LARAMIE – A sea of brown and gold has been a common sight at University of Wyoming football games for over a century, but a couple more colors have been added to the mix in recent years.

Traditional Cowboys attire still dominates the game day environment at War Memorial Stadium. However, it’s impossible to ignore the ever-growing specks of royal blue and red in the crowd.

A sign of support for Josh Allen, who became Wyoming’s highest NFL draft pick in 2018 and has since evolved into one of the stars of the league, UW fans can be spotted donning No. 17 Buffalo Bills jerseys in almost any direction you look on Saturdays in Laramie.

With 1,937 total yards and 17 touchdowns through the first six games of the season, Allen has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate. According to BetMGM, only Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals and Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys have higher odds to win the award at the moment.

It’s been nearly four years since Allen last suited up for the Pokes, but his ascent from lightly recruited junior-college prospect to one of the most visible – and successful – players in the NFL remains a source of pride for Wyoming fans.

“His success has driven Wyoming fans to have something to really be proud of,” said Tell Tavegie, a 17-year-old from Newcastle. “He was the first one they could say, ‘Look at how well he’s done.’ UW has had some good players that have made the NFL, but not as standout as Josh is.”

Allen hasn’t forgotten about Wyoming, either, and can often be found sporting attire featuring the Cowboys’ logo or state flag.

“It’s exciting,” longtime UW fan Alan Stoinski said. “You’ve seen him when he was starting out, you’ve seen him when he was a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, and he still gives back to Wyoming. You see him now, and he still wears a Wyoming hat to the games.”

Perfect fit

Coming out of Firebaugh High School in California’s Central Valley, Allen did not have a single Division I scholarship offer. A year later, following a standout season at Reedley College, this number of suitors had increased to two: Wyoming and Eastern Michigan.

UW coach Craig Bohl was in his first year at the helm of the program during Allen’s one season in junior college, with then-offensive coordinator Brent Vigen playing a vital part in his recruitment. Recognizing similarities between Allen and former North Dakota State quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Easton Stick, who won FCS national titles with the Bison, the coaches saw the potential for something special.

“We didn’t see the guy that has the dad who takes him around to every spit-and-polish quarterback camp, and he’s a four- or five-star recruit that goes out there and wears spandex and looks really good throwing in 7-on-7,” Bohl said. “We saw a competitive guy … who was a multi-sport player, and we saw this arm. He was really raw, and we’ve had really good luck.

“I’ll name some names. Carson Wentz was a multi-sport player, Easton Stick did some great things, and he’s still with the Chargers, and Josh Allen. That’s kind of been our MO. We’re not interested in the guy who has been to every quarterback camp and Elite 11 and only plays quarterback, and if he can’t do really well, he’s going to transfer. We’re looking for a team guy, and that was Josh Allen.”

Spotlight on Laramie

Tim Harkins, Wyoming’s associate athletic director for media relations, recalls Allen’s emergence as a top NFL prospect being a whirlwind unlike any other.

Allen had started to garner attention throughout the 2016 season, during which he passed for 3,203 yards and 28 touchdowns, while leading the Cowboys to their first and only Mountain West title game appearance. Then ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported during the 2017 draft that an NFL personnel director had told him to “put it in the books” that Allen would be the No. 1 pick the next year.

A media frenzy ensued.

That summer, and throughout the following season, national media members flooded to Laramie to tell the story of Wyoming’s star quarterback.

College Gameday, ESPN, the Associated Press, USA Today, CBS Sports Network and The Athletic were among the outlets to produce stories on Allen that year – in addition to Sports Illustrated, which came out to do a feature that included an hours-long photo shoot at Vedauwoo.

When all was said and done, the exposure Wyoming received from Aug. 1, 2017, to May 14, 2018, was valued at over $159 million by Joyce Julius & Associates Inc.

“You can’t buy exposure like that,” Harkins said.

Several games from Allen’s time in Laramie stand out to Harkins. However, the moment he knew the Pokes had a potential NFL difference-maker on their squad occurred during the program’s first and only win over Boise State on Oct. 29, 2016.

“Coach Bohl used to say, ‘You don’t see Josh Allen’s ball, you hear it when it goes through the air.’ And that was true,” Harkins said. “He always had that great arm. The play for me that showed that the most was when we beat Boise State here. He rolled out to the right, which he loves to do, and he threw a pass to the end zone to Tanner Gentry.

“Tanner went up and got the ball before the Boise State defensive back even realized it was there. The defensive back was still on the ground when Tanner went to get it. Josh’s arm was just unlike anything a lot of people had seen, and he’s used that to his advantage in the pros. He can make any throw there is.”

Allen’s pro day included a cast of high-profile attendees, with ESPN and NFL Network both broadcasting live from the event. Hall of Fame quarterback and Fox NFL analyst Troy Aikman even put in a last-minute request to attend.

The Bills, however, kept a low profile.

“They arranged to do a personal workout with him the Sunday before his pro day,” Harkins recalled. “I don’t know for sure who exactly came out, but a lot of their personnel came out to evaluate him. Then they weren’t really as visible (at his pro day). In fact, I’m not sure if they had somebody, although they probably had somebody here.

“The Cleveland Browns’ owner and head coach was here, the GM for the Seattle Seahawks were here. Pat Shurmur – who’s now the offensive coordinator for the Broncos, I think he was the head coach of the Giants at the time – was here, former Texans head coach and assistant coach for the Broncos Gary Kubiak was here, John Elway had gone to our bowl game ... it was just amazing to see all the people.”

True to his roots

Allen’s status as one of the most popular players in the NFL is unquestioned. According to NFLShop.com, he had the second-highest selling jersey in the month of September – behind only Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback and seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady.

Yet, Allen has never forgotten where he came from – something Harkins is reminded of seemingly every time he sees the former Cowboy on television.

“He’s very grounded,” Harkins said. “He grew up on a farm in Firebaugh, California. His parents were farmers, and he’s very grounded in where he came from. I think the other thing about him is he probably appreciates his success as much as anybody because he really had to fight to get to where he is.

“Recruited by a junior college out of high school, only two offers out of junior college, he had to fight for everything he got. As I see him interviewed to this day, he’s still very grounded and doesn’t forget where he came from.”

Josh Criswell covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at jcriswell@wyosports.net or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @criswell_sports.

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