McKinney: The Importance of Spring Football For Quarterbacks

Posted on 05/23/24 by Kevin McKinney

Welniak, Randy, 1986 vs Air Force.jpg
University of Wyoming Athletics

Randy Welniak runs to daylight during Wyoming's 1986 game at Air Force.

It was late April of 1988, and the Wyoming football team had just completed its second spring training period under Paul Roach.

The Pokes had finished Roach's first season with a remarkable 10-3 record, and a narrow loss to Iowa in the Holiday Bowl. But their transfer quarterback Craig Burnett had graduated, and they were looking for a new leader from a trio of hopefuls including Randy Welniak.

Fast-forward to spring of 2024. Wyoming's football program finished its 2023 season with nine wins, including a victory in the Arizona Bowl. Its transfer quarterback and team leader Andrew Peasley has graduated. Like in í88, the Pokes are looking for a new leader. All signs point to Evan Svoboda as that guy. Welniak knows what Svoboda is going through in his maturation process as the new leader. Their stories are similar with one exception. Welniak was coming off a shoulder injury and had never played a down for Wyoming at quarterback heading into his senior season of ë88. Svoboda has had one start and some spot duty.

"I had surgery on my shoulder, and missed the entire í87 season," Welniak recalls. ìI was a question mark big time heading into spring practice. I wasn't sure I could physically play quarterback. I went into spring with a lot on the line, and two big questions. Number one, could I even play football and number two, could I win the job from two other talented quarterbacks, Tom Corontzos and Bobby Fresques. I knew one thing, I was going to give it all I had to play. I didn't want to end my career because of an injury.î

To cover his bases, Welniak talked with the coaching staff about becoming a receiver, and even worked out as a punter. But as spring training drew near, his shoulder improved, and he felt he could give quarterback his best shot.

"Spring ball that year was so important for me," Welniak says, "just like it was for Evan this year. I knew I had to play at a high level and gain the confidence of the team. That was a huge part of it. I got a lot of reps that spring and my timing was coming around. I felt good at the end of the spring, but I needed the confidence of game experience. Even though Paul had named me the starter at the end of spring ball, I knew things could change in the fall. I worked hard all summer on my strength and timing.

"Fall camp went well, and I knew I could do the job and be a team leader. It helped that we had a veteran team coming back from that great '87 season, and those guys were a huge help to me."

What happened in 1988 was historic as Welniak and the Cowboys had a season for the ages.

Wyoming won its first 10 games of that year, losing only to Houston in the next-to-last regular-season game, and to Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl. For his record-breaking season, Welniak was selected as the Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

As he reflects on that magical time, Welniak totally understands what Svoboda is experiencing.

"There's no doubt he's going to feel pressure," Welniak says. "That comes with the position. The 2024 Cowboys are coming off an outstanding year, just like we did. Everyone wants to continue that success, and the quarterback is always a huge key. Not only must you have confidence in yourself, but your teammates must have confidence that you are their leader. That is as important as what you do physically."

Only time will tell how history treats Evan, but I have a feeling Wyoming is in good hands.

This story is provided by AARP Wyoming. Visit the AARP Wyoming page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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