Colby Kirkegaard’s story needs an ending.
Wyoming’s redshirt senior quarterback understands that some feel capable of writing it for him. They saw one collegiate start nearly two years ago, and the final score was burned into their subconscious like a permanent, searing brand.
Cal Poly 24, Wyoming 22.
It was the most disappointing day in a particularly disappointing season, in which the Cowboys followed eight wins and a bowl berth with eight losses, including a defeat at the hands of an FCS opponent at home.
Kirkegaard’s stat line in that, his one and only start at Wyoming, is an underwhelming one: 15-23, 123 passing yards, zero touchdowns, one interception.
Twenty-one games and 23 months later, Kirkegaard is preparing for his second career start in Wyoming’s season opener against Montana. And even now, the memory hovers over him like a storm cloud.
And, you know what? It shouldn’t.
The player who started and lost that game is a different one than current edition. The circumstances that surround him are dramatically, conclusively dissimilar.
Prior to the Cal Poly game, Kirkegaard was thrust into action following a head injury to starter Brett Smith the week before. He was allowed a week’s worth of starter reps, a far cry from the months afforded to a proven starter.
Essentially, Kirkegaard was handed a sword and thrown into battle without being adequately trained to use it.
Now, practice is drastically different.
“It’s about as opposite as it could get, with this whole double rep thing,” Kirkegaard said. “It’s funny, me and Tom [Thornton] were laughing about this yesterday. I don’t know specifically how many reps, but we must have gotten under 20 total in [fall] camp last year.”
Through two weeks of fall camp this season, Kirkegaard is receiving at least 60 to 70 reps every day.
And what about the playbook? With an unproven quarterback standing in for the shining star, head coach Dave Christensen and offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon shrunk the offensive game plan to a vanilla pamphlet, more or less, for the Cal Poly loss two seasons ago.
This was a dilapidated shell of the offense Smith ran with such manic, furious excitement. Given his resources, Kirkegaard’s ceiling wasn’t much higher than the floor.
Kirkegaard, of course, is not Smith. He’s not a threat to break contain and scamper 80 yards into the end zone, and he won’t be zigging and zagging around tacklers in a collapsing pocket before heaving the ball 30 yards downfield.
Instead, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback is a smart, assignment-sound decision maker. He’ll look off a safety and scan through progressions, diligently reading the field.
In other words, he’s a much better fit for Brent Vigen’s pro-style offense than Christensen’s spread attack.
With only one year of eligibility remaining and a strong possibility that Smith and back-up Jason Thompson would return in 2014, Kirkegaard entertained the possibility last year of transferring for his final season. And if he had done so, the offense he would have looked for, Kirkegaard said, would have been identical to this one.
Kirkegaard is no stranger to pro-style sets. He worked in similar packages at Phoenix Community College in 2010, when he threw for 1,695 yards and 12 touchdowns.
So, let’s add this up. The current version of Colby Kirkegaard is better prepared than the 2012 demo, situated in a better scheme, has better chemistry with his receivers and possesses the trust and respect of his teammates and coaches.
With all that said, does it make any sense to condemn him because of one start nearly two years ago?
Granted, nobody is saying Kirkegaard will be one of the Mountain West’s top quarterbacks, and he certainly won’t make Wyoming football fans forget about Smith. But one game does not define him, either. He deserves and has earned another chance to start.
We’ve all been warned not to judge a book by its cover. But in Kirkegaard’s case, we’ve only read a fraction of the cover. He has appeared in seven games, usually in mop-up duty, and never when he was really, truly molded as the man for the job. The sample size is as diluted as it is microscopic.
And yet, the pain lingers. Cal Poly 24, Wyoming 22.
Kirkegaard knows there are some that believe his ending will be a disastrous one.
But those aren’t the people he’s playing for.
“That definitely wasn’t the way I wanted to go out, after that one game,” he said. “I’ve definitely thought about that game a lot, and it’s been part of the drive of getting to today. I said, ‘That’s not how it’s going to end. That’s not how I’m going to close this chapter of my life. That’s not going to be the last time I’m going to play.’
“Personally, I wanted to prove to myself that I could get to this point. I wasn’t so much concerned with the people outside of the locker room.”