From a little-known walk-on to one of the most visible leaders of the University of Wyoming football team, Ayden Eberhardt’s impact on the Cowboys over the past six years has been immeasurable.

Last Saturday, though, he found himself playing a different role than usual.

The super senior receiver tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee Oct. 30 at San Jose State, ending his UW playing career. So, instead of preparing for what would’ve been his final Border War showdown with Colorado State, Eberhardt turned his focus to how he could help from the sidelines.

The Loveland, Colorado, product, who attended high school roughly 10 miles from CSU’s campus, had a perfect record against the Rams prior to last year’s setback in Fort Collins. His teammates ensured he’d go out a winner against the Pokes’ biggest rival.

UW dominated the Rams, rolling to a convincing 31-17 victory, and the War Memorial Stadium crowd emptied onto the field to celebrate the return of the Bronze Boot.

In the middle of the commotion was Eberhardt, planting a kiss on the storied trophy for one last time.

“It meant the world,” he said. “I would’ve given anything and everything to be out there and able to play, but it meant a lot. That’s always been a huge game for not only this school, but this entire state, all the alumni and anyone that’s ever played in a Cowboys uniform. To be able to go out there and take the boot back, especially after last year, it was awesome.”

When delivering the news that injuries had cut Eberhardt’s season short, UW coach Craig Bohl said he “cannot put into words what Ayden Eberhardt means to our program” – something that goes well beyond his status as the team’s second-leading receiver over the past two seasons.

The veteran leader has played a vital role in the development of UW’s young receivers, such as Isaiah Neyor, who has emerged as one of the Mountain West’s top playmakers throughout his sophomore season. Eberhardt continued to fulfill this role last week, providing constant encouragement and an extra set of eyes from the sidelines.

“Ayden’s a great player. Not only on the field, but off the field, as well,” Neyor said. “I’ve learned a lot from him over the past year. Being able to have him as a super senior and being able to learn from his experience, it’s great for our position group.

“He’s taught us a lot. ... Being able to have him on the sideline cheering us up, telling us what he sees from his perspective, it makes me a whole lot better. I’m thankful that he’s still with us now, even though he’s not on the field.”

Added redshirt freshman receiver Joshua Cobbs: “He makes it easy to respect him because of the way he comes out and works. You can tell he has a sincere love for the team and the game of football. It’s definitely a tough thing when somebody gets hurt and is out for the season, especially in his situation, but he’s at all the meetings, all the practices and is just doing what he can.”

It’s not just the receivers that have benefitted from Eberhardt’s presence, either.

“He’s been a rock on this team,” sophomore quarterback Levi Williams said. “He’s somebody that keeps everyone level-headed and motivated. When I was a freshman going into the bowl game for my first start, he just told me, ‘Trust your instincts, play how you know how to play, and let’s go win this thing.’ That’s how he’s been this whole time.”

Eberhardt has evolved into one of the most beloved UW football players in recent years – evidenced by the public outpouring of support on social media from fans, as well as countless current and former teammates. However, he wasn’t immediately a household name to Cowboy Nation.

An undersized high school quarterback from CSU’s backyard, Eberhardt arrived in Laramie as a walk-on attempting to make the switch to receiver.

Few could’ve predicted what would follow, but Eberhardt didn’t have doubts. He knew he just needed an opportunity, something he’ll forever be indebted to UW for.

“I owe anything and everything to Wyoming, the program, Coach Bohl and (receivers coach Mike) Grant for taking a chance on me out of high school,” Eberhardt said. “Not a lot of people would want a quarterback that was 160 (pounds) soaking wet, and try to turn them into a receiver.

“I owe everything to them, and to be able to give back has been awesome. I’ve been trying to leave a legacy, but also impact the program as a whole for the future, so hopefully I can do that.”

Senior linebacker Chad Muma has had the chance to watch Eberhardt’s evolution up close. The semifinalist Butkus and Chuck Bednarik awards says his teammate has left a lasting impression on the Pokes.

“He’s just one of those guys that everyone can look toward,” Muma said. “He brings that energy, and just motivates everyone to keep working. In the offseason, he was one of the people that was a leader for us in motivating guys to work out and pushing everyone. Then, during the season, he’s just someone that’s reliable and consistent.

“That’s been huge for our program, and he’s definitely left a mark on here. He’s done everything for us.”

Eberhardt will finish his time at UW with 50 receptions for 764 yards and two touchdowns, with an average of 39.3 yards per game over the past two seasons. What he’s meant to the program from a leadership standpoint, both in the locker room and on the field, cannot be quantified.

While Eberhardt might have already played his last game in the brown and gold, he vows his football career isn’t over just yet.

“That wasn’t the last time you saw me on the football field,” Eberhardt said. “I’ll be getting surgery here in a couple weeks, but I’ll be rehabbing and getting the knee right and ready to play.

“All I want is a chance at the next level, whatever that looks like, and that’s my plan. I’m not going to let an ACL and meniscus (tear) derail any plans or dreams I’ve ever had in my life.”

Josh Criswell covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at jcriswell@wyosports.net or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @criswell_sports.

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