CHAMPAIGN, Ill., -- What do you do when your son is about to appear in the first college football game of his career just 157 miles down the road?

You celebrate, of course.

How is Jack Walsh's family marking this special occasion when the Cowboys visit Illinois Saturday afternoon in Champaign?

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Check out this shindig: 55-person bus, 100 burgers, 50 brats and the same number of hotdogs. Rumor has it an adult beverage or two might even make the trip south from Palatine. John Walsh, who himself played at Wyoming from 1984-89, even bought 55 tickets at $30 a pop for his son's debut.

"It's a big day for the Walsh family," he said, adding that 20-to-25 more friends will be making the trek and setting up shop in Section 109 inside Memorial Stadium. "There will definitely be some Pokes fans in attendance."

Wyoming's first depth chart of the 2022 campaign has Jack Walsh penciled in right next to Zach Watts at the left guard spot. Who will start? The word "or" sits between the two names. Either way, Craig Bohl said Tuesday that both will likely play Saturday.

As for the redshirt freshman, UW's ninth-year head coach added there's a reason his name is on the list.

"He's earned it," Bohl bluntly said. "... He's really applied his skills. He's got good size and he plays with really good leverage. And, we don't think this stage is too big for him. While we recognize he's from Illinois, I think he's proud to be playing for Wyoming and wearing the brown and gold."

That's an understatement.

Walsh was a three-star recruit out of Fremd High School. Illinois kicked the tires. Kent State offered. Though his senior season was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, one program stayed steadfast in its pursuit.

The only college team he ever rooted for. His father's alma mater.

"My dad has always had a deep love for Wyoming," Jack Wash said.

It's easy to see why, too.

John Walsh, a 6-foot-3, 285-pound right tackle, came to Laramie to join Al Kincaid's wishbone attack. Dennis Erickson swooped in for one season before leaving in the night. Paul Roach took the Cowboys to new heights at the end.

 

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Walsh played with household names like Jay Novacek, Galand Thaxton, Mitch Donahue, Randy Welniak and many others. He helped lead Wyoming to back-to-back WAC titles in 1987 and '88. Along with those championships came consecutive trips to the Holiday Bowl.

Admittedly, more suited for the running attack under Kincaid, Walsh said he watched most of those victories play out from the sidelines.

"We had some success," he laughed. "They were better than me."

Though the father-and-son duo share a similar build, John Walsh said it's his son's footwork that really sets the two apart. He also knew there was something different about the little boy who would rather tag along with him to coach football practice than play with his friends.

"He's really a student of sports," John Walsh said. "While most kids were watching Barney and Sesame Street, he was watching ESPN ... We are so proud of him and all the hard work he has put in. Growing up, we got him trainers, but told him we aren't scheduling it or telling you to do it. You have to set it up, take it and run with it. We are incredibly proud."

When Jack Walsh signed on the dotted line to join the Wyoming football program, admittedly, he took a brief glance at the future schedules. A true freshman, he knew it wasn't likely he would travel with his team to DeKalb in 2021. Instead, he flew home and was in attendance at Huskie Stadium to watch his teammates narrowly escape with a 50-43 victory.

Further down the trough, though, he couldn't help but notice the Cowboys' opening-day opponent the following season.

This time, he will be on the charter when UW touches down in Champaign to take on the Fighting Illini.

"It's kind of crazy to think about, but it's going to be awesome to go back to the home state, that's for sure," he said.

 

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Is he nervous? He won't deny it.

"The nerves are going to be there, you know. It's my first college game, obviously, and then more to it, you're playing the University of Illinois," Jack Walsh said. "So, I mean, it's going to be there, but really I just got to focus on playing loose, playing fast because the speed is really fast. If you're out there playing frantic, you know, you're not going to play good football."

The guy in the No. 79 jersey -- the same number his father once wore in Laramie -- won't be the only one attempting to remain calm.

"It's almost hard to put into words," John Walsh said, referring to his emotions when he watches his son trot out onto the turf for the first time. "I'm going to have so many people around me, it's going to be off the charts. I mean, my son is playing college football, and on top of it, at the same place I played. It's almost surreal."

It's not lost on Jack Walsh what this moment will mean for his old man.

"During recruiting, he said, 'it's your choice,' but I know deep down he wanted to see me in the brown and gold," he said. "It's going to be a really special moment for him. I mean, it's going to be very emotional for him, that's for sure."

Wyoming and Illinois are scheduled to kickoff at 2 p.m. Mountain Time. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

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