Wyoming vs. Iowa game has area Cowboys interested

Mike Dirks
Pete Temple
Express Sports Editor

     When the University of Wyoming football team takes on Iowa in the Hawkeyes’ season opener Saturday, Sept. 2 in Kinnick Stadium, it will excite Hawkeye fans all over Eastern Iowa.

     It will also be significant to a series of former Monticello High School athletes who went on to compete at Wyoming.

     “It does mean a lot,” said Mike Dirks, who graduated from Wyoming in 1967.

     Dirks was an All-American defensive tackle who co-captained Wyoming’s Western Athletic Conference (WAC)-championship team that finished fifth in the nation.

     That team played in the 1968 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, losing 20-13 to Louisiana State University.

     Dirks was just one of several Monticello athletes who wound up playing for the Cowboys.

     “At one time we had six of us kids from Monticello playing there,” said Rick Westhoff, who with his brother Gordie played baseball for Wyoming.

     Westhoff said the Monticello-Wyoming connection started when Maynard Lang, who played basketball for Monticello in the mid-1950s, was recruited by Wyoming coach Bill Strannigan, who was a Wyoming All-American. Strannigan coached at Iowa State and later returned to Laramie, Wyo. to coach the Cowboys.

     “That was the first one,” Westhoff said of Lang. “And then Ronnie Long was the second one. He was at Iowa as a freshman, and transferred to Wyoming. Ronnie was All-State in everything in Monticello, and maybe as good an athlete as we’ve ever had here.”

     Ron Long’s example caught on.

     “I think it just started snowballing,” Westhoff said. “Ron Long was a pretty well-known athlete. When he got out there, I think everybody just kind of took a look at, ‘this must be some kind of big-time place.’

     “Wyoming had great athletic facilities, because their financial situation was so good. It was a chance to play Division I athletics at a pretty good level. Everybody loved it. And the people of Laramie were so good to their athletes.”

     Monticello businessman Dick Long, Ron’s father, sent Ron back to recruit more Monticello players, starting with Gordie Westhoff, Rick’s brother. Gordie went on to captain both the basketball and baseball teams in the same year at Wyoming.

     Jerry Long, Rick Westhoff and Dirks then went to Wyoming the same year. Frank Straub and Don Holmes followed. More recently, in the early 1990s, Jim Picray played for Wyoming.

     Dirks said it didn’t take much for him to decide to attend Wyoming.

     “Iowa didn’t show an interest in me,” Dirks said. “They did the right thing; I just wasn’t ready yet. I needed to develop. I wouldn’t have given me a scholarship either. But I was glad Wyoming said, ‘Come out with these other guys and we’ll give you a shot.’ ”

     It worked out well, both for Dirks and the team. Dirks played in two bowl games (including a 28-20 Sun Bowl win over Florida State in 1967), and for two all-conference teams. One famous player from those Wyoming teams was Jim Kiick, who went on to play in three Super Bowls for the Miami Dolphins, winning two of them.

     “(The Wyoming players) were the ones that didn’t get picked to go to the local colleges, so we all had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder, like, ‘hey, we’re good ballplayers,’ ” Dirks said. “Wyoming was the right size where they could use us, but the coaching staff we had was tremendous.”

     In particular, Dirks credits Fritz Shurmur, who was Wyoming’s defensive line coach at the time. Shurmur went on to be head coach at Wyoming, and then was an assistant for five NFL teams, including the 1997 Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.

     “Without him, I don’t think I’d have made it,” Dirks said.

     “I really enjoyed my years at Wyoming,” he added. I was lucky enough to get with good teams. Everyone on the coaching staff went on to coach in pros, and I think there were six or seven on the team my senior year that had an opportunity to play pro football.”

     Dirks went on to play four years in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, then seven years in the Canadian Football League, three with Winnipeg and four with Sasketchewan.

     Both Dirks and Westhoff said they will be interested when the 2017 Cowboys visit Iowa Sept. 2.

     “A lot of people will write them off, but Wyoming’s like the old west gunslingers,” Dirks said. “They’re going to give you the whole shooting match.

     “I guarantee you they won’t be intimidated, and they’re not going to be run out of the stadium. They are going to be a presence, and they’re going to surprise them. And hopefully they can pull it out.”

     Westhoff said he expects a close game.

     “I watched them a lot last year,” he said. “I tell you what, Iowa’s got their hands full. The quarterback that Wyoming has (Josh Allen), there’s a chance he’ll be the first player taken in the 2018 draft.

     “I would not think this would be your typical cakewalk opener. This will be tough. I’ve never cheered against Iowa, and I won’t (this time), but I’d like to see a good ballgame.

     “I’ll take whatever happens. It’s one of those where you can’t really lose.”



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