Ben Wisdorf has a lot to play for.
The University of Wyoming linebacker and Cheyenne East graduate is a senior. It is his last chance to play college football, and likely, his last chance to play football at any level.
The former walk-on earned a scholarship in 2017. Most of Wisdorf’s playing time has come on special teams. But as one of the most experienced linebackers on the roster – 31 games played in his career – Wisdorf hopes to be more in the rotation on defense this season. For a linebacking group that is razor-thin in terms of proven depth, Wisdorf could be vital because he can play middle or outside linebacker.
Those aspects certainly motivate Wisdorf, but there is something that is more important that does.
In January, Wisdorf’s second-oldest brother, Jordan, was deployed to Afghanistan by the Army National Guard where he is a crew chief for Black Hawk helicopters, which do life flights and medevacs. Jordan has been in the National Guard for about five years, but this was his first deployment.
“He has always been one of my biggest supporters. He has been at pretty much every home game,” Ben said.
Unfortunately, Jordan likely won’t see his younger brother play live this season. Ben said the earliest he could come home is around Thanksgiving, but probably closer to Christmas.
“It is hard. He lives right across the alley from my parents in Cheyenne, and now every time I go home it is weird he is not there,” Ben said.
In a Twitter post last week, Jordan posed behind an American flag and a yellow one that said, “Wyoming Cowboys” and had the school’s Steamboat logo above it. Ben said he also has a Steamboat sticker on his combat helmet.
“He is fighting for my right to play,” Ben said. “When I’m out there getting all the hype and pats on the back, I’m watching my brother in the background actually at war and saving lives. He doesn’t have a crowd of 50,000-plus people cheering him on. That changes your point of view a little bit.
“I have a right and a freedom to be able to do what I love because he is out there away from his wife, kid and dogs to ensure we’re all safe and we keep our rights. Every day I think of him. He is over there supporting and fighting for my dream to become a football player. That means a lot to me.”
The storybook ending would be for Ben to have a monster senior season, and Jordan would return home in time to watch Ben’s final game – a bowl game.
Wisdorf’s position coach, defensive coordinator Jake Dickert, said he had a talk with Wisdorf after last season and told him he needs to get it out of his head that he is just a special teams player.
“From that moment, he sees it,” Dickert said. “He is a passion guy, and a great leader. His role has evolved from last year, and he is ready to move forward and contribute in big ways.”
Of course, Wisdorf would like to contribute in ways that everyone can see. But like many players on this team, especially the ones from Wyoming, Wisdorf has a team-first, blue-collar mentality. Wisdorf said he has never felt upset or cheated that he hasn’t seen more playing time on defense.
“Nothing is ever handed to you. I know I have to earn it every day,” he said. “I’ve always dreamed of playing here, and I’ve told the coaches that whatever you need me to do, I will do it.”
Senior middle linebacker Logan Wilson, another in-state product from Casper, is the undisputed leader of this year’s Cowboys. Wilson has started every game in his career – 39 – and has 316 career tackles. UW is promoting him as an All-American candidate.
“My role in the linebacker group is just as important as Logan’s,” Wisdorf said. “I need to be a leader. I need to help the younger guys, and make sure they’re going down the right path. I need to be ready if my number is called.”
With plenty of friends and family watching, along with an older brother thousands of miles away, you can bet Wisdorf will be ready when that time comes.
Robert Gagliardi is the WyoSports senior editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @rpgagliardi.