Healthy season tops agenda for Valladay this fall
LARAMIE -- Xazavian Valladay has appeared in just 26 games as a running back for the Wyoming Cowboys.
During that time, the junior from Illinois has won two Mountain West rushing titles, been a first-team selection twice and was named the Offensive Player of the Game after gashing Georgia State to the tune of 295 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in the Arizona Bowl victory.
Are there still some dangling carrots for the Cowboy back? You bet.
But the main one might surprise you.
I was thinking to myself, I haven't been playing football and haven't been through 12 games without an injury," Valladay said. "So, that's something that is one of my biggest goals that I'm trying to focus on."
Last fall, Valladay was upended and sustained a knee injury at UNLV after snagging a Levi Williams pass early in the second quarter of a 45-14 rout of the Rebels. He didn't return in that one or the following week against New Mexico in Sin City.
In 2019, Valladay missed the third game of the season with an ankle ailment. He was forced into duty in Tulsa a week later when Trey Smith and Titus Swen were both lost with injuries. It didn't go well. Clearly hobbled, he carried the ball just five times for 18 yards.
Valladay amassed just 131 yards on 29 rushes over the next two weeks.
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Over the final seven games, including the bowl win over the Panthers, the 6-foot, 198-pound tailback became the Cowboys' workhorse, averaging nearly 27 carries per outing. That included a 37-rush performance in a 20-17 overtime loss at Boise State.
Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl admitted before the Border War against rival Colorado State that November, Valladay could hardly walk. He didn't practice until late in the week. His status for game time was not looking good.
After a pep talk from Bohl, Valladay decided to give it a go.
All he did that frigid night inside War Memorial Stadium was carry the ball 27 times for 154 yards.
"You know, what can I do the state better and stay longer on the field and be more durable back instead of leaning more toward being injury prone? So, that's just something I've always thought about," he said.
Despite the setbacks, Valladay has rushed for 2,211 yards in his three-year tenure in Laramie. That places him eighth on the school's all-time rushing list ahead of names like Derek Armah, Kevin Lowe, Walt Goffigan and Alvester Alexander. Valladay is just 67 yards behind Gerald Abraham.
Theoretically, Valladay still has two full seasons left at UW. With the NCAA ruling that granted all players an extra year of eligibility, he is still classified as a junior.
Brian Hill's record of 4,287 rushing yards could be in danger.
For now, the humble, soft-spoken running back isn't worried about that.
"I was kind of looking at just doing everything that I've been doing these past couple years," he said. "Spending more time on the little things as far as like being in the training room more and treating my body because, you know, the moneymakers are my legs. If I don't take care of my legs, I'm not going nowhere."
Something that can help that, Valladay said, is having a healthy stable of backs behind him like Smith, Swen, Dawaiian McNeely and others. Also, having Sean Chambers back under center can take that pressure off, too.
This run-heavy attack will likely feature Valladay, but the days of racking up nearly 40 carries a game should be in the rear-view mirror.
"We have like six, seven guys who can do the same thing I can do," Valladay said. "So, it makes it a little bit easier knowing that if I go down or Trey goes down or somebody else goes down, we have the next guy up who can dominate the run game just like we all can."
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