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University of Wyoming redshirt junior running back Xazavian Valladay carries the ball while being hit by Boise State defensive end Casey Kline during the first quarter of the Cowboys’ 17-9 loss to Boise State on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.

LARAMIE — While the actual season might not have gone the way the University of Wyoming hoped, the 2021 offseason is off to a picture perfect start.

Redshirt junior running back Xazavian Valladay, a first team All-Mountain West selection each of the last two seasons, will be returning for the 2021 season, a UW spokesperson told WyoSports Tuesday.

The deadline for underclassmen to enter their names into the NFL Draft was Monday. No Cowboys opted to declare for the draft, the spokesperson said.

In addition to Valladay, two other first team All-Mountain West selections on the Cowboys were eligible to enter the draft: redshirt junior center Keegan Cryder and junior linebacker Chad Muma. Cryder is a three-year starter at center while Muma, in his first year as a full-time starter, led the conference in tackles per game (11.8). Both were also team captains for the Pokes, who finished the season 2-4.

UW will return at least 18 starters listed atop last season’s final depth chart.

Despite missing 1.5 games with a knee injury, Valladay finished third in the Mountain West in rushing yards per game in the abbreviated season, running for 550 yards and four touchdowns in five games. He led the conference in rushing in 2019 with 1,265 yards.

Valladay and running back Trey Smith, who last week told WyoSports he too would be returning for an additional season, will comprise one of the top backfields in college football next fall. Smith, a Louisville transfer who will be playing his seventh season of college football and third in Laramie, ran for 488 yards and five touchdowns in 2020 in six games.

All players, including seniors like Smith, were granted an additional season of eligibility regardless of how many games a team played in 2020 due to uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic. UW was scheduled to play eight games but only played six due to coronavirus issues within the Air Force and Utah State programs.

Two other seniors have confirmed they will return in 2021: starting defensive end Garrett Crall and starting wide receiver Ayden Eberhardt. Crall, also a team captain, played in just three games last season due to offseason foot surgery and COVID-19 protocols. He finished with 21 total tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.

Eberhardt led all UW receivers with 16 receptions in 2020.

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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