Jack Walsh blossoming into a leader on UW's O-line

Apr. 5—LARAMIE — Jay Sawvel has gained a whole new perspective on the offensive side of the ball since being promoted as the University of Wyoming's head football coach.

The former defensive coordinator and safeties coach has watched UW's first five spring practices through a different lens, rotating between all the position groups, rather than merely watching his own.

One of the biggest things to stick out the most to Sawvel about UW's offensive line: junior Jack Walsh.

Walsh, a 6-foot-3, 313-pound Illinois native, started all 13 of UW's games last fall at right guard. While his blocking ability is noteworthy, Sawvel has a newfound appreciation for Walsh's leadership traits within the offensive line room.

"He's done a good job, leadership wise," Sawvel said last week. "Jack Walsh isn't afraid to call anybody out. I love Jack Walsh. That's one of the things you get an appreciation of with being a head coach now. It's the fact that I get a lot more in depth with a lot more people than what I did before.

"Jack Walsh is worth his weight in gold as far as just being a good player, but also ... he's a (explicit). You know what I mean? It's great. He has no fear to hold anybody to a high standard, and that's the biggest thing about him."

After redshirting in 2021, Walsh burst onto the scene in 2022, appearing in 11 of the Cowboys' games, including two starts. He established himself as a regular starter last fall after winning the right guard job during fall camp.

Walsh has blossomed into one of UW's leaders on the offensive line going into his fourth season in Laramie. The unit needs to replace just one full-time starter at left tackle after the graduation of Frank Crum, who hopes to hear his name called during the NFL draft later this month.

"We're in a good spot," Walsh told WyoSports on Tuesday. "Filling that hole of losing Frank with what he did on the field and what he did off the field and being there for six years and telling us how things are going, now, (someone else) has to step into that role.

"It's a tough hole to fill, but we're excited for the challenge. That's what football is all about: Challenging yourself to be better. ... I'm just excited to see what this offensive line does."

Walsh isn't locked into the starting right guard spot yet. While he's been spending the majority of his time at the position this spring, offensive line coach Joe Tripodi has been shuffling players around to see where they fit best.

"I'm in the frame of mind of, 'Wherever they need me, I'll play,'" Walsh said. "Whatever puts us in the best position to win, that's where I'm going to be. It looks good on the résumé getting tackle reps and guard reps and all that stuff, but wherever they need me, I'll play."

Forrest Scheel, J.J. Uphold, Luke Sandy, Rex Johnsen and Jake Davies all served as backups last fall. Caden Barnett, who split time with Sandy at different points last season, is out this spring after having offseason shoulder surgery.

Regardless of who makes the starting lineup this fall, Walsh knows a few younger players will need to step into bigger roles in the trenches for the Cowboys' offense.

"Tripodi just wants to see where everyone's at, and he wants to see guys fighting," Walsh said. "He refers to it as, 'Making the bus.' Who wants to make the bus? He has to decide that, but he wants his job to be easy. He wants to be like, 'That guy, he's shown it, and now he wants to do it.' That's where we're at as an O-line as a whole.

"Who wants to play? Who wants to be in that big moment? Who wants to be in on a fourth-and-5 against Texas Tech in overtime? Who wants to be in those situations? That's what we're excited about: To see that type of fight."

Walsh's first career start came in a road win over New Mexico in 2022. He remembers some of the emotions he felt going into the game, and he wants to use that experience to help some of the younger guys now that he's an upperclassman.

"I remember going into my redshirt freshman year, we had a bunch of older guys, but I was put in a spot where it was like, 'You're going to play,'" Walsh said. "You've got to step up. It's interesting, because you really have to kind of snap into it and just switch your thought process and understand that, 'I'm going to get into a game.'

"You're going to be playing in front of 30,000 or 60,000 or 100,000-plus people. It could be anything. It's one of those deals where you have to understand the moment you're going into it and understand what your job is so you can just go out and do it."

Like UW's other returners, Walsh's goal is still to compete for a Mountain West title this fall. The Cowboys started last season 5-1 before a disastrous three-game road losing streak to Air Force, Boise State and UNLV dropped them out of conference title contention.

Walsh knows getting the Cowboys over the hump starts on the road.

"We did really well at home, which is really important," Walsh said. "You have to establish that. You have to win at home, but when you go on these road trips, if you want to be a championship-caliber football team and you want to go play for a Mountain West championship, you've gotta win on the road. Especially against those teams.

"Air Force, Boise and UNLV were the top teams in our conference last year. You have to go out and you have to perform well. You can't let the fans or not playing on your own field or the color of the turf ... you can't let any of those things affect you. You just have to go out and play football."

For his unit specifically, Walsh wants the group to contend for the Joe Moore award, which honors the best offensive line in college football.

"Those are the types of accolades that you want to look back on and be like, 'We were the most dominant and the best O-line in the country,'" Walsh said. "Sometimes, it doesn't work out, but striving for that goal is something that all of us want to do."

Alex Taylor is the assistant editor for WyoSports and covers University of Wyoming athletics. He can be reached at Follow him on X at @alex_m_taylor22.