Looking for Cowboys

The Washington-to-Laramie football pipeline is flowing, and University of Wyoming coaches hope this is just the beginning.

Two Snohomish County high school football players — Edmonds-Woodway linebacker Zack Berg and Jackson kicker Daniel Sullivan — planned to sign NCAA National Le

tters of Intent today with the Wyoming Cowboys. Another local standout, Mariner junior running back/defensive back KeiVarae Russell, has a scholarship offer from Wyoming, among other schools, but can’t sign until a year from now.

Clearly, Wyoming is aggressively recruiting this area. The approach starts with the Cowboys’ second-year head coach, Dave Christensen, and assistant coach Pete Kaligis, who are tapping into their extensive connections on this side of the state to help build their program.

A member of the NCAA Division I Mountain West Conference, Wyoming already has three players from Western Washington on its roster: freshman center Travis Bogard (Inglemoor High School in Kenmore), freshman offensive tackle Daniel Fleischman (Issaquah) and redshirt freshman linebacker J.J. Quinlan, a transfer from Central Washington University who played at Archbishop Murphy in Everett.

“Right now, we’re focused on Western Washington,” said Christensen, a graduate of Everett High School. “I know a lot of people there and that has helped. Kids can talk to someone who has a connection with me.”

Kaligis, a Bellingham native, was a starting offensive guard on the University of Washington’s 1991 national-championship team and a track and field All-American in the shot put. In addition to coaching Wyoming’s offensive linemen, he is responsible for recruiting the Pacific Northwest.

Washington is his home away from home, Kaligis said, because he spends so much time here identifying potential recruits and getting to know them and their families.

“Washington is my primary state,” Kaligis said, “and I need to know the state. It is very, very rich with a lot of good (football) kids and always has been.”

NCAA rules prevent coaches from talking about specific recruits, such as Berg and Sullivan, until they have signed.

Christensen, who was hired by Wyoming in December 2008 after serving as the offensive coordinator at Missouri, said he noticed other Mountain West teams didn’t recruit heavily in Washington. Because of the talent in his home state — and his and Kaligis’ history here — Christensen made Washington a priority. He wants Wyoming to sign 2-4 players a year from the state.

“Hopefully it continues to pan out,” said Christensen, who guided Wyoming to a 7-6 record and a bowl win in his first season but watched his Cowboys struggle to a 3-9 record this past season.

Wyoming’s interest here is “nice for local kids,” said Jackson High School coach Joel Vincent, who coached Sullivan, the Wyoming-bound kicker. “Hopefully it will give those kids who are top kids in the state another choice.”

Edmonds-Woodway’s Berg, recruited by the Cowboys to play linebacker, was pleasantly surprised when he got a scholarship offer from Wyoming in June.

“I was shocked,” Berg said, “because I never knew I’d get a D-I offer and that was my dream, to play D-I football.”

Others programs — including the Air Force Academy (Wyoming’s conference foe), the University of Montana, Eastern Washington University and Portland State University — expressed interest in the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Berg. But he picked Wyoming and verbally committed on Nov. 3, his birthday.

Jackson’s Sullivan committed to Wyoming on Jan. 18, a day after coach Christensen’s 50th birthday. During an in-home visit from Christensen and Kaligis, Sullivan said he announced his decision by telling Christensen, “For your birthday, I decided to get you a new kicker.”

Wyoming needs to replace kicker Ian Watts, which means Sullivan has an opportunity to play as a true freshman.

Berg and Sullivan recently met for the first time, after Berg played against Jackson in a boys basketball game. They hit it off and plan to room together in Laramie, Berg said.

Who knows? The way things are going, other familiar faces may be joining Berg and Sullivan in Laramie in the next few years.

Mike Cane: mcane@heraldnet.com. Check out the prep sports blog Double Team at www.heraldnet.com/doubleteam and follow Cane on Twitter at MikeCaneHerald.

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