Tired of losing, junior linebacker has taken upon himself to lead the Cowboys on and off field


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    LARAMIE, Wyoming — After the end of last season, Lucas Wacha was tired.

    But not for the reasons you might think.

    The University of Wyoming junior linebacker was tired because the Cowboys had won a combined nine games the previous two seasons.

    He was tired of no bowl appearances.

    He was tired of opposing offenses averaging nearly 35 points a game the preceding two years.

    So when Wacha went home to Texas for winter break, he decided he was going to do something about it when he returned to Laramie to begin winter conditioning and spring drills.

    "I decided that I was going to come back and give everything I have," he said. "If I'm not a leader, I'm still going to give everything I have. Try to lead by example and push people; seeing if they can give me five or 10 more minutes."

    Wacha's teammates and coaches have raved about his drive since winter break.

    Junior nose tackle Uso Olive said of Wacha: "He used to be the quiet guy. Now he's our storm."

    UW needs Wacha to be a storm on the field. He is the Cowboys' most experienced returning linebacker, and after playing along the outside his first two years, he has moved to the middle.

    Wacha recorded 140 tackles the last two seasons, but he said he's "still learning" to play the third different linebacker position in his career.

    Who plays the other linebacker spots, and who backs them up, are some of the biggest questions for UW during the spring — and perhaps leading up to the Sept. 5 opener against visiting North Dakota.

    Senior Malkaam Muhammad and junior Will Tutein are the likely candidates to start alongside Wacha.

    Muhammad is in his third season at UW, but he has just 14 career tackles. His 2014 season ended with a dislocated elbow in first-career start against Colorado State in late October.

    Tutein is making the move from safety to outside linebacker. Junior Eric Nzeocha moved from tight end, and junior Trent Sewell switched from receiver. Both are outside linebackers.

    Senior Devin McKenna, who wasn't with the team last season, is back and getting some reps this spring in the middle.

    "I've been trying to take people under my wing and get them to do the things that (Muhammad) and I did when we were youngsters coming in," Wacha said.

    "When I came in I was kind of scared to talk to the upperclassmen. Now I go up to them, talk to them and tell them to come to me if they have any questions or need anything.

    "It's fun. I like that feeling. But I have a lot to learn still."

    So do all the other linebackers, but they seem to have found a leader in Wacha.

    Said Muhammad, "He has done a pretty good job with it. I'm not sure when it was, but after break you could tell he was more vocal and taking on the leadership role. He has stepped up tremendously."

    Wacha's weight always has been a challenge. He played last season at about 205 pounds but is up to 218 now. That is still about 20-30 pounds shy of what most middle linebackers need at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

    Wacha hopes to be closer to 225 pounds when the season starts. And even though his coaches would like to see him bigger, they like what they see from him right now.

    "He has proven he is a player who can be on the field more," head coach Craig Bohl said. "We're going to lean on his experience a great deal.

    "He's the guy who runs the middle of the field and is asked to do a lot. He's really gifted. He's athletic and experienced, so we will lean on that."

    Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com

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