Offensive line coach Joe Tripodi feeling at home going into year two
May 13—LARAMIE — At this time last year, Joe Tripodi was still figuring out how to navigate the facilities on the University of Wyoming's campus.
Tripodi, who was hired as UW's offensive line coach last February, spent last spring getting himself up to speed with the system he was teaching his players. With his second spring camp now under his belt, Tripodi is finally feeling at home on the Cowboys' coaching staff.
"I'm not a new guy this year," Tripodi said with a laugh. "For me, that's huge. I was a part of the same staff for a lot of years (before UW), so during that first year, you're learning a whole new system, and you're learning a whole new offense.
"It's been really nice, now, because you kind of know where you're going and not following everybody around like I was at this time last spring. Now, you're all settled in."
Before coming to UW, Tripodi spent three years coaching the offensive line at Temple. He spent nine seasons on staff at Northern Illinois before going to Temple, the last three of which he was the offensive line coach and the run-game coordinator.
A former starting offensive lineman himself at Northwestern, Tripodi came to UW for the opportunity to work directly with head coach Craig Bohl.
"I have a great deal of respect for what coach Bohl has been able to accomplish throughout his career at multiple schools — obviously at North Dakota State and at Wyoming," Tripodi said in a UW news release when he was hired last year. "When I was at Northern Illinois, we had a chance to play here back in 2016, and I gained a lot of respect for what Wyoming had going on then and what they've accomplished over the past several years. When this opportunity came up, I was really excited for it."
In his first season in Laramie, Tripodi's group helped UW finish No. 44 in the country in rushing offense. The Cowboys averaged 181.4 rushing yards per game, and had five more rushing touchdowns (16) than passing touchdowns (11).
Pass protection was also a strength for UW's offensive line, with the Cowboys tying for No. 30 in the country with just 19 sacks allowed in 13 games.
UW lost starters Eric Abojei and Zach Watts to graduation and Emmanuel Pregnon to the NCAA Transfer Portal, but will return center Nofafia Tulafono and tackle Frank Crum. Jack Walsh also returns after spot-starting in a handful of games last fall.
"Jack Walsh started last year when one of the other guys was out, and I think we ran the ball pretty well still," Tripodi said. "Jack has had some pretty good experience there. He's had a great offseason, and he's had a really solid spring, so we're excited about that."
Crum, who graduated from Laramie High and is going into his sixth year at UW, sat out most of this spring with a cardiovascular infection. Despite not being on the field for the majority of UW's 15 spring practices, Crum was able to take on a leadership role from the sideline alongside Tripodi.
"He's very mature," Tripodi said about Crum. "He's got what you can't coach, and that's experience. He's been through all of the fires, and he's seen just about every different look that you can have. It's really big for him to impart that wisdom on the younger guys."
The Cowboys were thin at offensive line during last month's Brown and Gold spring game, but Tripodi was encouraged by what he saw from the linemen who were able to practice this spring. Having a blend of youth and experience could make UW's offensive line a dangerous group come September.
"We're a work in progress, but we have a bunch of guys that want to be coached, and that are practicing really hard and working really hard," Tripodi said. "There's some young guys in there, but there's also some veteran leadership with (Tulafono) and Frank, which has been an awesome mix.
"It's a fun group to coach. They just want to compete and improve on a daily basis."
A familiar testament from Bohl — which trickles down to the players and coaches at UW — is to get 2% better every day. That measurement is what could push the Cowboys over the hump as they pursue their first Mountain West title in program history.
"It's extremely important, but really hard to do," Tripodi said. "That 2% sets the tone. You want to be playing for something in November. That's hard to do, but when you're playing meaningful football in November, you want have all those habits that you created during the spring and during the fall to show up. That's where that extra 2% goes a long way."
Tripodi's first year in Laramie ended with a 7-6 overall record and a second-place finish in the Mountain Division of the MW. The Cowboys had a shot to play in the MW title game, but a heartbreaking 20-17 home loss to Boise State eliminated UW from contention for a conference championship in late November.
Going into his second season heading UW's offensive line, Tripodi wants to see his linemen — both the veterans and the newcomers — stay healthy and compete on each and every play over the course of the season.
"The No. 1 thing for us is to finish," Tripodi said. "We want to finish everything we do. As an offensive lineman, if you start there, a lot of other things will fall into place.
"To be a good offensive lineman, it's such a blue-collar position. You have to full-out outwork people. Being able to finish on a consistent basis, I think that's something where, especially when you have some younger guys in there and you can get those guys to do that, it's a race to maturity right now in college football. Striving to finish is the No. 1 thing for us."
The Cowboys will open the season with a home matchup with Texas Tech on Sept. 2. UW will play seven homes this season, including four in the month of September.
Alex Taylor is the assistant editor for WyoSports and covers University of Wyoming athletics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alex_m_taylor22.