Cheyenne East football coach Chad Goff wasn’t sure anyone would ever come close to eclipsing the school’s single-season passing touchdowns record after Graedyn Buell connected for 35 scores in 2019.
That mark lasted just one season.
Buell threw 38 touchdown passes to help the Thunderbirds go 11-1 and win the Class 4A state championship. His average of 255.4 passing yards per game was tops in 4A, and his 3,065 total passing yards are second-most in state history. He did that all while throwing just five interceptions.
Buell was nearly as good on the basketball court.
The 6-foot-2, 193-pound senior paced 4A in scoring at 25.2 points per game, ranked third in rebounds (9.4 rpg) and was fourth in steals (2.3 spg).
Buell earned first team all-state honors in both sports, and also was named Wyoming football player of the year by Gatorade.
He can add another accolade to his résumé after being voted WyoSports’ Laramie County Male Prep Athlete of the Year.
Buell is humbled by each honor he has picked up over the course of his high school athletic career, but that’s not what stands out to him about his time wearing East uniforms.
“The connection I made with my friends and teammates is what I’ll remember most,” he said. “We have a bond that will never be broken because of what we went through together.
“We dealt with COVID-19 together, having state tournaments and whole seasons canceled when we were juniors, we had temperature checks and questionnaires to fill out every day. That was on top of the usual ups and downs of the season. When I look back, those things will always stand out the most.”
Buell had already established himself as one of the state’s best athletes by the time his family moved to Cheyenne from Rock Springs after his freshman year. He led 4A in assists and steals while ranking third in scoring to earn his first all-state basketball nod. Buell also was Rock Springs’ starting quarterback.
His parents accepting jobs within Laramie County School District 1 meant making new friends and learning offenses. Playing summer basketball with some of his future East teammates in the Wyoming BEASTs organization eased that transition. So did his talent.
“It’s always tough when you go someplace new,” Buell said. “But I was confident I could come in and do what I did. I knew I could play, and I was sure those guys would like me once they got to know me.
“I’m a pretty confident person, but there’s always a worry in the back of your mind that you might not fit in, or your teammates might not like you.”
Better because of injury
Buell looked like a natural fit in Goff’s offense after beating then-junior Chance Aumiller for the starting quarterback job in 2018. Buell passed for 1,346 yards and rushed for 303 before breaking his right ankle in the T-Birds next-to-last regular season game.
The broken ankle sidelined him for 10 of East’s 27 basketball games that winter.
The injury impacted more than just his sophomore campaigns. He didn’t run the football as much during his junior season. Buell slid or ran out of bounds instead of taking on tacklers and fighting for extra yardage. Better to live to fight another play than spend three more months in a walking boot or brace.
“He meant so much to our team that we asked him to baby that ankle a bit,” Goff said. “If you look at some games late in his junior season, he wasn’t afraid to take off and pick up some really good chunks of yards when defenders backs were turned trying to cover receivers.”
Buell said he didn’t feel 100% confident in his ankle until late in the basketball season.
“I wouldn’t say I was tentative to drive but, if I’m being honest, there’s always a fear in the back of your head that you’re going to land on someone’s foot,” said Buell, who plans to play football at North Dakota State College of Science this fall before transferring to the University of Wyoming.
“I probably did some different things because of my ankle.”
Buell incorporated different skills into his game when his injured ankle wouldn’t allow him to blow past defenders like he had before.
“The injury changed how I looked at basketball and how I played basketball,” Buell said. “It changed my entire career for the better. When you have a big injury like that after you’ve had a good season, it’s devastating. But it changed me for the better.”
The injury changed how he looked at sports.
“I don’t take sports for granted anymore because I know that it can be taken away from me at any time,” Buell said.
Buell was noticeably different as a senior, East basketball coach Rusty Horsley said.
“You didn’t get to see the true Graedyn until this year because that injury bothered him well into his junior year,” Horsley said. “I couldn’t believe how well he ran the floor and the things he could do.
“He is a good ball-handler, he can make full-court passes, attack the rim, shoot the pull-up jumper and change the game with his speed.”
Goff has coached East to three state championships and two state runner-up finishes during his 15 seasons at the helm. He has had three players pick up Gatorade player of the year honors. Goff has seen his fair share of aggressive and talented players pull the T-Birds’ powder blue and black uniforms on, but Buell ranks near the top.
“He held his teammates responsible, but he also knew they were going to hold him responsible,” Goff said. “He wanted that. He also wasn’t afraid to put his team on his shoulders.”
Nowhere was that more evident than in East’s 29-15 win over Thunder Basin in the 4A state championship game.
Wind whipped across Okie Blanchard Stadium that November afternoon. East was optimistic it might still be able to throw the football, but that optimism vanished once it started warming up on the field. The wind grounded both team’s passing attacks.
Buell finished with 235 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Three of those scores came during the fourth quarter, and included bursts of 52 and 64 yards.
“That fourth quarter is a perfect example of what we preach about investment and hard work,” Goff said. “I don’t think we had a game with four rushing touchdowns all year; that’s just not what we did.
“But doing that in the state championship is a credit to Graedyn, but also to our linemen and receivers, who were 100% committed to blocking.”
Buell wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“I want to be in a close game and have the ball in my hands,” he said. “I truly believe I will make plays for our guys. They made plays for me all season, so I wanted to make plays for them.”
Buell was born with a competitive streak, but it was honed by going head-to-head with his older sister, Makylee.
“I never wanted to lose to her,” Buell said. “Everything was a competition. We’d have water skiing competitions, basketball competitions, football competitions, or we’d compete to see who could do the most backflips on the trampoline.
“You name it, and we competed at it. That’s where my competitive nature comes from.”
Buell’s fiery nature has earned him a reputation he doesn’t think he deserves.
“A lot of people who don’t know me see how competitive and emotional I am on the football field or basketball court and think I’m a jerk,” Buell said. “I think I’m really nice and friendly. I love to joke around and make friends. I’ll talk with anyone.
“What you see on the field isn’t what you get off the field.”
Buell’s coaches agree.
“At every kids camp, game or practice, he was always really good with the other kids,” Horsley said. “He loves working with other kids – especially the young ones at our camps – and being a role model for them.”