Locals meet-and-greet new UW football head coach

Lisa Phelps
Posted 6/11/24

WHEATLAND – It’s all about the fans. Seriously. During a meet-and-greet with Cowboy Joe Club members and University of Wyoming fans at Windy Peaks in Wheatland last Wednesday, head coach …

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Locals meet-and-greet new UW football head coach


WHEATLAND – It’s all about the fans. Seriously. During a meet-and-greet with Cowboy Joe Club members and University of Wyoming fans at Windy Peaks in Wheatland last Wednesday, head coach Jay Sawvel shared his high expectations for the coming season for UW football. This year the team is going to capitalize on the last four to five years the program has been built up, most of the key players will be returning this season and there has been huge talent recruited in the freshman class. The program is good, the players have talent and drive, there is a strong coaching team, but what makes the program – what makes things come together for success – is the atmosphere created by the intense enthusiasm of the crowd. Coach Sawvel and Defensive Tackles Coach Jeff Phelps have played at stadiums across the country, and there is no place like Wyoming.
“The fans are the key – you guys have no idea how much you contribute. When you’re on the field and see the enthusiasm of the crowd, you find you are not playing AT Wyoming, you are playing FOR Wyoming,” Coach Sawvel said. “It makes all the difference.”
This is officially Sawvel’s first year as head coach at UW, but he has been the UW defensive coordinator and safeties coach since February 2020. He is the 33rd head coach for the football program at Wyoming’s only university.
Senior associate Athletic Director for revenue and external relations, Randy Welniak, told the Cowboy Joe Club fans, “I want to thank you – Wheatland has always been supportive to the university, and the trek you guys make to Laramie for games is not always easy. Thank you for the effort you put in to support UW athletics.
He said several athletic programs at UW have had a good year with post-season play, emphasizing the football team’s last-second field goal that won the game against Toledo at the Arizona Bowl was a memorable end for the Cowboys last year. Welniak said the UW athletics has had a positive year, but post-season football has seen a lot of change in the intercollegiate world, particularly with the new NIL transfer portal (Name, Image and Likeness). “It’s more positive than it looks on the media – it has been positive for our program,” he said.
The NIL portal allows athletes to register on the portal and be recruited for compensation based on their likeness, athletic ability, or popularity.

Coach Sawvel explained, collegiate athletics are like any economic business: when there are changes in competition, you adjust your business to compensate. The UW athletic program has done the same. Many colleges are looking to fill out their rosters from the portal, and as a result there are several players being overlooked. Because of this, Wyoming has had access to talented players for their recruitment program they never had before, and the roster is even now filled out with players in the freshman class that have the potential to bring a lot to the table, both academically and athletically.
Coach Sawvel said he has every expectation of continuing to build on last year’s success and says this year will be one of the strongest teams he could hope for. Since last season there were a couple key players who graduated and one player transferred to another school, but he is impressed with the depth and talent this team of Cowboys is capable of.
Sawvel added, the focus in the athletics program goes beyond football. “We are the most visible front of UW. Not the only one, but the most visible representation of the university. We have clear goals we identify at the beginning of the year: ‘get good grades, get your degree, win a championship,’ but we are not allowed to say the word ‘championship’ in the building the rest of the year. Instead, we emphasize ethics and integrity, on the field, in the locker room, in class, and in our off time. We have a day-to-day program. Every day we do what we need to do that day, we come back the next day and do what we need to that day.”
“I expect good things this coming season – we ended last season with an amazing last-minute win in Arizona, and I expect to continue that success- we have [potentially] one of the best teams we’ve ever had,” Sawvel said.
He said quarterback Evan Svboda is “a machine in every way: he is level-headed, very disciplined, and a great leader who has the respect of all our players.” Sawvel said coupling Svboda’s depth with the best tight end in the Mountain West, John Michael Gyllenborg, could be explosive this fall.
He concluded by sharing his appreciation for the Cowboy Joe Club and all the rest of the fans at Cowboy stadium and across the state.
“You have no idea how much you play a part in the success of our program. Our game day atmosphere is the best in the Mountain West; when we bring recruits, we bring them on game day, and they are blown away. They tell us the experience was nothing like they thought it would be, and they never could have imagined it,” he said.
When asked about coming to Wyoming, Coach Phelps said, “It was an easy decision for me to come to UW. I have worked nine out of the past 16 years with Coach Sawvel, so I knew there is a great head coach, but when I was coaching at University of Washington and we came to Wyoming for a game, I was blown away – you have no idea how much of a difference the energy and enthusiasm of the fans at UW creates. It was beyond anything I’ve seen anywhere else. Coach Sawvel said it well, ‘You play FOR Wyoming, not AT Wyoming.’ It makes all the difference.”
Phelps also said he likes what he sees in the UW defensive line, “you need to have talent, flexibility, and teamwork – and it’s all there for UW.”
The Cowboy Joe Club is the primary fundraising organization for University of Wyoming Athletics, raising money for scholarships, nutrition, academic support, equipment, books and supplies and other needs for the student-athletes at the state’s only university. For more information, see cowboyjoeclub.com.