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Graney: Small-town linebacker meets big-time Super Bowl

LOS ANGELES — Casper is a town of around 60,000 in central Wyoming and sits at over 5,000 feet of elevation. There are waterfalls and ski slopes. The wind at times whips something fierce.

And on Sunday, one of its own will play a major role in Super Bowl LVI.

UNLV football fans — and those of all Mountain West members — will certainly remember the name. Logan Wilson was a beast across the league.

He is now a second-year middle linebacker for the Bengals — who meet the Rams in the season’s final game Sunday at SoFi Stadium — and leads Cincinnati in tackles.

Can’t sugarcoat it. The Bengals were terrible last season at 4-11-1. That was after going 2-14 in 2019. Their defense was more sieve than a bad college-hockey goalie.

So they rebuilt and retooled and trusted a former high school punter who still wears a Wyoming state flag headband during games to lead the way. Whose nickname in college was Governor.

A guy who was athletic enough to be an all-state prep selection at four positions: Wide receiver, cornerback, kicker and punter.

Not linebacker?

Oh, it’s a story.

Bohl’s suggestion

Wilson was just 185 pounds when arriving in Laramie, but Cowboys coach Craig Bohl saw something other than a safety. He first approached Wilson about playing the Sam (strong side) linebacker following a redshirt season.

“He looked at me and said, ‘What’s Sam?” Bohl remembered.

Wilson is from a wrestling family and played soccer as a boy. But his was a frame that Bohl believed could grow into something more than slight. The former conference Freshman of the Year now stands 6-foot-2, 241 pounds.

It would have been something had he and former Wyoming teammate, Bills quarterback Josh Allen, met in the AFC championship game. Wasn’t to be. One team (Buffalo) couldn’t eliminate the Chiefs. Another (Cincinnati) did.

“We were hoping for Josh and Logan, for sure,” Bohl said. “If there is credit to be given for (Wilson’s success), I’ll take it. I’m not bashful. But being competitive is in his DNA. I don’t think he ever knew how good he could be. Instinctive. Wicked smart. Down to earth. Proud to be from Wyoming. The rest is history.”

Steve Harshman recalls even further back. The head coach at Natrona County High in Casper has known Wilson since the player was in the third grade.

Eventually, a group of boys who are still close today — including Harshman’s son, Josh, who also played at Wyoming — began working out with the high school varsity team.

Running. Lifting. Cone drills. Just your average middle-schoolers jumping into the fray much earlier than expected.

“I once had 19 of them at my house for sleep-overs,” Harshman said. “Logan was a true-blue, hard-working kid and all that stuff. It’s amazing he’s in the Super Bowl. It probably feels like winning the lottery — doesn’t happen often and you hardly ever know someone who hit it.

“The thing about Logan is, he has always gotten better. High school. College. Now the NFL.”

The Bengals needed him to. They added pieces defensively over the last two years and suddenly began making the types of plays that win postseason games. Like when Wilson intercepted Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill with 28 seconds remaining in the Divisional Round.

It set up Evan McPherson’s game-winning field goal for a 19-16 win.

And now, Casper’s own is in the Super Bowl.

Glued to TV

“It’s crazy and kind of surreal to think about,” Wilson said. “My motivation each morning is to prove my family and friends who always believed in me were right. I come from a small town in Wyoming and spend every second wanting to go out and prove it for everything they have done for me.”

Small-town kid meets one of the biggest of all sporting events.

Heck. All of Casper just might shut down Sunday.

“I’ll be glued to the TV,” Bohl said, “just like a half a million other people throughout the entire state of Wyoming.”

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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