Marcus Epps has a lot to be proud of.
He came to the University of Wyoming football program in 2014 as a walk-on safety from Los Angeles. Not only did Epps earn a scholarship, he was elected a team captain his sophomore and junior seasons.
Epps enters tonight’s game at Air Force as the Cowboys’ fifth-leading tackler (54) this season, and a vital part of a defense that has allowed 18.6 points per game and is among the national leaders in turnovers forced (24) and turnover margin (plus-15).
In less than three full seasons, Epps has 248 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 18 pass break-ups and six interceptions in 34 games.
But all that pales in comparison to when Epps comes home every night after a busy day of school and football.
That’s because Epps is a father. He and his girlfriend, Megan Welch, welcomed their son, Braxton, into the world last year.
They celebrated his first birthday last week.
“It has been stressful at times, but it also has been the best year of my life watching him grow,” Epps said. “Going through all of his firsts like laughing, crawling and walking has been amazing.
“He’s always happy when I come through that door. That’s the greatest feeling in the world when he comes to me with that smile and I pick him up.”
Coming and going
Epps said Braxton’s arrival wasn’t planned, at least not at this point in his and Welch’s lives.
“We had to step up and deal with it the proper way,” he said. “Early on there was a lot of scariness and nervousness. But as it got more real and further along, it got more exciting.”
Organized chaos may be the best way to describe how mom and dad make this work.
Epps’ days are packed with football and school. Welch is going to nursing school in Cheyenne, and makes the 90-mile round-trip numerous times each week.
Welch’s schedule is so hectic that she wasn’t available for an interview for this story.
They don’t have day care for Braxton, so friends and family members help out. However, it is more so friends as Epps’ family is in Los Angeles and Welch is from Cody.
“We are blessed to have so many people there for us who have our backs when we need it,” Epps said.
Not always easy
About a week after Braxton was born, Epps and the Cowboys were practicing for their game at UNLV. UW had won five consecutive games and was in first place in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division.
But Epps had other things on his mind.
“He broke down in the middle of practice,” junior strong safety Andrew Wingard said.
Epps succumbed to the emotions and stress that came with juggling so much in his life.
“I’ve not had a lot of those days, but early on I had a few,” he said. “But I have not had one of those days in a long, long time.”
Part of the reason for that is Epps’ football family.
Epps has brought Braxton to team breakfasts and other functions, and once there, it is like there are 100 uncles there for his son.
“He can bring Braxton around and know that he’s safe,” Wingard said. “It is awesome to see and be around that. There are times where I think I’m tired or something I’m going through sucks, but then I think of Marcus and he has to go home and take care of Braxton.
“I’m happy, and the whole team is happy to be there for him.”
Added Epps: “Everybody on the team loves to see (Braxton), and he’s always excited to be around the guys. We have such a great family environment around here.
“It’s been incredible, and more than I could have asked for.”
Growing up fast
Wingard said being a father hasn’t changed Epps, although he added Epps doesn’t go out as much now.
First-year safeties coach Jake Dickert arrived at UW after Braxton was born. Dickert and his wife, Candice, have three kids of their own. They’ve been around Epps, Welch and Braxton numerous times during the past nine months.
“Marcus is one of the most mature guys and players I’ve been around,” said Dickert, who is in his 11th year as a college coach.
“He is always prepared. We never have an issue with him in terms of school, and he always gets football work done. Through it all, he does everything with a smile on his face and a positive attitude.
“We’re here to develop men. I don’t know what impact I’ve had on him in this short time, but to see a guy make that transition and be responsible is one of my proudest moments as a coach.”
Fourth-year UW coach Craig Bohl, a father of four, also has been impressed with how Epps has handled everything in his life during the past year.
“He has always been a thoughtful person, and it has been rewarding and comforting to see him take on a fatherly role,” he said. “Marcus is a mature young man, and this is another step forward for him.”
More to play for
Epps and UW (6-3 overall, 4-1 MW) are still in the hunt for the Cowboys’ second consecutive Mountain Division title, but it won’t be easy. UW likely needs to win its final three regular-season games, and have Boise State (7-2, 5-0) lose two of its final three contests.
All the Cowboys can do is focus on the things they can control, and for them to have a chance to win tonight at Air Force (4-5, 3-2), Epps needs to play well.
Epps knows that, and that’s been a mindset he has had since he played in his first game as a redshirt freshman in 2015.
That point has been magnified even more during the past year thanks to fatherhood.
“I have more people I really need to play for,” he said. “I try to tackle every practice and game the best I can.”
Robert Gagliardi is the WyoSports senior editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @rpgagliardi.