Not much spotlight for excelling Wyoming safety
LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — Junior safety Andrew Wingard has more or less been the go-to image of Wyoming’s defense the past few years. His flowing blond locks are a visible trademark, his outspoken nature has provided bulletin board material for at least one Mountain West rival, and his gaudy tackling numbers have earned him recognition since his freshman season.
But fellow junior safety Marcus Epps, quietly, has been beside him the whole time.
Like Wingard, Epps has been a starting safety for Wyoming since 2015. The team has voted him a captain for the past two seasons, a significant accomplishment, considering he first came to Wyoming as a walk-on. But while Wingard is a two-time all-conference player, with the title of preseason Mountain West defensive player of the year to his name, Epps was not even listed on the all-conference ballot this year.
“It was two years in a row I think he got completely screwed,” Wingard said. “But from where he’s come from, he’s kind of used to being an underdog and stuff like that. He was a walk-on, proved himself here.
“Obviously, the Mountain West hasn’t given him his due, but that’s just going to motivate him even more.”
While Wingard earned freshman all-America honors in 2015, Epps also started 11 games as a freshman that season, recording 83 tackles to Wingard’s 122. Epps had two interceptions and six passes defended as a freshman, both of which topped his cohort’s totals. As a sophomore, Epps racked up 111 tackles with three interceptions, a pick-6 and three fumble recoveries. Wingard had 131 tackles and two picks, without a touchdown or a fumble recovery.
This season, Epps has three interceptions, 65 tackles and seven passes defended. Wingard has 111 tackles, four interceptions and seven passes defended with a bowl game to play.
“I don’t try to compare myself to Dewey,” Epps told the Casper Star-Tribune. “We’re on the same team, and I want us both to get all the accomplishments. But, I mean, it’s a little disappointing. I feel like for the past two years now I’ve played at a level where I deserve to be all-conference and didn’t get it.
“But I mean, it’s not everything to me. Being overlooked isn’t something that’s new to me, so I’m just going to continue to do what I always do and work and then just shift my focus to bringing home the bowl championship.”
Other than interceptions per game, where he ranks fifth, Epps’ numbers don’t sit atop the Mountain West’s defensive leaderboards. But his play may have been more impressive than ever this season, given that Wyoming’s pass defense ranks fifth in the country in yards allowed per game. Epps, who moved from strong to free safety this season, has been a key part of that unit.
“It’s been fun to be back there in coverage a little more,” Epps said. “I think we’ve done a really good job, too, in pass defense this year.”
The position flip also helps account for Epps’ decreased tackling numbers.
“I was the strong safety (this year), so I’m the one who’s always down in the box and stuff like that,” Wingard said. “But he still had 60 or so tackles, three interceptions and some other stuff. I looked at the guys who were voted all-conference, and he’s right up there. Especially last year, too. I mean, he had 100-and-some tackles last year, three picks last year as well.
“So, I don’t really know what else to say other than he just really does get overlooked, but he’s still a great player, and he uses that as motivation.”
Former Wyoming linebackers Lucas Wacha and Mark Nzeocha were vocal on Twitter about Epps deserving an all-conference nod, as was current linebacker Ben Wisdorf. Epps said he has heard the same from family and friends.
“I mean, you always get that,” he said. “But they know the road I’ve taken to get here, and they always just tell me the same thing, just to keep working and things like that. So all those things will come if you continue to work and do the right things.”
While Epps has one more season to try to earn the same name recognition as Wingard, his teammates know his worth already.
It’s Epps, after all, who they have twice voted their captain.
“He’s one of the best not only dudes I’ve ever met but one of the best players I’ve had a chance to play with,” Wingard said. “I love him like a brother, and I know this is just going to motivate him to be so much better and hopefully get the recognition he deserves.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com