rendered useless.

"I'm jealous," admitted former Wyoming wide receiver Wyatt Wieland, who has no eligibility remaining.

That statement has little to do with that impressive bench press -- he wishes he could've played for him.

That bond began in this very room. While Wieland was rehabbing a lingering groin injury last fall, Sawvel would join him, often trudging through the same exercise routine doctors laid out for the then sixth-year senior.

"That meant a lot," Wieland said. "I mean, he was the defensive coordinator. That probably doesn't happen everywhere."

Sawvel downplayed the video. Working out, he said, is something he's attempted to do daily since arriving on campus back in 2020. The relationships formed, on the other hand, are very much intentional.

He wants to be in "their world."

"Just in doing that you get a chance to see players outside of my office or you see players outside of a meeting room," he said. "And, look, for every 100 times that I go and ask somebody, 'Hey, how are you doing? How are things going? How's the day? You know, the whole thing that way, 99 times out of 100, everybody's 'I'm good' or I'm doing this or this is good or whatever. But, it's that one time out of 100, if somebody does have a little bit of an issue or a little bit of a problem, sometimes you pick up on it right there and then you realize, hey, you know what, maybe I need to ask a couple more questions. Or maybe I need to just say, hey, when you're done working out, come up and see me."

Spring practice in Laramie begins on Tuesday. Sawvel is anxious to see Evan Svoboda's progression and if he can take full command of the Cowboys' offense from under center. You aren't the only one looking forward to those position battles at the tackle, outside linebacker and cornerback spots. It's evaluation time on the high plains. For everyone.

Sawvel himself joked that he will need to find his place on the field, too. That used to be hanging around safeties and running the defense. Not anymore.

One thing won't ever change, though, he said -- communication.

"If I do this job for 15 years, I'll try to do that all 15," Sawvel said with a grin. "Maybe I get to the end of it, there won't be there won't be any max outs (in the bench press) or anything crazy like that, but that's kind of where we're at.


"It's invaluable, the time spent with players. I think that's probably my biggest strength is just relationships with players and relating to players. I think that's probably the thing I do best."

GALLERY: Wyoming Football's NFL Pro Day

Nearly 30 NFL franchises were on hand March 19 in Laramie to watch 10 Wyoming football players go through drills during the school's annual pro day. Defensive standouts Easton Gibbs, Jakorey Hawkins, Cole Godbout and Deron Harrell took part in the combine-style workout. So did offensive stars Andrew Peasley, Frank Crum, Ayir Asante, Colin O'Brien and Treyton Welch. NFL personnel also got a close look at Wyoming punter Clayton Stewart.

Gallery Credit: DJ Johnson photos

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