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Star DT Jordan Bertagnole returns to UW for one final run

Apr. 20—LARAMIE — Jordan Bertagnole was content with his career at the University of Wyoming coming to a close after his fifth season last fall.

It wasn't until an injury late in the season against UNLV that Bertagnole started to reconsider his options.

"I took an outside move on a guy and swiped, and my arm kind of got stuck," Bertagnole told WyoSports last weekend. "I tried to pull it out, and I just felt the whole thing slip."

UW's star defensive tackle tore the labrum in his left shoulder. While the injury required surgery to repair the damage, Bertagnole decided to put it off until the offseason in order to stay on the field with his teammates for the Cowboys' final three games of the season.

"It's always tough going through an injury," Bertagnole said. "Maybe if I thought my best shot in the NFL was getting surgery right after that game — which I never even took into account, because I was always going to finish the season out — but for somebody who's looking only at what's next, then maybe that was the best option. But I just wanted to take everything in with the guys here."

The shoulder injury was a setback for Bertagnole's dreams of playing in the NFL, but in hindsight, it also granted him the opportunity to weigh his future options.

The Natrona County graduate sat down with his wife, Briannyn, to discuss the best path forward. Then, Bertagnole and his teammates were hit with the bombshell of head coach Craig Bohl's plans to retire following last year's Arizona Bowl.

UW's coaching search didn't last long. The same day Bohl announced his retirement, UW athletics director Tom Burman announced the promotion of defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel to the helm. The internal promotion was enough to sway Bertagnole's decision to return for a sixth season for the Cowboys this fall.

"I loved coach Bohl, and I was already thinking about (coming back after Bohl announced his retirement)," Bertagnole said. "Once they announced his retirement plans and that Sawvel was going to be stepping in as the head coach, it definitely clicked for me and my wife.

"She was like, 'I definitely feel a lot better about you coming back for one more year,' which, she at first didn't want to stay in Laramie for another year, and you always have to take into account what the wife says. But once (Sawvel) was announced, she was like, 'OK, I definitely think that that's kind of our sign that we should stay.'"

Bertagnole is sitting out this spring after having reconstructive shoulder surgery following the bowl game. He's expecting to return in time for fall camp, an opportunity he's looking forward to following the promotion of Sawvel.

"The relationship that I have with Sawvel is huge," Bertagnole said. "Knowing that my shot at the next level probably wasn't going to be as high with the shoulder injury and getting surgery, I felt like the best opportunity for me, for my family and for all the guys here was to (come back)."

Bertagnole's excitement for the upcoming season stems from Burman's decision to promote from within for UW's next head coach. Bohl spent the past 10 seasons building a distinct culture in the Cowboys' locker room, and Sawvel has continued that tradition since taking over in January.

"There's always going to be changes, no matter if you (hire a head coach) from in house or out of house," Bertagnole said. "But with Sawvel, I feel like you see it in the fact that there were not, like, any transfers after that was announced. Maybe one or two, but not key players for the team.

"You see that all the guys on the team trust Sawvel and love what he has to offer. I feel like that's the biggest thing right now. We have always had really good culture and really strong culture amongst the team with how close we are, and I feel like Sawvel isn't going to change that at all. If anything, he's just going to improve it more."

One key change Sawvel has made since taking over was re-implementing last names on the back of UW's uniforms. Being able to represent his family name on Saturdays at War Memorial Stadium is something Bertagnole is looking forward to for his final college season.

"You're always playing for the name on the front of your jersey, but you're also representing where you came from and who you are with your name," Bertagnole said. "I feel like that's definitely going to be something special. My family is super excited about it, because they'll actually be able to know where I'm at on the field because I have a longer last name compared to the other D-tackles.

"So, they're excited about that, and I definitely think that's going to be a lot of fun having that name on there."

Bertagnole has another motivating factor this fall. The All-Mountain West defensive tackle and his wife celebrated the birth of their daughter, Beverly Jane, last month.

"My wife, Briannyn, already has a bunch of football outfits that she's planning for game times, so I'm super excited to see that," Bertagnole said with a smile.

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