One Last Time: Maluia Took Bohl at His Word, and Cowboys Made Good on Promise
This is the 5th in a series of articles on Cowboy seniors who will make their final appearance in Brown & Gold on New Years Eve in the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl.
TUCSON -- Caash Maluia can remember that first day Wyoming football coach Craig Bohl came to Maluia's home in Compton, Ca., back in the final days of 2016.
"He came to the house after that losing season," Maluia said in reference to the 2-10 Cowboys record in 2016, Bohl's second year in Wyoming. "He told me, `We're going to win. You want to be part of it?'"
And four seasons later, Maluia is glad to say, Bohl was correct, and he is happy that he agreed to "be part of it."
"That first year we got to the Mountain West title game and lost to San Diego State," he said. "That is still a bad taste in my mouth."
Wyoming hasn't been back to the title game since, but Maluia will play his final game in the Brown and Gold when the Cowboys take on Georgia State in the Arizona Bowl on New Years Eve, and he will leave Wyoming having appeared in three bowls in four seasons and never once did the Cowboys have a losing record.
Now, most every coach makes promises of success to young recruits. Either the school has a proven track record, or the coach talks about building the program into a winner.
With Wyoming, the difference was there was a credibility to the things Bohl and his coaching staff said in the recruitment process. Growing up in Compton, Maluia learned at a young age the value of being able to trust people. It's a city that was victimized long before Maluia was born by the Watts Riots of 1965.
"There was a loyalty that Wyoming showed," said Maluia, a 6-foot, 248-pound linebacker. "Coaches would come to me and say they were going to watch my games. Those coaches never showed up. But the Wyoming coaches did.
"Once I talked to (assistant) coach (John) Richardson I knew this team was loyal program. that I could trust whatever they say," said Maluia. "When the coaches talked to you it was not just football. It was, `How are you doing schoolwise. How is your family doing? How was I doing, personally.
"Coach Richardson kept in touch, and coach (A.J.) Cooper and coach Bohl came to my house. Coach showed me right then Wyoming was about more than football."
And that loyalty grew when he put on a Cowboys' uniform. Maluia was in the class that started the actual success on the field for the Cowboys, but Maluia is quick to point to the players who were a part of the program when he arrived as putting the foundation in place.
"Guys like Lucas Wacha, D.J. May, Josh Allen, they left a great message and a great mentality," said Maluia. "They preached we can be better than good. We can be great. Now, we want to pass that attitude down to the younger players."
And the results have been obvious on the field and in the recognition from others. Eight Cowboys were among players honored in post-season recognition by the Mountain West.
Running back Xazavian Valladay, linebacker Logan Harris and defensive back Alijah Halliburton were first-team All-MW. Punter returner Austin Conway and offensive lineman Keegan Cryder were second-team selections. Maluia, defensive back Tyler Hall and offensive lineman Logan Harris were honorable mentions.
The final word on the career of Maluia and the other Cowboy seniors will come on Tuesday afternoon, when the that group takes the field at Arizona Stadium, wearing the Brown and Gold for the last time.
"It means a lot," he said, "and not just for us. It means a lot to the school and it means a lot for our fans. They are a part of what is happening with the program. They are behind us. It is something special about being in Wyoming."