Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Scott Nulph
WyoSports 

Much more than just a slogan now

Schembechler's famous slogan rings true for Wyoming

 

November 30, 2016

COURTESY/ Blaine McCartney/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

University of Wyoming running back Brian Hill carries the ball against San Diego State University on Nov. 19 at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.

"Those who stay will be champions."

It's a catchy phrase first coined by the late legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, who issued the challenge to his team after nearly half of a squad of 140 players left following a grueling camp instituted by the new Wolverines coach in 1969.

Since then, coaches of all sports have used the famous saying as motivation for their programs, none more so than University of Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl.

He plastered it on the doors of the Fargodome when he took over a struggling North Dakota State football program and proceeded to lead the Bison to three consecutive Football Championship Subdivision titles before heading to the high plains to attempt to do the same with a struggling Wyoming program.

One of the first things Bohl did upon arriving in Laramie was have the slogan installed on the locker room doors inside the Rochelle Athletic Complex.

Yeah, it looked good.

Yeah, it sounded good.

But for those Cowboys in the program during the time of the coaching change – seeing the guy who brought them to Laramie in Dave Christensen booted out those same doors – there probably wasn't a lot of philosophizing going on at that point.

"I don't think I truly understood what he meant," UW senior wide receiver Tanner Gentry said. "I was a sophomore and was going to go with whatever he said."

And during the next two years, the slogan probably didn't mean much to the team, either.

UW went 4-8 in Bohl's first season and slipped to 2-10 last fall. It was a season some called one of the worst in program history. The Pokes weren't even competitive in the majority of those games.

Being a champion was probably the last thing on the minds of the Cowboys players.

"You're not really worried about a slogan at that point," UW senior center Chase Roullier said. "It was a hard time in all of our lives.

"But I don't know that we lost faith in that."

Think about that for a second.

Here you are a sophomore or junior on a Football Bowl Championship Subdivision team and you just went 2-10. And you didn't lose faith.

Just for that alone, Bohl should be named Mountain West Coach of the Year.

Still, nobody thought the Cowboys were championship material at the start of the season.

Nobody.

Bohl, who was in a particularly good mood during Monday's press conference, considering his team had been run over by New Mexico less than 48 hours earlier – the coach even did a perfect Lou Holtz impression to answer one question – remembered vividly the Mountain West Media Day last summer in Las Vegas.

"We were picked to finish last, and it was a unanimous last," he said, with particular emphasis on the word unanimous.

But somewhere along the way, between that July day and now, things around the program started to change.

UW's players physically looked bigger and stronger and faster.

Then came the triple-overtime win against Northern Illinois in the season opener.

That was different than last season.

Then came a five-game winning streak in conference play, one that included a blowout win over Border War rival Colorado State, a late cliffhanger against Air Force and a win for the ages against then-No. 13 Boise State.

That's when Roullier said – at least for him – the slogan started to come into sharp focus.

"You start looking at everything differently," he said.

I guess it was somewhat fitting that in such an unpredictable season, the Cowboys clinched their chance to become champions 30,000 feet above the ground flying Friday to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

And it's more than amazing that this group of seniors – from the Tanner Gentrys, Lucas Wachas, Jake Maulhardts and Shaun Wicks to the Brendan Turellis and Justin Martins – will get a chance to be champions Saturday at War Memorial Stadium.

It's a group that until this season had never even experienced a winning one, let alone this kind of run.

This year's UW senior class had a record of 11-25 entering this fall.

Yet this year's senior class will leave a mark, all right.

Win or lose Saturday against San Diego State in the Mountain West Championship Game, this UW senior class will go down with some of the other great classes in UW history.

Mainly because of the wins, but for other things too.

Like not abandoning a program when things got tough and not giving in after one of the toughest years in program history. Like helping turn the program into something the state can be proud of again.

And their reward?

One more home game to prove that the catchy slogan was, in fact, more than just a slogan.

"Right away, I knew that would be a true statement," Roullier said. "Obviously, after a couple years, it was tough. But this senior class really kept believing.

"Everyone believed in what the coaches were saying."

Saturday, the Cowboys can turn that belief into something truly special.

"Those who stay will be champions."

You think Schembechler might be looking down on the Cowboys right now with a smile on his face?

Yeah, I do too.

 
 

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