‘This is his school’
LAS VEGAS, Nev., -- Chad Muma patiently waited for his turn.
During his first two years on campus, a future NFL linebacker was holding down the fort in the middle of the Cowboys' defense. With his spot filled, Muma focused on special teams duties and the occasional defensive snap he would get when Logan Wilson needed a blow.
The year 2020 was circled on the calendar.
That's when Wilson would be playing his first season with the Cincinnati Bengals and Muma would finally slide into the starting spot at middle linebacker.
The worldwide pandemic wreaked havoc all over the globe. The Cowboys' locker room was no exception. The Mountain West canceled the season last August. Two months later, an abbreviated six-game schedule was announced by the conference.
Muma had a decision to make -- Would he play or would he join six of his teammates in opting out for the season?
That might seem like a crazy question. Muma is a team captain. He's waited for this opportunity since the day he arrived on campus. Why on earth would he even consider not playing?
"I mean, it was scary at first, just because they say COVID and people with diabetes, it would affect you a little bit more and it was more serious," Muma said during the annual Mountain West Media Days in Las Vegas.
Craig Bohl said Muma did extensive research before the season began. With a compromised immune system, Wyoming's head coach also wondered if it would be possible -- or worth it -- to take the risk.
Then he thought of a couple of stories about Josh Allen and the guy Muma was replacing in the lineup.
"Josh Allen chose to play in the (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2017). Everybody in the world told him not to play," Bohl said referring to his star quarterback playing with a shoulder injury in the 37-14 win over Central Michigan. "He played in that game because he cared about our team. I asked Logan Wilson when we were getting ready for the (Arizona Bowl in 2019), 'have you thought about maybe not playing in this game?' 'Why would I do that?'
"I think Chad fits that mold and cares deeply about this program."
Muma said he felt confident that his youth and fitness level would fight off the virus if it came knocking.
"I didn't give it a thought," Muma said with a smile when the words opt out came up. "Especially with us testing every week and the guidelines that we had last year, I was never concerned about it. I was also able to get in early for the vaccine, so that worked out."
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Muma played in all six games for the Cowboys, registering 71 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
That tackle number was good enough for third in the nation, three behind Akron's Bubba Arslanian and 40 behind Grant Morgan of Arkansas. The Razorbacks played three more games. Plus, Muma was ejected from a Week-5 contest against New Mexico for targeting and missed the entire second half.
Still he was an All-Mountain West first-team selection. The league's media voted him to retain that spot in 2021, too. Muma is also on the Butkus and Bednarik Award Watch Lists this fall.
"Chad is a great player," Colorado State tight end Trey McBride said. "... He's a Colorado guy, so I'm sure he has some fuel when he plays against us. He goes a little harder. I want to play against the best."
How did the success come this soon?
Bohl said that answer is simple -- "Football IQ."
"It's off the charts," he said. "... I think he's very decisive. We've had a lot of linebackers playing in the NFL, even with the last school I was at, but he may be as good as far as when he sees something, he shoots his guns. A great majority of the time, he makes great decisions."
Thanks to mentoring from his father, Ty Muma, and his grandfather, Rick Desmarais, who both played for the Cowboys, Muma was quick to pick up the nuances of Bohl's defense. Even as a true freshman, Muma, who is also majoring in mechanical engineering, recalls a visit to the office of then-defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton.
"He sat me in his room for I think two hours," Muma laughed. "I was supposed to be there for like 30 minutes. He just went through the whole defense, so I definitely caught on pretty early."
Muma also had the tutelage of fellow linebackers like veterans Wilson, Cassh Maluia and Ben Wisdorf.
"It was great learning from those guys," he said. "The level they were able to play at they kind of got me to play like that. Whether it was in the film room or on the field, If I ever had questions, I could always go ask them."
The football acumen is unquestionable, but would the diagnosis Muma received at 13 rear its ugly head at the worst moment?
Not so far.
Muma's daily diabetes ritual is now second nature.
He watches what he eats, counts every single carb and rarely has to administer shots the old school way. Pumps and other technology has helped on that front. Still, it's no small task to navigate insulin and blood sugar levels all day, every day.
Take practice for example.
Muma has to prick his finger before he takes the field, during special teams sessions and again after he takes his pads off in the locker room. Same goes for game day. If his levels fluctuate drastically, Muma said his body will suffer in a number of ways.
"If my numbers go too high, I get super thirsty. I get a headache and my body starts to cramp up a little bit. Basically, it feels like your whole body would cramp," he said. "If I go too low, I get shaky, dizzy and feel super weak. Also, I can go into a seizure."
Some of those side effects kicked in after the Cowboys first game last October in Reno when his pump got ripped off and disappeared on the field.
"I don't know what happened to it," Muma said shaking his head and smiling. "So I was going a couple of weeks without it, which was huge for me. My blood sugar was super high going onto the plane. I started cramping up. It was bad."
Muma will show up for fall camp Friday weighing in at 242, 15 pounds heavier than a season ago. Putting on muscle, yeah, diabetes plays a part in that, too. High-carb drinks, though necessary, are quickly extinguished with large amounts of insulin.
Muma has learned to live -- and thrive -- with this disease. His lone focus is on bringing an outright conference title back to Laramie for the first time since 1988.
With all 11 starters returning on the defensive side of the ball and a bevy of youngsters who got their feet wet in a mostly forgettable 2020 campaign, Muma said confidence is littered throughout the roster. Having 95% of the roster back and starting quarterback, Sean Chambers, doesn't hurt, either.
There's something special about this squad.
"It's definitely different," Muma said. "It's something that we think we can all achieve. I don't think anybody wants less from what our season could be this year. I think we're all going into it super high."
Bohl also feels the difference. It doesn't come in the form of outward expressions though. It's been shown in rooms -- the weight room, the film room and the training room.
Muma is one who helps set that daily tone.
"This is his school," Bohl said. "He's invested emotionally. He's a program guy."