LARAMIE – Growing up in Central California, Wyoming redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Vander Waal wore No. 16. It would make complete sense if he donned the number because of San Francisco 49ers legend Joe Montana or Oakland Raiders great Jim Plunkett.

But no, the story really isn’t that cool, the quarterback said. He was just sort of given the number. The No. 18 he now wears at the University of Wyoming? Well, that happened because 16 was already taken when he got to Laramie. Plus, he fancies himself a Peyton Manning fan.

“There’s not really much of a big meaning to it,” Vander Waal said with a laugh. “But that was just kind of how it all happened.”

For some players, a number doesn’t hold significance. For some players, like Rocket Ismail Jr., it means everything. WyoSports spoke with a few UW players to see why they chose the numbers they did.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Vander Waal (18):

“So, I wore 16 all throughout my junior program. And then when I was a freshman (in high school), I got called up to varsity. And our running back was No. 16. And they had to give me a number and they’re like, ‘Well, what do you want?’ And they gave me a list of numbers, and I was like, ‘I’ll just take 18.’ I’m a big Peyton Manning fan, so that all happened. Peyton Manning’s one of my all-time favorite quarterbacks.”

“I don’t know (why 16 was my number growing up) … I’m not really a big 49er guy. I don’t know how I got 16. Growing up, it was just one of the numbers was like, ‘Alright, you’re going to be 16.’ I was like, ‘OK, I like it.’”

Senior safety Alijah Halliburton (3):

“I was more like 21 in high school and 23, you know, for basketball and stuff.”

(Wyoming) gave me options with numbers and stuff, and people already had 21 and 23. So I picked 3, because I felt like, being from Colorado, the area code is 720 or 303. So I was just thinking that, you know, maybe I could represent my state.

“No. 21 was kind of like my little league number growing up, and 23 was mostly basketball. Everyone thought I looked like Michael Jordan and I kind of had a lot of hops … I’ll be always 3 now.”

Senior linebacker Logan Wilson (30):

“I just showed up on campus and that was the number I got. When I was in high school I was No. 5, and I kind of wanted to switch. But at the same time I thought, ‘Why not try to make a name for myself in this No. 30?’ That’s just kind of how it was.

“In high school, there was a player who wore No. 5 before me that I was a fan of, he was a really good player at (Casper) Natrona (County). And that’s kind of why. I wanted to follow in his footsteps. That’s why I wore 5. When you like someone, you want to wear there number.

Raghib Ismail Jr. (17):

“I had a good friend of mine, someone I called my brother, pass away while I was still in junior college at the time, and it was due to gun violence. And it just was a pretty rough time for me and I wanted to, you know, just honor the family. We’re all a family. So just I wanted to honor the family in any way I can. And his favorite number, for as long as I can remember, was the number 17. So my first time being able to wear was in junior college … just (reminded me) I’m not playing for me. This game, it tries you mentally, you know, there’s a lot of times where you can kind of go within yourself and kind of say, ‘I might take the day off’ or ‘I might go a little slower,’ ‘I might have a little bit of attitude today’ or ‘I might do something that might not be in the best interest of the team.’

“But for me, you know, and at the end of the day, whenever the team is firing on all cylinders, that’s when you’re a good team. I just can’t wear that number in vain … I get text messages from my other brothers and sisters, and they tell me that I’m wearing it well, so I’m just glad I was able to do that, especially on ESPN.

“I always floated around with numbers. I remember 25 and 81 in my life just because of my pops. Those are the numbers he wore. I remember when I first started playing basketball I asked for the number 81 not understanding that that really wasn’t a (basketball) number. … I wore 3 in high school, I wore 9 in high school. I had a good relationship with my quarterback … so, our freshman, sophomore year we were 9 and 10, and then senior year we were 2 and 3, you know, made it more than just a number.”

Michael Katz is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached by email at mkatz@wyosports.net. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelLKatz.

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