Braden Smith’s career day nearly didn’t happen.
The University of Wyoming junior free safety had his first-ever interception for the Cowboys in their 23-14 victory at Texas State last Saturday. That interception led to UW’s first touchdown that cut Texas State’s lead to 14-10 in the second quarter.
Smith also recorded a career-high five tackles, and had his first pass breakup. Smith replaced redshirt freshman starter Rome Weber (concussion) early in the first quarter.
But last Tuesday, in practice, Smith sprained his right shoulder and was held out of Wednesday’s practice. He returned to practice Thursday.
“I’m not going to lie, it did not feel great at all,” Smith said. “I couldn’t push off people. I told (UW defensive run-game coordinator/defensive ends coach AJ Cooper) I wasn’t sure if could play.”
On top of that, Smith’s parents and sister planned to go to the game. That included an airplane ride for his parents, and Smith said his dad hates to fly. Despite that, Smith’s dad got on that airplane.
“It was a rough week, for sure,” Smith said. “A bunch of emotions were going through me. The main thing was getting that win.”
The battle between Weber and Smith for the starting free safety job was one of the most heated during fall camp. Even though Weber won it, the plan was to play both he and Smith in games.
“I know there was disappointment when he didn’t get the starting job,” said first-year defensive coordinator Jake Dickert, who was Smith’s position coach the previous two seasons. “The hardest job on a team is being a backup. You have to be ready when your number is called, and he did a great job of that.
“He has more experience than a normal backup player, and we feel he can play at a high level. It has never been anything Braden has done not to be the starter. It has been what Rome has done to take that spot.”
Added Smith: “As a competitor, you always want to be the starter, but at the end of the day, football is a team sport. You have to contribute however you can, and when get out there, make the most of it.”
Weber remains in concussion protocol, but sixth-year coach Craig Bohl is hopeful he will start Saturday against Idaho.
Smith said there is a lot for him and the defense to improve on, and he hopes he gets another chance to celebrate after an interception because the first one didn’t go so well.
“My celebration was terrible. I was just screaming. I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Getting a chance
Two seasons ago, as a sophomore, UW defensive back Tyler Hall returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Last season, Hall returned only five kickoffs, which led the team. The Cowboys had only 12 returns as a team.
The kickoff was moved up five yards last season, which increased the number of touchbacks. Add in Laramie’s 7,220 feet of elevation, and kickoff returns are even more of a rarity at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium.
At Texas State, Hall had two kickoff returns, including a 52-yarder to begin the game.
“Even with the new rules, I thought I would get a few more last year,” Hall said. “I’m always pumped to return a kickoff, and disappointed if I don’t get to do it. If I get a chance, I will be ready to go.”
Sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay (right ankle) didn’t practice Tuesday, but went through some individual drills.
Bohl said Valladay’s ability to practice today will go a long way in determining if he plays.
Senior fullback Jaylon Watson (undisclosed injury) didn’t practice Tuesday.
UW’s Sept. 21 game at Tulsa will kick off at 1:30 p.m. MT and be televised on CBS Sports Network.