Chad Muma can’t lie: 2020 served as a confidence booster
LARAMIE -- In 2018, Chad Muma finished with just two tackles. One assisted and one solo.
Those both came on special teams.
During his sophomore season, that number of takedowns increased to 51 over a 12-game regular-season slate and a victory in the Arizona Bowl. Muma also added a sack and batted down a pass as the reserve linebacker saw more extended playing time.
Those last two words in that sentence above, that wasn't easy to come by. Not when you are sitting behind one of the most decorated linebackers in program history.
The spotlight was indeed on All-American Logan Wilson, but quietly Muma was starting to showcase what life after No. 30 would be like.
Last fall, as COVID-19 swept the globe and uncertainty was the lone certainty, Wyoming embarked on an abbreviated six-game schedule. To make the task at hand even more dubious, the Cowboys were replacing both linebackers, who are now on NFL rosters, and were doing that under a rookie position coach, Aaron Bohl, and a first-year defensive coordinator, Jay Sawvel.
What could go wrong?
It took just four quarters and overtime to prove that everything was going to be just fine.
In that opener against Nevada, Muma, a newly named team captain, finished with a game-high 14 tackles, 10 of the solo variety. He also forced a fumble as Wyoming battled back from a 28-6 third-quarter deficit in Reno.
Over the following four games and two quarters -- Muma was ejected from the New Mexico game late in the second quarter for a targeting call -- the Lone Tree, Colo., product amassed 57 more tackles, three sacks and recovered a fumble. When the dust settled, Muma was the third-leading tackler in the nation -- and No. 1 in the Mountain West -- with 71. His 33 solo tackles landed him in the 16th spot in the NCAA.
Muma was named First Team All-Mountain West at season's end.
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Maybe that's why Tuesday afternoon after the Pokes concluded their first practice of the spring, he sat in front of the media with a smile glued across his face?
You might have been concerned about Muma stepping in as a starter for a guy who racked up 409 career tackles in Laramie, he wasn't.
"It probably boosted a little bit, I'm not going to lie," Muma said about his confidence level increasing during the 2020 campaign. "But for me, personally, It's kind of just what I expected to do. So really, I mean, it boosted. I mean, at the end of the day, it's what I expected myself to do."
Think about this, if Wyoming had played a full 12-game schedule and Muma kept on the current pace he was on, he would've finished with a possible 142-tackle season. That would've put him in some rarified air with the likes of the program's all-time tackle leader Galand Thaxton, who still holds the record for takedowns in a single season with 158. Former safety John Salley landed 143 in 1982. Chris Prosinski had 140 in 2009.
So, where can Muma improve from here? He has some ideas.
"I think I can improve my coverage skills, dropping back on passes and getting to the right landmarks," he said. "And then definitely going forward, really studying offenses and developing, knowing like, hey, to climb up here, just doing some film study to help me out on just some little things like open-field tackling and getting more powerful, driving guys back."
Ben Wisdorf, a fellow linebacker who served as a back-up with Muma in 2019, is not surprised at the ascension of No. 48. He saw the stuff we didn't: film study, weight training and practice.
"He's pretty impressive," Wisdorf said. "He's more than capable of making all the right checks. He identifies plays better than the next guy. He'll play a little faster.
"He's a rock. You should see him lift. It's insane. His work ethic is impressive."
Muma was asked if the NFL is on his radar, especially with Wilson hanging around the High Altitude Performance Center this offseason?
Muma said he definitely asked his former UW running mate and current Cincinnati Bengals linebacker a question or two in regards to the next level, but added his focus is on winning in Laramie, especially coming off a disappointing 2-4 campaign.
Not to mention Muma is classified as a junior again thanks to an NCAA ruling that granted all players and extra year of eligibility.
He has unfinished business to attend to.
"We're all hungry right now," he said. "We are looking forward, because last season we under performed. I think, coming into this season, especially in spring ball, we're all hungry to get better and improve every single day."