20210509-spts-ZaireJackson

University of Wyoming cornerback Zaire Jackson, left, strips the ball and scores during the Cowboys’ spring game Saturday, May 8, 2021, at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.

LARAMIE – Though he hadn’t seen the field for game action in more than a year, sophomore running back Titus Swen made his presence felt during the University of Wyoming’s spring game Saturday afternoon.

Swen, who opted out of the 2020 season, finished with 155 total yards, including a 71-yard reception on a screen pass and a 55-yard touchdown run.

While redshirt junior Xazavian Valladay and graduate transfer Trey Smith figure to get the bulk of the carries in 2021, Swen made a case to have his number called.

“It was good to be back. I haven’t been on my team for a little over a year,” Swen said. “I feel like can contribute as much as Trey and X can, and so can the other running backs.”

Swen’s long reception came on a somewhat broken play. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Sean Chambers saw Swen at the last second and tossed him the ball. Swen proceeded to break out of a few tackles and scamper down the sideline before being caught.

It was nonetheless impressive for all involved, even if it didn’t end in a touchdown.

“That dude, he’s a baller. He’s a baller, and that was on display today,” Chambers said. “I think all spring, he’s been playing really hard, running the ball really hard in our scrimmages … He’s going to be on full display this fall.”

Redshirt sophomore Levi Williams, quarterbacking the opposing team, took notice of Swen’s skills and was admittedly a bit jealous.

“We chipped away. We really had to earn our keep on the field and earn our touchdowns. They had a screen go 80 yards. That’s just dink and dunk. And then they have Titus Swen,” Williams said before taking a deep, sarcastic sigh. “That guy’s a different breed.”

Pelissier steps up

Last week, UW coach Craig Bohl said a player or two comes out of nowhere to surprise at the spring game. That player in 2021 happened to be freshman receiver Will Pelissier.

Pelissier, a 6-foot-3 walk-on out of Big Horn, caught four passes for 70 yards and a touchdown for the White team. He was Williams’ most trusted target throughout the afternoon.

“We call him ‘Big Horn,’” Bohl said. “He’s been an emerging guy. He’s got good speed. He positions his body well, and he caused some problems for us on the scout team last year. It’s been good to see him go out there mix it up.”

Jackson makes noise

Freshman cornerback Zaire Jackson is the lone member of the 2020-21 signing class already on campus. He made the most of his chances Saturday, scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery while intercepting a pass as well.

Jackson’s successful interception came after a pair of just-missed grabs.

“The second one hit me right in the face. Just too excited,” Jackson said with a smile. “The third one, third time’s the charm.”

Defensive improvement

While much of the talk this offseason has involved the offense, UW’s defense made strides this spring as well, according to redshirt sophomore linebacker Chuck Hicks.

Under first-year defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel, the Cowboys finished the 2020 season ranked 24th in scoring defense, allowing just 21 points per game. UW returns all of its starters from that nationally-ranked unit.

“I feel like the defense this spring has been good as a whole. (Saturday), I just felt like we could have been better on tackling, just finishing tackles. That’s on both sides, I feel like just too many arm tackles,” Hicks said. “But overall, I think we’ve been doing really good.”

Hicks finished tied for the White team lead with six total tackles. He was tied with redshirt freshman linebacker Easton Gibbs, who also happens to be his competition for a starting linebacker role.

“It’s always good to have competition because, at the end of the day, that makes us push even harder,” Hicks said. “People that maybe don’t have a certain competition behind them kind of get lackadaisical.”

Trick play fools everyone

Among the more entertaining moments of Saturday’s game was a trick play run by the Brown team that resulted in a throwback pass to senior tackle Alonzo Velazquez. The 6-foot-6, 313-pounder was tackled well behind the line of scrimmage.

“I thought (offensive coordinator Tim) Polasek did a good job other than the ‘Midnight Rider’ play where he threw it back to the offensive tackle. What a dumb, BS call that was,” Bohl said with a chuckle. “I’m going to fire that guy.”

It was a play that, while it lost six yards, caught everyone a bit off guard.

“We didn’t see that at all in practice. We knew a throwback was coming, we just didn’t know what type,” Hicks said. “I was surprised.”

Michael Katz covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at mkatz@wyosports.net or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @michaellkatz.

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