LARAMIE, Wyoming — In a year's time, junior wide receivers Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt have morphed into two of Wyoming's savvy, old veterans after spending two years feeling like the new kids on the block.
For the first time in their collegiate careers, they're both atop the depth chart at their respective positions, and that means their responsibilities have changed.
"It's been a lot different," Maulhardt said. "... We were always the young guys. This year the roles are completely flipped. We're the older ones."
Added Gentry: "It's been kind of weird with us being the old guys now. It feels like just last year we were considered the young guys playing as sophomores. But it's been good. It's been really good. I think we're being great leaders for the young guys."
Last season, Gentry finished third on the team in receptions (32) and receiving yards (435), while tying for second in touchdown receptions (two). Maulhardt ranked fourth in both catches (21) and yards (274) and also scored a touchdown.
But after biding their time for two years, playing second fiddle to standouts like Robert Herron, Dominic Rufran and Jalen Claiborne, Gentry and Maulhardt are out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
It's an opportunity both have been waiting for.
"Those guys were good players and it was fun to get to play alongside them," Gentry said. "... It's our turn to step up and be the guys."
The first step in becoming Wyoming's premier receivers has been bringing along the 11 newcomers at their position — 10 true freshmen and junior Tom Thornton, a quarterback turned receiver — similar to how Herron, Rufran and Clairborne provided them guidance.
Only two other receivers return from 2014: sophomore Jacob McGarvin, a Worland product, and redshirt senior Justin Berger, neither of whom played a snap last season.
Thornton (X-receiver) and freshman Joseph Parker (Z-receiver) are listed as Maulhardt and Gentry's backups, respectively. Freshmen Dameko Doddles, James Price and Justice Murphy have also taken regular reps with UW's first-team offense.
"Probably what's more important than anything is they're going to be playing alongside one, two, three freshmen, maybe four freshmen," UW offensive coordinator Brent Vigen said. "They have to really step up their leadership."
Maulhardt said taking on the role of mentor has been mutually beneficial.
"You start to understand the offense a lot more because you get a lot of questions from the freshmen and you've really got to think about it," he said. "As a whole, it's made me understand the offense from a lot of different standpoints."
In addition to providing extra leadership, Gentry and Maulhardt are slated to be targeted much more, too.
With senior Cameron Coffman starting at quarterback — a guy who in 2012 ranked second in the Big Ten in passing yards at Indiana — the pair has shown a high comfort level throughout the offseason.
"I think they both showed last year that they had the ability to make plays in our league," Vigen said. "We didn't call upon them nearly as much (the past two years) as we will this year."
Said interim wide receivers coach Gordie Haug: "I expect some big things. Just from the minimal reps that we've had in live situations, (Gentry) has made some big-time plays. We're going to look for him to do that.
"Jake the same way. Jake's a big, tall receiver that is a little different than we've had in this offense. We can utilize his size, and Tanner's play-making ability is going to be a good deal for our offense."
The 6-foot-2, 201-pound Gentry and 6-6, 216-pound Maulhardt both said they've improved their route running, something they admittedly struggled with last season.
With a year of UW's offense under their belt, footwork has been a focal point during the offseason.
"It's night and day," Maulhardt said. "I've seen tape from last year's games and I'm just like, 'Jeez, I can't believe I ran some of my routes that bad.' This year, since we have the offense down, you're more worried about perfecting your routes and just trying to get better. You're not worried about messing up plays because you've got those pretty much down."
That's not lost on their coaches, who are confident in Gentry and Maulhardt.
This year, for the first time, they are the guys.
"Their ability to make plays became apparent during spring more and more," Vigen said. "That hopefully continues as we start playing people with other jerseys."
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com