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Cooper Rothe back, Tim Zaleski still out for Wyoming’s special teamers

March 26, 2019

LARAMIE -- Wyoming has one of the nation’s best placekickers returning next season.

The Cowboys also have plenty of experience back in the return game. Add its starting punter back into the fold, and Wyoming has its special-teams unit intact again.

That won’t technically happen until the fall. Tim Zaleski tore his anterior cruciate ligament and missed the final seven games of his sophomore season. He won’t participate in spring drills as he continues his rehab, but the Cowboys’ punter will have a clean bill of health entering next season.

Zaleski started 18 consecutive games before the injury, meaning it’s likely he returns to the top of the depth chart once he reaches full strength. Walk-on Ryan Galovich shared punting duties last season with Dontae Crow, who made the move from receiver to average 42.8 yards per punt with a rugby style he’s been honing since his days as a prep soccer player at Sheridan High School.

Crow could move back to his more natural position this spring, but with Zaleski still out, the 5-foot-9, 178-pounder could also stay put and make a push for the starting job after being a pleasant surprise in the kicking game a season ago. Crow averaged more distance on his punts than Galovich (37.9) and Zaleski (38.8).

As for the other featured positions on Wyoming’s special teams, they’re far more settled.

Rothe is entering his senior season fresh off one of the best seasons ever for a Wyoming placekicker. The reigning Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year and Lou Groza Award finalist connected on all but one of his 17 field-goal attempts, including a career-long 51-yarder, to lead the nation in field-goal percentage (94.1). He’s made 89 percent of his field goals over the last two seasons and had 29 touchbacks as the Cowboys’ kickoff specialist last season.

Rising senior Tyler Hall is back as one of the MW’s top kick returners. College football’s new kickoff return rule gave Hall and the rest of the Cowboys’ returners fewer chances last season, but Hall still averaged a team-best 22.4 yards on his five returns after returning two kicks for touchdowns as a sophomore.

Receiver Austin Conway joined Hall in returning kicks and is also back for his final season as Wyoming’s primary punt returner. Conway averaged 5.8 yards on punt returns a season ago with his longest going for 31 yards.

Crow and fellow receiver John Okwoli could also get a look in the return game. Okwoli returned one kickoff for 23 yards last season. Jesse Hooper and Nick Szpor are back to handle long snapping and holding duties, respectively.