Marcus Epps showed up at the University of Wyoming campus late in the summer of 2014, a walk-on from Los Angeles with the Cowboys football team, just looking for a chance after graduating from Edison High School in Huntington Beach, Ca., quietly accepting the fact he would redshirt that fall. Some friends of the family had ties to UW, and convinced Epps to give it a try.
The next summer, Andrew Wingard showed up in Laramie, the Cowboys having been the only Division I school to offer him a scholarship, even though he had been the Colorado High School Player of the Year in the fall of 2014. His father had been a punter at Nebraska, when Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl was an assistant coach, and after his son couldn’t even get a visit to Colorado State, the elder Wingard reached out to Bohl.
Now look at them.
Epps and Wingard will be among 16 seniors honored during the Cowboys home finale against Air Force on Saturday. And for the 48th consecutive game, Wingard and Epps will be starting alongside each other as the Cowboys safeties, although prior to last year they switched spots, Wingard becoming the strong safety and Epps the free agency..
They will be looking to play key roles in helping the Cowboys win not only the Senior Day farewell on Saturday, but at New Mexico a week later to get the Cowboys bowl eligible in hopes of the school earning a third consecutive bowl bid for the first time in history.
“It’s going to be emotional for sure,” said Wingard. “It will be cool just thinking about everything that’s gone down on that field since I’ve been here. … beating Boise State our sophomore year (for the only time in school history). That’s probably the big won.”
And Wingard has left his mark, that’s for sure. He goes into the final two regular season games with hope for a third if a bowl bid does come to Wyoming, with 436 career tackles, 18 shy of breaking the current Mountain West career record set by Carmen Messina of New Mexico.
At least Wingard had a scholarship when he showed up.
He, however, got into the starting lineup his freshman year, and was impressive enough that not only did head coach Craig Bohl put him on scholarship after that season, but his teammates voted him a team captain for his sophomore year, the first step in him becoming the first player in the history of Wyoming football to be selected a team captain three years.
It shows how hard I worked,” said Epps. “I think that’s what the guys respect most, and I think that’s the biggest reason they see me as a leader.”
What also shows the determination of Epps is he one of the three finalists for the 2018 Burlsworth Trophy, which goes annually to the best college player who began his career as a walk-on.
“I am proud to be a walk-on,” he said. “It’s true to who I am. There are a lot of walk-ons, who are great players, so to be recognized as one of the best is a great honor.”
It only adds to the emotions Epps will feel when he runs onto the field for the pre-game ceremonies on Saturday.
“It’s definitely a big deal, seeing how far I have come since I have been here, and how far this program has come,” said Epps. I try to cherish every moment, especially the last one in the War, so it is a big game for all of us seniors.”
And the fact he will share that moment of Wingard only adds to the special feeling for both players.
“When I first met him, he was one of the quieter guys, and I was just a freshman, so we didn’t interact that much,” said Wingard. “About halfway through fall camp, we started to blend and became good friends. Four years down the road, he is one of my best friends. I love him to death.
“Being able to start so many games together is awesome. We like to call ourselves the best safety duo in the Mountain West, and probably in Wyoming history.”
They have certainly been critical in helping change Wyoming football fortunes.
They were part of a Wyoming team that went 2-10 their freshmen year, then helped the Cowboys into the MW Title game against San Diego State en route to a Holiday Bowl bid.
A year ago, when the Cowboys finished second to Boise Ttate in the MW Mountain Division, the Cowboys went to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl , beating Central Michigan, 37-14, just their third bowl victory in 11 bowl appearances dating back to the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1969.
“It will be a tough one when they run out on Senior Day,” said Bohl. “They have meant the world to this program.”