Don’t mistake Azizi Hearn’s playfulness as a weakness
LARAMIE -- Azizi Hearn might be the biggest trash talker on the Wyoming roster.
Charles Hicks agrees. So does Ayden Eberhardt and fellow cornerback CJ Coldon.
"It's funny to see, especially with some of the younger kids," Eberhardt said. "First of all, they don't know what to say back. Then, second of all, they're like, 'wait, what is the play?' He's pretty dang good at that."
It's safe to say former Colorado State wide receiver, Warren Jackson, believes Hearn is a pest, too.
In late November back in 2019, the Rams were trailing 7-0 early in the second quarter and lining up for a first and goal from the Cowboys' 1-yard line. CSU quarterback Patrick O'Brien took the snap and handed it to Jaylen Thomas who was immediately stuffed at the line of scrimmage. In fact, he lost a yard on the play.
Out on the perimeter, Hearn and Jackson were jawing at each other in the end zone. Sub-zero temperatures left the two standing in a cloud of their own breath.
Then, a yellow hanky landed on the turf.
It was a personal foul penalty. And it didn't take long to see who it was against.
Jackson threw his arms in the air and leapt up and down as he explained himself to the closest guy in stripes. He was irate. His own teammates attempted to settle him down before the damage got worse. It wasn't working. The Rams offense slowly moved in unison back to the 17-yard line.
What did Hearn say to get Jackson so fired up?
"That was great for us," Hearn said with a smile. "But honestly, I don't remember. I just know when I get into it, I get to saying all kinds of stuff ... I was just playing my game. Maybe he was weak-minded, who knows? It was easy to get in his head.
"... He could've been irritated because he was cold. I don't know. It's not for me to worry about. It helped us though."
Is there any doubt now who has the biggest mouth on the Cowboys' defense?
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Five plays later, Jackson got his revenge. He snagged a 4-yard scoring strike in the corner of the end zone to tie up the score. There was no celebrating though.
Maybe he was still mad? Maybe he realized losing his cool could've cost his team points and he got away with one?
Wyoming went on to win that game, 17-7. The Cowboys' secondary gave up just 217 yards through the air that night to one of the top passing teams in not only the conference, but the nation.
That has become a common theme for this group.
Aside from a 420-yard passing performance off the right arm of Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, Carson Strong, in last season's opener in Reno, Wyoming's secondary allowed just over 200 yards per game, ranking it 29th in the nation in that category.
In the final five games last fall, Cowboys' opponents threw for more than 200 yards just once. They were held to 158 yards or less three times. New Mexico didn't eclipse the 100-yard mark at all and only four touchdowns were thrown against this UW secondary.
Hearn is a major reason for that.
The University of Arizona transfer has been as steady as they come on the outside, playing in every game since arriving on campus before the 2019 campaign. In that time frame, Hearn has tallied 47 tackles and eight pass breakups.
There's a goose egg in one of those categories though: interceptions.
At the Cowboys first practice of the fall Friday morning, Hearn picked off Sean Chambers twice. Why hasn't that happened in a game yet? Has to be driving Hearn nuts, right?
"It's not," he said. "As much as you think it is, it's not."
The junior said he isn't even putting an emphasis on snagging that elusive first collegiate interception.
"My mentality is just doing my job to the best of my ability and that will come," he said. "... If I make sure I prepare and do whatever I can do for the team at the best of my ability that will happen. When it's time, it will. When you think about it, it won't come. I just have to go play."
Wyoming wide receiver Isaiah Neyor is confident that first pick is coming, too. The redshirt freshman said Hearn, along with Coldon, make up the most talented defensive backs he's faced so far in the college game. While Coldon is "quick and patient," Neyor said Hearn brings a different look each day in practice.
"Azizi is more physical and fast," Neyor said. "... I get the best of both worlds. I'm happy to have them on our team. They get me better, I get them better."
The Oceanside, California product likes to joke, and that grin seems permanently etched into his face. His attitude may be playful and fun, but make no mistake, he's serious about the business at hand. Though he had a good morning and fooled Chambers twice, he still wants to know what an offense sees as potential areas to exploit.
So, naturally, he asks his quarterback.
"I like to trash talk and stuff, but at the end of the day they'll take me serious," he said. "I ask, 'what is the offense thinking on this? What are you telling the receivers to do?' You give me game knowledge from the offensive perspective and I give him the same from the defense, too."
Like most of his teammates, Hearn isn't concerned with individual accolades or stats. The goal is a shared one.
"Myself, and our team, wants to make a statement this year," he said, eluding to a Mountain West championship. "We're preparing and using every day to get there. We're excited. You're going to enjoy it."