Coronavirus Leaves Wyoming’s Practice Fields — And Fans — Eerily Empty

Sunday, there were no whistles, pads popping or leaping catches. Instead, the Cowboys home field emulated the wind-swept plains that surround the Gem City.

Annaliese Wiederspahn

April 07, 20204 min read

Craig bohl cropped
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Cody Tucker, Cowboy State Daily

LARAMIE — Craig Bohl’s parking space was empty.

So were the dozen or so others surrounding Wyoming’s head coach’s spot Sunday in War Memorial Stadium’s north lot.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Coming off an eight-win season and a dominating Arizona Bowl victory over Georgia State, excitement surrounding the program hasn’t been this high since the late 90’s. You remember? That’s when names like Joe Tiller, Marcus Harris and Josh Wallwork, among many others, were household names in Wyoming.

This spring, many were eager to see if quarterback Levi Williams could take the next step in his progression.

Who would replace Casper’s own Logan Wilson at linebacker?

Which kicker can attempt to fill the void left by the program’s all-time leading scorer, Cooper Rothe?

Can Xazavian Valladay threaten the school’s single-season rushing record?

Those questions — and plenty more — will simply have to wait. Year seven of Bohl’s tenure is on indefinite suspension.

Sunday, there were no whistles, pads popping or leaping catches.

Instead, the Cowboys’ home field emulated the wind-swept plains that surround the Gem City. The same can be said for the campus, which is typically bustling with students this time of year.

Fraternity row took on the appearance of a ghost town. Cross walks were empty. Traffic was nonexistent.

COVID-19, or coronavirus, a worldwide pandemic, is solely to blame.

The world is on hold. Wyoming football, which seems so small in the grand scheme of things, is no exception. The first of 15 spring practices were supposed to begin March 25. Instead, Bohl and Co. are hibernating in their homes, using video conferencing to do, well, everything.

Coaches are using computer software to implement workout routines, game plans, to check in with players’ academic progress and to recruit.

Yes, recruiting is being done via the internet.

Bohl and his assistants have been forced to virtually sell their vision. Their brand. The school. Laramie. Everything.

So is new head basketball coach Jeff Linder. In fact, he has already landed a pair of players, one from Arizona, the other from Illinois. Neither has stepped foot in the Cowboy State.

Imagine making your college choice after speaking with a coach and watching a virtual tour of campus on your laptop?

Crazy time we are living in, huh?

Of course, football and men’s hoops aren’t the only sports feeling the effects of COVID-19. UW’s golf, tennis, wrestling and swim teams all suffered a death nail. In late March, the NCAA closed the doors to fans. Hours later, players were sent home, too.

Five Cowboy grapplers were supposed to head to Nationals in Minneapolis. That didn’t happen.

The NCAA a week ago granted seniors in those spring sports an additional year at their respective schools. Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman expressed his concern about how the university would fund these additional scholarships. Burman himself took a self-imposed 20-percent pay cut. Bohl followed suit and donated $100,000.

Problem solved.

One problem at least.

No one knows when this pandemic will reach its peak in Wyoming and eventually sail out of town. Some are even questioning if there will be a football season at all. Bohl isn’t going there yet. He shouldn’t.

Things are bad enough.

These are unprecedented times. Handling a deadly virus isn’t exactly in the playbook. Like the university, fans will just have to go with the flow and play the waiting game. Unfortunately, that’s the new norm.

Spring is supposed to be a time of renewed optimism. You’re supposed to be opining about who the starting quarterback will be and why. You should be pointing out new, young stars who could make an impact this fall. This was the first opportunity to look at some of those new recruits.

Instead, we wait.

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Annaliese Wiederspahn

State Political Reporter