UW’s Top 50 football players: No. 12
LARAMIE -- During this summer series we are going to countdown the Top 50 football players in Wyoming history, presented by Premier Bone & Joint Centers, Worthy of Wyoming.
The rules are simple: What was the player's impact while in Laramie? That means NFL stats, draft status or any other accolade earned outside of UW is irrelevant when it comes to this list.
This isn't a one-man job. This task called for a panel of experts. Joining me is Robert Gagliardi, Jared Newland, Ryan Thorburn and Kevin McKinney. We all compiled our own list of 50 and let computer averages do the work. Think BCS -- only we hope this catalog is more fair.
Don't agree with a selection? Feel free to sound off on our Twitter page @7220sports.
Quarterback, 2011-13, Salem, Oregon
Here's why: I know, I know -- in hindsight, Brett Smith should've stayed one more season in Laramie.
You know it. I know it. He knows it.
Now that that's out of the way, just imagine if he had played that final season in 2014, this time under new head coach Craig Bohl?
He'd likely be a lot higher on this list.
During his three years as a starter, Smith tossed a program-best 76 touchdowns, 20 ahead of the next closest quarterback, Casey Bramlet. Smith is still second in career yards with 8,834. He has the second most attempts (1,212) and completions (751), too. Smith's seven touchdown, 498-yard performance against Hawaii in 2013 is still the best single-game in school history.
The Oregon product proved to be a prolific passer, but what set him apart was his intangibles. He could run. Smith gashed defenses for 1,531 yards on 378 career carries. He also found the end zone 21 times.
Smith was also the ultimate competitor, never afraid to take the big hit to make a play. His teammates rallied around him and he even earned the respect of his opponents. In 2013, in front of 90,000-plus at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Smith nearly led the Cowboys to a major upset victory over the No. 18 Huskers. Though UW ultimately fell 37-34, Smith threw for 383 yards and rushed for 92.
The home crowd gave him a standing ovation as he left the field.
Smith earned honorable mention accolades after his final two seasons in Laramie. He was also named the Mountain West's Freshman of the Year in 2011.
Smith went undrafted in 2014. He spent some time in the Canadian Football League before retiring to his native Salem, Oregon, where he now works as a truck driver.
Tucker's take: Brett Smith sure was fun to watch, wasn't he?
It always felt like the Cowboys had a chance with No. 16 under center. His daring runs and flick-of-the-wrist throws over the middle could be a thing of beauty.
When his name is brought up, inevitably, so is his decision to leave early for the NFL. No one understands that better than the man himself. When we talked in 2019 for a feature about his career, Smith was candid and open about what would ultimately end up as a mistake in his playing career. His answer for why was a simple one -- "I wanted to be great."
Smith thought it was time to move on. He felt like he had proven himself during his three college seasons. When he reflects on that time, Smith said the minute he knew he might have messed up is when he didn't receive an invite to the NFL Combine. That was supposed to be his time to shine in front of pro scouts and team brass in Indianapolis. Instead, he worked out alone and waited.
The call never came.
What if Smith came back? What if he played one season under Bohl, who would've undoubtedly moved him under center in his prostyle offense. Bohl tried to urge Smith to come back. Smith's mind was already made up.
Maybe Wyoming wins more than four games in 2014 if Smith sticks around? Maybe Smith shatters all the school records? Maybe he gets that invite to Indy? Maybe he becomes an NFL quarterback?
Yes, there will always be plenty of maybes when Brett Smith enters the conversation, but what we do know is he gave it his all during those three seasons at UW. Athletics Director Tom Burman knew that. That's why in 2016 he allowed Smith to come back -- on scholarship -- and finish his degree.
Smith mainly stays quiet about his football career these days. That's a real shame. Even though a pro career never panned out, no one can take away from what Smith did on the field in a Wyoming uniform. He will always be considered one of the best to ever do it.
Wyoming will always be his home away from home.
Hopefully one day we will see Smith back in Laramie. This time, being enshrined into the school's Hall of Fame. He deserves it.
How the panel voted: Cody Tucker (10), Robert Gagliardi (10), Jared Newland (18), Ryan Thorburn (19), Kevin McKinney (22)
Previous selections: No. 50, No. 49, No. 48, No. 47, No. 46, No. 45, No. 44, No. 43, No. 42, No. 41, No. 40, No. 39, No. 38, No. 37, No. 36, No. 35, No. 34, No. 33, No. 32, No. 31, No. 30, No. 29, No. 28, No. 27, No. 26, No. 25, No. 24, No. 23, No. 22, No. 21, No. 20, No. 19, No. 18, No. 17, No. 16, No. 15, No. 14, No. 13
Cody Tucker: Brand Manager and creator of 7220sports.com. Tucker has covered the Cowboys since June of 2019, but was a season-ticket holder for nearly three decades. Tucker has also covered Michigan State University Athletics for the Lansing State Journal and Detroit Free Press and the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins during his 10-year journalism career
Robert Gagliardi: Former sports editor and University of Wyoming beat reporter for WyoSports. Gagliardi covered the Cowboys from more than a quarter century. He also covered the team at the Branding Iron, the UW student newspaper. Gagliardi also co-authored the book: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming
Jared Newland: Currently the local sales manager for Townsquare Media SE Wyoming, Newland worked with and around Wyoming athletics for 20 years, starting as a student athletic trainer in 1990. Newland has also served in the Sports Information Office, the Cowboy Joe Club, Wyoming Sports Properties and was a UW Athletics Hall of Fame Committee Member from 2002-14.
Ryan Thorburn: Currently covering the Oregon Ducks for The Register-Guard, Thorburn also covered the Cowboys in the early and mid-90's for the Branding Iron and Casper Star Tribune. He has also written four books about Wyoming Athletics: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming, Cowboy Up: Kenny Sailors, The Jump Shot and Wyoming’s Championship Basketball History, Lost Cowboys: The Story of Bud Daniel and Wyoming Baseball and Black 14: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Wyoming Football
Kevin McKinney: Currently the senior associate athletics director for external affairs at the University of Wyoming, McKinney also serves as the radio color commentator for Wyoming football and men's basketball. McKinney has been involved with UW Athletics in some capacity since 1972. He was also inducted into the Wyoming Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2015.