Austin Conway gave up playing basketball four years ago.
The Aurora, Colorado, product signed to play basketball at the University of Wyoming, and redshirted in 2015.
Conway was a football and basketball standout at Overland High, and had scholarship offers to play either sport at the Division I level.
In the spring of 2016, Conway’s love for football outweighed his desire to play basketball, and he joined the UW football team. Since then, he’s been one of the Cowboys’ most consistent and productive players on offense and special teams.
Conway has played in every game over the last three seasons – 39 – and has 105 catches for 916 yards and four touchdowns. Conway also has 261 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and he’s been UW’s top punt returner the last three seasons and threw a touchdown pass in 2016.
However, basketball still holds a special place in Conway’s heart. Just not in the way one might think.
“I don’t miss playing it, but I miss being around it,” he said.
So, for the past two years, during the winter months, Conway has refereed basketball in Wyoming. He also did some officiating in Colorado prior to that.
This past winter, Conway worked between 25 and 30 games at various high school levels. The highlight was working the Class 4A East Regional in Cheyenne.
“Back in my day I was (a jerk) to the refs, but now I will never be (a jerk) to a ref again because I know how hard that job is,” Conway said. “It was cool and it gave me a different perspective on the game.
“It has made me appreciate reffing more. No one really knows how hard it is to always be criticized. You’re never right or wrong.”
Conway said he worked games in Wheatland, Saratoga, Encampment, Rawlins and, of course, Laramie. He also did some sub-varsity games with fellow wide receiver and UW teammate C.J. Johnson.
The highlight was the 4A Regional in Cheyenne at Storey Gym.
“That was the most fun I’ve had reffing anything,” said Conway, who also has refereed some lower-level football games in Colorado. “Each game was critical. The intensity and atmosphere of each game was unreal.”
Laramie’s Andy Flores has been a certified basketball referee with the Wyoming High School Activities Association for 23 years, and has officiated postseason high school games since 2004.
Flores worked some games with Conway this winter. Flores said it normally takes new referees at least three years to get a postseason assignment.
It took two years for Conway.
“First and foremost, he’s a great person, very intelligent and knows the game,” Flores said of Conway. “He could go a long way if he wants to get into officiating. He only lacks experience with upper-level games.
“Refereeing isn’t just about calling the game, but learning how to deal with players and coaches as well. One of the best attributes for a ref is to want to get better, and he has that desire. I would work any game with him.”
Conway said officials were needed for the 4A Regional, and Flores recommended him to work some games.
“That was pretty cool of him,” Conway said. “I was nervous, but Andy told me I had what it takes – the mechanics, the eye for the game. He told me to just go out and do what you can do.”
Flores said he likes how Conway works a game in terms of not having an ego and giving technical fouls if a coach is getting after him. However, Conway said he gave out his first technical foul this winter during a Laramie High junior varsity game.
“I felt really terrible,” Conway said. “I texted Andy right after. He told me to be glad I got the first one out of the way, and that I can go ahead and give out more. (Refereeing) definitely makes you more tolerant than a lot of other people.”
It also has taught Conway how to deal with officials when he is playing football.
“I know how to approach a ref, and it is not with an aggressive demeanor,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of that for pass interference calls, or why there wasn’t one on that particular play.
“The refs will tell you. I will always talk to the refs when they are out there because they are people, too. It goes a long way. I’m not saying I will get a call, but you never know.”