Graedyn Buell made a promise to himself once it became apparent the COVID-19 shutdown wasn’t merely going to last a few weeks.

The Cheyenne East senior decided he wasn’t going to spend all of his newfound free time playing video games. He was going to use it to improve himself.

Buell already had a bench press and squat rack in his family’s garage. He needed more weight if he was going to continue making the gains he already had, so he borrowed a few plates from East.

He also tried to run three or four miles per day, and make better choices while snacking and eating meals. Those efforts paid off. Buell dropped 15 pounds from his frame while also getting stronger.

But Buell’s work didn’t stop there.

Most days, he also got together with the receivers he was going to be throwing to this fall to run routes, or simply play catch. The time on the field would have been important regardless, but it was especially important because the Thunderbirds were losing four of their top five pass-catchers from 2019.

It’s clear Buell made good use of his time.

Through the first two weeks of the Class 4A football season, Buell is back atop the passing rankings. That included a 324-yard, three-touchdown performance during East’s 34-27 win over Natrona County. Buell also rushed for a pair of touchdowns in that game, earning him Prep Athlete of the Week honors from WyoSports’ Cheyenne staff.

“I tried to get better at everything during the off-season,” Buell said. “I wanted to improve my footwork, my reads and my arm. I also wanted to get in better shape and be harder to bring down, and I also wanted to build chemistry with my receivers.

“Building chemistry is always important, no matter how many guys you have coming back. Now that we have built that chemistry, I know where they’re going to be. I know how fast they are, what routes they like to run, and everything like that.”

Buell came out of the gate strong, throwing for 313 yards and two touchdowns during East’s 34-28 loss at Thunder Basin. He also rushed for 100 yards and two scores in that game.

As good at Buell was against the Bolts, he was even better against Natrona, East coach Chad Goff said.

“He was even better in our second game than he was the first,” the coach said. “In that first game, he was getting pressured a lot in the first half. In the second half, he was a little late pulling the trigger on some things.

“The other night, he made a lot better reads and was getting rid of the ball a lot quicker.”

Buell is averaging a little north of 50 rushing yards per game through two outings. That’s more than what he averaged prior to breaking his ankle during the eighth game of his sophomore campaign.

He gained just 159 yards on the ground as a junior. His surgically repaired ankle felt healthy, but Buell was nagged by a recurring thought every time he left the pocket.

“In the back of my head, I heard, ‘What if I get brought down weird?,’” he said. “That made me a little tentative to pull the ball down and run. I was a little wimpy when I got to the second level, and I would just go down.

“I was too cautious. This year, I’m not even thinking about it. I’m faster, and I can make a move on somebody. “

Buell’s rushing yards this season have been a combination of scrambles and designed runs. He has shown a better understanding of the running game, which will only make him more of a threat, Goff said.

“When we were running some outside stuff with him (against Natrona), he was looking for the hole, being patient and then hitting the hole when he needed to,” Goff said. “He made some good reads. When you’re making good reads, that makes running the football a whole lot easier.”

Others recognized for their efforts include:

Central girls tennis: The Lady Indians won all of their duals, beating both Campbell County and Thunder Basin 5-0 before beating Sheridan 3-2.

No. 1 singles player Emily Needham won all three of her matches, including a 6-0, 6-0 win against Thunder Basin. The No. 1 doubles tandem of Kaitlyn and Ashli Smedley also went 3-0, including a 6-0, 6-0, win against Thunder Basin and a three-set win against Sheridan.

n Eli Cole, boys golf, East: The senior shot a 4-over-par 76 to win the individual title at the Cheyenne Triangular on Friday at the Cheyenne Country Club.

n Jadyn Cummings and Carter Lobatos, football, Central: Cummings, a senior, rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown during the Indians’ 38-12 victory over Natrona County.

Lobatos, also a senior, rushed for 195 yards and three touchdowns.

n Jason Frentheway, boys cross-country, Central: The junior won the Douglas River Run in 17 minutes, 15.7 seconds.

n Emma Gonzalez, girls cross-country, Pine Bluffs-Burns: The junior won the Pine Bluffs-Burns Invitational with a time of 20 minutes, 58.72 seconds.

n Paige Guille, girls golf, Cheyenne South: The senior fired a 16-over-par 88 to win the Cheyenne Triangular on Friday at the Cheyenne Country Club.

n Jackson Hesford, football, East: The senior caught six passes for 124 yards and a touchdown during a 34-27 win over Natrona County.

n Kiera Walsh, volleyball, East: The junior had 14 kills and 12 digs to help the Lady Thunderbirds go 1-1 in Casper.

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at jjohnke@wyosports.net or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.

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