Who will be Wyoming’s starting punter in 2021?
LARAMIE -- Ralph Fawaz said he wasn't upset when the coaching staff brought in a new punter this offseason.
His spring game performance, well, that's another story.
The freshman from Oklahoma had just two attempts that early May afternoon in Laramie. The first went 20 yards and landed inside the opponents' red zone. The second snap spiraled high and grazed Fawaz's finger tips before bouncing back to the goal line. By the time he retrieved it, a couple of guys in brown jerseys swarmed him.
Freshman fullback Caleb Driskill caused the fumble. True freshman Zaire Jackson scooped up the ball and walked into the end zone, breaking a 17-17 tie and giving the Brown team a lead they would never surrender.
"I'm still pretty angry from that," Fawaz said with a smile and a slight head shake as he stood just a few feet away from the scene of the crime inside War Memorial Stadium.
Fawaz never got a chance to punt last fall during the Cowboys' COVID-19-shortened six-game slate. Nick Null handled that duty. The annual spring game was his first chance to impress on the big stage.
That's why he's still not thrilled about his performance.
He has a much different outlook when it comes to the arrival of sophomore Clayton Stewart, who transferred from Texas State last June.
"I expected them to bring in another partner. It's college football," Fawaz said. "I expect there to be some competition. They say competition brings out the best use you, so I'm ready."
Stewart is much bigger in stature than the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Fawaz. He also has experience on the Division-I stage, though he hasn't punted in a live game since 2018.
It's that time lapse that Stewart says makes this competition so important to him. He didn't sugarcoat it -- he wants the starting gig come Sept. 4.
"It's really important to me," Stewart said. "The last time I played was my true freshman year, so I'm itching to get on the field. That's my goal."
Does Fawaz feel like this is his job to lose?
"I don't know," he said. "I feel we have a great competition going on right now. I feel like it's great. As long as I stay consistent, I'll be in pretty good shape."
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Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl has brought up the word consistency numerous times this camp when discussing the battle at the punter position. Some days, these two are steady, he said. Others, he hasn't been impressed.
"The punting was excellent," Bohl said after the Cowboys' first scrimmage on Aug. 14. "We've got a pretty competitive battle going on there. Both of those guys are hitting the ball really well with some hang time. But you know, there's some work to do."
Three days later.
"Well, I was thinking Ralph was after Saturday, but I was really disappointed today," Bohl said when asked if anyone is in the lead at that spot. "We didn't do very well today, which is concerning. I wish I could give you a better answer than that, but I won't B.S. you."
Co-special teams coordinator, Shannon Moore, said all they can do is keep throwing Fawaz and Stewart into the fire. Fellow coordinator Benny Boyd added he's never been part of a camp where so much pressure has been forced on the punters to produce.
"We just keep pushing them, keep putting them as many game situations as we can," Moore said. "We just keep building as much consistency as we can just like we try to do in the whole program."
Is anyone in the lead in Moore's eyes?
"I really don't look too much into that," he said with a smile. "Coach Bohl kind of handles all that stuff. That's his decision. I just watch them and we have conversations."
Stewart, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs in around 200 pounds, said elevation has definitely added to his net yardage so far in camp. He added that pooch punts were often landing in the end zone early on. He couldn't figure out why. 7,220 feet of altitude will do that to a football.
As far as the competition with Fawaz goes, Stewart said it's a friendly one, comparing the specialists to a family type atmosphere.
"You cheer for each other the whole time. You want each other to do good, and you kind of feed off each other's energy," he said. "If I go out and hit a good ball, I want him to go out and hit a good ball, too.
"It's just really fun with Ralph."
"The good thing is it's a healthy competition," he said. "They're not backbiting each other or trying to sabotage one another. They're always trying to help. They're both having a really good camp."
Though there's not clear-cut favorite with just 11 days until the season opener, don't confuse Fawaz's laidback nature for lack of caring. He was on the sidelines during an uncertain and unforgettable 2020 campaign. He went through the few highs and too many lows with this group.
That, he said, it part of what drives him.
Plus, he wants this starting gig, too.
"I'm so glad I'm friends with all these people," the 19-year-old said. "It just makes me want to do better for them. It's not just all about me. It's for (Xazavian Valladay), Ayden (Eberhardt), Garrett (Crall), those older guys that are giving everything.
"I'm going to do the same."