LARAMIE – Dontae Crow was standing on the goal line at Aloha Stadium on Saturday night, three players into the second quarter of the Cowboys game against Hawaii, waiting for the snap from center, and wondering what he had gotten himself into.
Listed as a wide receiver on the Wyoming roster, the sophomore from Sheridan found himself handling the punting chores in place of the Tim Zaleski, who suffered what appears to be a season-ending a knee injury the previous week.
“My first one, and I was on the goal line,” said Crow. “I’m thinking, the defense is counting on me. I can’t mess up. I was just thinking, `Kick it as far as you can and hope for the best.’ I was shaking and nervous.
“I mean, in practice I’m bombing them. Then we got to Hawaii, I’m warming up, and I’m not kicking the same. … It didn’t go too bad. I felt more comfortable at the end.”
No it didn’t, and he should have felt more comfortable at the end.
That first punt went 40 yards, which turned out to be the shortest of the five punts by Crow, who had not punted in the two years since he his senior year at Sheridan High School. By night’s end, he had averaged 43.2 yards a punt, following up that 40-yard punt with kicks of 43, 46, 45 and 42 yards.
On another night of disappointment for the Cowboys, losing a 14-10 decision in the closing minutes of the game, Crow was a bright spot, even if he wasn’t expecting to be the punter when the team deplanned in Honolulu earlier in the week.
The depth chart listed Ray Galovich, a junior, walk-on transfer from Oregon State. Crow was listed as the No. 2 punt returner, behind Austin Conway, and he did have a fair catch in the third quarter.
It was his punting, however, that caught the attention of the Cowboys.
“We talked about it all the way over to the island and we looked at both guys,” said head coach Craig Bohl. “Dontae punted in high school. He has a strong leg. A lot of high school football fans in the state probably remember him.
“He was also a great soccer play and could have been a Division I soccer player. So, we started thinking out of the box. You lose your punter for the year and typically you’re not going to have a lot backing him up, but we thought Dontae did some pretty good things in the ball game.”
Now, there was a 41-yard return on his second punt of the game, a 43-yard kick, but there were seven missed tackles on that play.
As Bohl said, “that really was not the punter’s fault.’”
And a look at the depth chart for this week’s game at Fresno State would seem to be a strong endorsement. Crow is listed as the No. 1 punter, as well as the No. 2 punt returner.
He welcomes the opportunity.
“At first, I didn’t feel I had that big of a role,” he said. “In high school I was a receiver and cornerback and I’d just go out and kick the ball. But now it’s more of a plan, where to kick it, how high to kick it, how far to kick it.
“The game came and I realized the defense needs me to do good. It clicked how big the role was and how I needed to go good for the whole team.”
Another realization hit Crow during the week of preparation. Having not punted for two years, he found out how far out shape he was to kick. At 5-foot-9, 178 pounds, he is thicker bodied than most punters.
“The motion killed my legs the first couple of days,” he said, a broad smile across his face. “I was walking around. I had squatted my max. … I definitely am not that flexible anymore. I first started (in practice), getting my legs up there to punt and I was thinking I might have pulled something. The coaches were making fun of me. My legs were just tight.”
But there never was a question in his mind that he welcomed the opportunity.
This is why he decided to come to Wyoming as a walk-on.
He had some Division II offers in football, but nothing that excited him.
“I was considering playing soccer,” said Crow, who was one of the state’s top soccer players in high school. “I was thinking of going to Denver University. But at the end, I wanted to play football, and Wyoming is only four hours from home.”
So the native son did not wander.
And the Cowboy football time is better because of it.