LARAMIE – The University of Wyoming ran the football on the first 17 plays of its 53-17 victory over UNLV on Sept. 28.
On the 18th play, the Cowboys went with play-action and faked a handoff to redshirt freshman running back Brett Brenton. The Rebels bit so hard on the fake that redshirt senior tight end Josh Harshman was left all alone downfield.
UW redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Chambers connected with Harshman for a 56-yard touchdown. It was Harshman’s first touchdown since he hauled in a 26-yarder during a 38-28 victory over New Mexico on Sept. 26, 2015.
“That was quite a drought,” Harshman said with a laugh. “It was an awesome feeling to get back into the end zone again.”
Harshman is just happy to be back on the field.
The Casper Natrona County graduate played in just three games last season before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Harshman was able to return for this year because of the redshirt rule the NCAA instituted prior to last season. That rule allows players to play in up to four games and still maintain a season of eligibility.
“Initially, I wanted to figure out what the injury was, and how long it was going to keep me out,” Harshman said. “When I learned it was going to keep me out the rest of the year, I realized how lucky I was because of when I suffered the injury.”
He discussed his options with his parents, Becky and Steve Harshman, but calls the decision to return an easy one.
“I didn’t want to have my last college play be an injury,” he said.
Harshman played quarterback and linebacker for his father at Natrona. He was recruited to UW as a linebacker, but was moved to tight end during his first fall camp because the Cowboys were thin at that position.
“He probably had to play sooner than we would have liked,” UW offensive coordinator Brent Vigen said. “He was really a role player his first couple of years, but he did a good job of filling that role and played a lot of football.”
Route running and pass catching came naturally to Harshman. Blocking was another story.
He was listed at 207 pounds during his freshman campaign, but is 230 now. Harshman is still a little undersized for his position, but has become a more than capable blocker, Vigen said.
“He gives up some size, and he has had to work really hard to play at the weight he plays at,” he said. “He understands technique and how important that is. His strength has grown significantly, but he is also a technician.”
Harshman thinks having played linebacker helped him become a solid blocker.
“I was never a kid who didn’t like contact,” he said. “Instead of juking around somebody, I liked to run through them. Being physical and liking contact helped me early on.
“I didn’t realize how technical blocking was and the footwork that went along with it. That was something I needed to learn, but I feel like I’ve picked it up pretty well.”
Harshman credits Jacob Hollister for helping him learn the position. Hollister – who is in his third NFL season – was a 2016 first team All-MW honoree, and started his college career as a quarterback.
“He kind of took me under his wing and helped me along,” Harshman said.
Harshman – who is finishing the last class he needs for his physiology degree – is now occupying that leadership role.
“We’re pretty young up front, and him and (wide receiver) John Okwoli are our only fifth-year guys on offense,” Vigen said. “We also don’t have many fourth-year guys. (Harshman’s) perspective and leadership have been really significant.”
Sophomore tight end Nate Weinman, who is listed with Harshman as "or" at No. 1 on this week’s depth chart, was added to the injury list Wednesday and will not make the trip for Saturday night’s game at San Diego State.
UW head coach Craig Bohl said the 6-foot-7, 267-pound Weinman will be evaluated for a possible broken wrist. He played in nine games last season and all five games so far this season, starting the last three.
Redshirt freshman tight end Jackson Marcotte, at 6-7, 250, is listed next on the depth chart. Marcotte played in all five games this season and has four catches for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Bohl also mentioned senior cornerback Tyler Hall and junior right guard Logan Harris were still in concussion protocol, but will be making the trip. Both were projected at No. 1 on the depth chart at their respective positions.
The Cowboys practiced in the indoor practice facility late Wednesday afternoon with inclement weather approaching the Laramie area. UW will most likely be in the IPF again for today’s closed session before leaving for San Diego on Friday afternoon.