WR Caleb Cooley is UW's do-it-all weapon

Apr. 25—LARAMIE — New York Jets quarterback and four-time NFL most valuable player Aaron Rodgers didn't have any scholarship offers out of Pleasant Valley High in Chico, California.

Neither did Caleb Cooley.

Rodgers went on to play at Butte College, a junior college about 15 miles from his hometown, before earning a Division I scholarship at the University of California.

Cooley followed in Rodgers' footsteps, going from Pleasant Valley to Butte College for two seasons before landing at the University of Wyoming as a preferred walk-on in 2021.

While Rodgers' path to the Division I level was nearly two decades before his own, Cooley has used the Super Bowl-winning quarterback's journey as fuel to prove his doubters wrong throughout his college career.

The 5-foot-7, 174-pound wide receiver credits Rodgers for showing him it was possible to land comfortably on a DI roster, despite limited recruiting interest out of high school.

"It's been life-changing," Cooley told WyoSports last week. "Being a 5-7 or 5-6 receiver out of high school, I knew I could play Division I, but it's hard, especially being in Northern California where recruiting isn't the best.

"It was hard. Sometimes you have doubts, because people would tell you, 'Oh, you're too short,' or, 'You weigh too light,' but that kept me going. I had the role model of Aaron Rodgers, because he went to my high school and my junior college. So, that was just someone who I looked up to, because he had the same (experience)."

Cooley's recruitment to the Cowboys wasn't just about a roster spot. It was the reassurance he needed to keep following his dreams of playing on a DI football team.

"You have your doubts, but I believed in myself, and luckily, Wyoming believed in me, too," Cooley said.

Doing it all

Cooley has worked his way up the depth chart through special teams with the Cowboys, serving as UW's primary punt returner over the past two seasons. He had a disappointing setback after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee midway through the 2022 season, but he bounced back with a healthy campaign last fall.

Cooley has 11 punt returns for 53 yards in his career, and he wants to add to that production at the wide receiver position during his sixth and final college season this year.

"It is crazy to think about how it is my last year and it's my sixth and final year," Cooley said. "Going into college, I never expected to use all six years. That's not something you think about when you go from high school to college.

"... I just want to go out strong and enjoy the time I have with Wyoming. ... I try not to think about it too much, because time flies, and I know it's going to go by in a snap. I just want to ride it out and enjoy it."

On top of his wide receiver and punt return duties, Cooley could potentially pick up a new role as UW's starting holder on special teams. Punter Clayton Stewart held kicks for John Hoyland last season, but graduated this offseason.

"(Wide receiver coach Mike Grant) texted our receiver group chat and was like, 'Who can hold?'" Cooley said. "There was probably five or six of us that said that we could hold, so, the next day, coach (Grant) texted me and he was like, 'We're holding before practice.'

"I went out there, and it was me, (and quarterbacks) Jayden Clemons and Kaden Anderson," Cooley said. "That's how it started, so I was like, 'Oh shoot, time to lock back into my holding, because I haven't held since JUCO, and that was three or four years ago."

Cooley also held kicks in high school. While Cooley doesn't have any fear of Hoyland slipping and kicking his fingers into orbit, he's had to adjust to the difference of holding kicks on the artificial turf at War Memorial Stadium.

"The one thing that surprised me was how much turf gets hit in your face every single time they kick it," Cooley said. "In high school, you have the kicking pad that you use to hold the ball on. Here, it's just right off the ground. ... Every time a kick happens, there's just turf right in your face. It's pretty funny."

For Cooley, holding kicks isn't about glory. It's about helping his team win in any way he can.

"It's just about finding a way to get on the field and contribute to the team and help us," Cooley said. "If I'm going to be the guy holding (kicks), then I want to try my best to hopefully make us win games when it comes down to field goals.

"That's awesome, because it's another thing for me to possibly get on the field."

The relationship between a kicker and his holder sometime goes unrecognized, but Hoyland has full confidence in Cooley if his name is listed atop the special teams depth chart this fall.

"He's been awesome," Hoyland said. "He's been diligent and willing to put in some extra reps with us outside of his time. We're absolutely thankful that he's been doing that.

"... No matter who's there holding, I'll have absolute faith in them come fall. They'll put me in the best positions where I'm the most comfortable to make my kicks."

Going into his fourth season in Laramie, Cooley has earned the respect of all the teammates around him. That respect has trickled up to first-year head coach Jay Sawvel this spring.

"I love Caleb Cooley to death," Sawvel said. "It's one of those things like — anything that he does, I'll trust. For him to return punts, I trust him back there catching it. For him to hold, I trust what he's going to do. I feel good about that right now."

While Cooley is a little quicker to the edge than Stewart was last year, that doesn't necessarily mean Sawvel is scheming up fake field goals for the Cowboys this season.

At least, not yet.

"I hope it doesn't (go haywire)," Sawvel said with a laugh. "It's not like we're going to start scheming up a bunch of fakes and run like options and stuff with the kicker, either.

"I like the reliability of Caleb Cooley. Right now, that's been a peace of mind (for me)."

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.