LARAMIE – From 2007-08, John Richardson was a starting cornerback at North Dakota State. His position coach and defensive coordinator then was Willie Mack Garza.
Today, both are position coaches at the University of Wyoming.
Richardson is in his sixth season at UW on coach Craig Bohl’s staff. Garza was hired back in May.
When asked to describe Richardson as a player, Garza was quick with his response.
“He was very easily coached,” he said. “He was a low rep guy because he had a high IQ. He was extremely hard working. He was a blue-collar guy, a team player, and everybody on the team liked him.
“All the coaches liked him because he went about his business the right way. He was a student of the game.”
Garza wasn’t surprised to see Richardson go into coaching based on what he saw from him as a player. But what about coaching alongside Richardson?
“It is easy to coach with him because I see a lot of the things I taught him,” Garza said. “I see myself in him, to a certain extent, but at the same time I’ve seen his growth from the time he was a player.
“He is an excellent coach. He is very organized, prepared and pays attention to details. He is very demanding, but does a good job with guys on and off the field.”
Richardson said coaching with Garza is like things “coming full circle,” but also because Bohl was Richardson’s head coach at North Dakota State.
Many of the words Garza used to describe Richardson as a player and a coach were the same Richardson used to describe Garza.
Richardson said he remembers as a player seeing Garza’s car still at the football offices late at night, putting in the work to relay to him and his teammates at practice. He didn’t think much of it then, but now, as a coach, he realizes how much work goes into the nuances of coaching.
He also sees another side of Garza he didn’t see as a player.
“He is a cool guy,” Richardson said. “As a player, he is just ‘coach.’ I always knew he was funny, but some of that funny stuff was at our own expense as a player. Now, he keeps the room light and keeps us loose. But when it is time to be serious, he is serious.
“He is been a great addition. We work well together.”
Garza enters his 24th season as a college coach, and UW is his 12th different school. However, there was a lot of familiarity when he arrived in Laramie.
Bohl was the coach at North Dakota State when Garza was there, and the Bison went 33-11. A.J. Cooper was a tight end for the Bison in Garza’s first year. Cooper is UW’s defensive running game coordinator, defensive ends coach and co-special teams coordinator. Current UW associate head coach and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen was the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and UW defensive coordinator Jake Dickert was a graduate assistant in 2008.
“There are some close-knit relationships here, which made it an easy transition for me coming here,” Garza said. “We share so many good memories, and it makes it easy for us to bond and come together as a staff.”
When asked if he had any good stories about Garza, Richardson kind of smiled and said he remembers looking at film when Garza was a defensive back at Texas from 1988-92.
“He was a bad man,” Richardson said. “You look at him today, and it doesn’t look like he had it. But back in the day, he definitely had it.”
Garza was a four-year letterman at Texas, earned freshman All-American honors and was inducted into the Texas High School Hall of Fame in 2001 for his time at Refugio High. Garza was a Parade All-American as a senior, and rushed for 2,954 yards and a then-national record 56 touchdowns.
Vigen filled in for Bohl after Monday’s practice because Bohl had to attend a meeting.
Players worked out in full pads for the second consecutive practice.
“This week is the telltale in terms of separating some things. Most of our packages are in. From now on, we need to see who can execute it the best,” Vigen said.
Offensively, Vigen said some of the position battles ongoing include who will be the backups at tackle, the starter at left guard and how the backup running back picture will play out.
First-year offensive line coach Bart Miller said redshirt freshman Frank Crum of Laramie has had a good camp, and has the edge to be the No. 3 tackle behind sophomore Rudy Stofer and junior Alonzo Velazquez. Sophomore Gavin Dunayski and true freshman Carlos Harrison also are in the mix.
Miller said sophomores Patrick Arnold and Eric Abojei continue to battle for the starting job at left guard.
At running back, sophomore Xazavian Valladay and senior graduate transfer Trey Smith from Louisville appear to still be the top two players. Vigen said true freshmen Titus Swen and Alophonzo Andrews Jr. have practiced the most because fellow true freshman Dawaiian McNeely has been slowed with a minor injury. McNeely practiced Monday.
Interior defensive line coach Pete Kaligis said junior defensive tackle Ravontae Holt was scheduled to have an MRI on his knee Monday. Holt was not at Monday’s practice.
Junior free safety Braden Smith (hamstring) practiced. Smith strained his hamstring late last week.
UW-AIR FORCE BROADCAST
UW’s regular-season finale at Air Force Nov. 30 will be broadcast on Facebook. Kickoff is at noon.
On Monday, the Mountain West announced a seven-game football package to be carried by Facebook through its partnership with Stadium. The other games will be: Weber State at San Diego State (Aug. 31); Stony Brook at Utah State and Arkansas State at UNLV (Sept. 7); Sacramento State at Fresno State (Sept. 21); San Diego State at San Jose State (Oct. 19) and Utah State at New Mexico (Nov. 30).
UW reached the halfway point of camp Tuesday with practice No. 10.
Robert Gagliardi is the WyoSports senior editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @rpgagliardi.