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LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — If Josh Harshman was two years older, he might not have landed at Wyoming.
At least he doesn't think so.
"The previous coaching staff didn't really recruit Wyoming kids," said Harshman, a UW freshman tight end from Natrona County. "It's really a great thing that the new coaching staff came in and they gave me a chance. I don't think I would've gotten the same opportunity if it was the other coaching staff. I'm really blessed that those guys came in. I'm really excited for the future."
After UW coach Craig Bohl took over following the 2013 season, he quickly made it his mission to guard Wyoming's borders, keeping the best in-state prep players at UW.
With nine incoming freshmen from Wyoming — including Harshman and high school teammate Logan Wilson on scholarship — the Cowboys' 2015 roster features 14 in-state players, and that number doesn't include Wyoming natives Tanner Simpson and Seth Edeen who were forced to retire midway through fall camp due to health concerns.
In 2013 and 2014, only 10 Wyomingites were on the UW football team in total. That figure dwindled to five in both 2011 and 2012 under former coach Dave Christensen, who placed little focus on protecting Wyoming's home turf.
In fact, he signed zero players from the state to the 2011 recruiting class.
"It makes us feel important," said Tayton Montgomery, a preferred walk-on from Cheyenne Central. "... Coach Bohl and his coaching staff made it pretty apparent that, 'We're trying to build something special and you're a part of it. We want to get as many people that are good at football to play for us.' If that's walking on, you just play your role."
Six other true freshman Wyomingites walked on this year: Powell's Riley Stringer, Rawlins' Isaac Jefferson, Laramie's Danny Bradfield, Tye Brown and Tristan Eickbush, and Cheyenne East's Ben Wisdorf.
UW defensive coordinator Steve Stanard visits every football-playing high school in Wyoming each spring in search of potential players.
Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne prided himself on taking care of a 500-mile radius surrounding Lincoln, Nebraska, and that's a philosophy UW has adopted, Stanard said.
Bohl has personally seen the benefits. Born in Lincoln, he walked on as a defensive back at Nebraska in the late 1970s and later was an assistant coach under Osborne.
"Whether they be scholarship or walk-ons, we have a tremendous opportunity with ... our ability now with the training table and high altitude performance center to feed these guys and develop them," Stanard said. "You take a young man that you develop over 4-5 years who loves Wyoming and the University of Wyoming, you're going to have a really competitive and quality young man. So that's where it's got to start, and we'll expand from there."
Between the nine newcomers, there is one common thread: They all fit the "Wyoming Profile," a collection of traits — representative of the state — in which Bohl searches for in recruits.
"Wyoming kids are Wyoming kids," said Bradfield, the son of former UW offensive lineman Gil Bradfield. "We all came from the same surroundings for the most part. It's great playing together. We're all hard-nosed football players."
Added Stringer: "The kids going to UW are tough kids. They want to get better, they want to be better, they want to be the best and they won't settle for anything less. That is the Cowboy mentality."
Stringer went on to note that with Bohl, it's not simply for show.
With UW being the state's only university, that importance is amplified, Wilson said.
The vast majority of high school football players in the Cowboy State grow up donning brown and gold apparel.
For many, playing for UW is a lifelong goal — one more attainable during Bohl's tenure.
"Coach Bohl says it best: 'There's too many guys that play at the University of Wyoming and not for the University of Wyoming,'" UW recruiting coordinator Gordie Haug said.
Added Jefferson, the younger brother of UW sophomore safety Isaiah Jefferson: "It really makes it feel like it's going to be like an actual home, in-state college. You're going to have that in-state bloodline going through and actually representing their own state."
Going forward, only Jackson senior linebacker Theo Dawson owns a scholarship offer from UW in the Class of 2016.
But it's a sure bet that, whether on scholarship or as walk-ons, more Wyomingites will remain at home, living out their childhood dreams.
"Nothing's cooler than being a Wyoming high school football player and then going to play college football for Wyoming," Stringer said.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com
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