‘Vanilla Gorilla’ is Locking Up Right Tackle Spot in Laramie
LARAMIE -- A nickname like the "Vanilla Gorilla" is earned.
Standing 6-foot-5 doesn't hurt. Neither does weighing in at more than 300 pounds. It's moves like this, however, that truly cement such a perfect moniker:
Caden Barnett is the man cutting the rug above.
"I dance pretty good for a big boy," the Justin, Texas, native joked.
When he's not taking one for the team and winning dance competitions like the one he nailed during last December's Arizona Bowl festivities in Tucson, he's pushing the pile and protecting quarterbacks.
The sophomore appeared in 12 games for the Cowboys last fall. He even made a start, filling in for veteran Frank Crum at the right tackle spot. That came during a critical meeting with Air Force. That night inside War Memorial Stadium, Barnett and Co. led Wyoming to an improbable 17-14 victory.
They did it by outrushing the Falcons, 180-to-171. They did it by holding onto the ball longer, 30:34-to-29:26.
Those things don't happen, especially against that program.
"I wasn't a letdown at right tackle," said Crum, who watched from the sideline that September evening. "I think Caden could've started for us last year. He was probably ready for that. So, I think him coming in at right tackle this year, there will not be a letdown at the book ends on this offensive line."
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Barnett, a three-star prospect from Northwest High School, who was also recruited by UConn and Louisiana-Monroe, along with Mountain West foes Colorado State and Air Force, is indeed penciled in on the right side of this line. Crum has moved to the left.
There's good reason for that, too.
"He's coachable," Wyoming's offensive line coach Joe Tripodi said of Barnett. "He wants to be good. You know, he's a tough young man and he's fun to coach. He's not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination, but he's competing and he's trying to just get a little bit better each day. That's what you have to do at the offensive line position.
"I can't say enough about how tough of a kid he is. He's driven."
Nofoafia Tulafono, the Cowboys' starting center, agrees, adding Barnett's maturity level has risen during the offseason.
"That's what I really love about him," Tulafono said. "We're just in constant communication. We motivate and discipline each other."
Barnett is anything but the Vanilla Gorilla on this day. He's reserved. His answers, brief.
"I'm honestly not very quiet," he said, accompanied by a devious grin. "I've just been trying to speak less and listen more."
According to Crum and Tulafono, Barnett's humor is legendary. The video above proves that. Rolling the gut, flailing the arms and, of course, busting out the "The Worm," drew plenty of laughs, but the fact he had the courage to even do it is what impresses his teammates and coaches most.
"The ability to let loose and not really care what anybody thinks, I applaud him for that," Crum said.
Tulafono joked he would never actually admit to Barnett his gyrating was good, he was also complimentary of the gesture.
"He stepped up for the team," he said with a laugh. "He was clutch."
Barnett jumped offside on the opening play of practice earlier in the morning. Nerves, he said, led to the flinch. Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said he started the drill with a live defense. He said it's a tactic to get everyone's "mind right."
"You know, he's a really intense guy," Bohl added. "He practices really hard. Football is important to him and he continues to improve."
Bohl couldn't deny it. Barnett's dance in the desert made an impression on him, too.
"He's the Vanilla Gorilla," he said. "It was impressive."
University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players
- University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players