Wyoming Walk-on Hoyland Kicked Himself Onto Center Stage
A week ago, John Hoyland was barely on the radar of the Wyoming football team.
A true freshman walk-on from Broomfield, Co.., he had been out of the mainstream most of the fall, part of a lockdown on the freshmen, who all live on campus in a dorm where there was a COVID outbreak.
He wasn't even listed on the Cowboys two-deep depth chart for the season-opening game at Nevada.
Now, look at him.
He's a rock star.
He's not only on the Cowboys depth chart. He is listed as the No. 1 placekicker.
And he earned it.
When projected placekicker Luke Glasscock, a redshirt freshman, suffered a groin injury late in the week, Hoyland got the call in the season opener at Nevada. And he answered.
He wasn't merely 4-for-4 on field goal attempts (and 2-for-2 on extra points). He booted a 42-yard field with 23 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 31-31 and force overtime, and then hit on a 38-yard attempt in overtime that put the Cowboys up 34-31 in a game Nevada pulled out with a touchdown four plays later.
Most people might be, but Corey Heinz, the head coach at Legacy High School in Broomfield wasn't.
"His growth between his junior and senior year was amazing," said Heinz. "His senior year, (kickoffs) hitting the end zone were automatic. He had three kicks all year that didn't (make the end zone). One was a safety, one was a game in the snow and one was when he slipped."
And to think, the only interest he generated among college programs came from Division II Western Colorado University in Gunnsion, South Dakota Mines and Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D.
And then along came Wyoming, offering him a preferred-walk-on opportunity.
That was where Hoyland felt he fit best.
"I came to Laramie looking at the academics," said Hoyland, who plans to pursue a degree in engineering. "Academics are high on my priority list. I had offers from Division II schools but I felt this was a better fit for me."
"He is smart enough to understand the opportunity," said Heinz. "He didn't jump at the first offer. He evaluated the situation."
But even Hoyland had no way of knowing how quickly an opportunity would arise. He knew as a walk-on he wasn't at the top of the list. He, however, also knew that he had to put in that extra work to improve, and to show he belonged.
"I was a no one when I came in," he said. "Now, it's crazy. My goal coming in was to try to get as much confidence from the coaching staff that I could and make the most of any opportunity I could."
That opportunity to make a statement that couldn't be ignored came on Saturday when the final decision was made that Glassock wouldn't be available.
"I was ready," said Hoyland. "I had a sneaky suspicion (Glasscock wouldn't be able to play). I knew I would be ready to play."
That didn't surprise Heinz. He had a few coaches at his house to watch the game on television, and an ongoing group chat with others.
But, there Hoyland was, and the the folks at the Heinz home sharpened their focus.
"He is very quiet, but he has a lot of confidence in what he can do," said Heinz.
That's why Heinz and Co., had to smile when with 23 second left in regulation and the Cowboys down by three points, Nevada twice called time outs before Hoyland kicked the 42-yard game-tying field goal right between the posts.
"When they tried to ice him the chat blew up," said Heinz. "You don't rattle him. His mind is perfect for a kicker. We knew he was going to make the kick as soon as they called the time out.
"It was his first Division 1 game. He's a 17-year-old playing against 22-year-olds and they thoughy they were going to rattle him. Not a chance."
And that isn't just a happy high school coach talking. Heinz has a resume that includes three years as an assistant at Tulsa, as well as stints as an offensive coordinator at Missouri Southern, and Augustana. He also was the offensive coordinator at Highlands Ranch (Co.) High School.
"His dad is from England with an in depth soccer background," said Heinz. "John played club soccer through high school, but never on the school team. He wanted to be a football kicker."
His wish has come true.
"He had done some good things in practice," said Cowboys head coach Craig Bohl. "The challenge was because of COVID restrictions he was not able to be with us a significant amount of time so we had planned to start Luke."
But then Glassock was sidelined with the groin injury, and . . .
"What John did during the course of that game was pretty remarkable, for a freshman to come in and perform the way he did," said Bohl. "He had some great normal kicks, but those two kicks and the end of the game. ... Those were big pressurized kicks and he did a great job with both of them."
"I did not chose the fashion statement with his red shoe," said Bohl. "It didn't match (Wyoming's brown and gold), but the kicks went through, and that's what counts."
Truth be told, Hoyland didn't chose the red shoe, either.
"I asked the equipment manager to get me a pair of cleats, and he gave me a red shoe," said Hoyland. "I asked if he had a different color, and they did not so it was my cleat of choice."
Another game or two like last Saturday, Hoyland might find Adidas ready to make his shoes in any color he wants.