UW’s Top 50 football players: No. 2
LARAMIE -- During this summer series we are going to countdown the Top 50 football players in Wyoming history, presented by Premier Bone & Joint Centers, Worthy of Wyoming.
The rules are simple: What was the player's impact while in Laramie? That means NFL stats, draft status or any other accolade earned outside of UW is irrelevant when it comes to this list.
This isn't a one-man job. This task called for a panel of experts. Joining me is Robert Gagliardi, Jared Newland, Ryan Thorburn and Kevin McKinney. We all compiled our own list of 50 and let computer averages do the work. Think BCS -- only we hope this catalog is more fair.
Don't agree with a selection? Feel free to sound off on our Twitter page @7220sports.
Defensive end, 1987-90, Billings, Montana
Here's why: “You’ve got Mitch Donahue this week.”
That was the rallying cry from the San Diego State coaching staff and players before the Aztecs and Cowboys faced off in Laramie in 1990.
Nick Subis and Tony Nichols, SDSU's starting offensive tackles, drew the task of attempting to slow down Wyoming's speedy senior defensive end who already to that point had 28 career sacks to his credit.
“We’ve watched game film on him,” Subis told the LA Times. “He’s as good as everyone says he is. He switches up his moves pretty well. You don’t know what to expect.”
Nichols added: “He does everything quick. He does every move you can think of, and he does them good.”
While it wasn't Donahue's most dominant outing -- though he obviously had everyone's attention -- the 6-foot-3 Montana man put just enough pressure on Aztecs' 6-foot-8 quarterback Dan McGwire -- brother of Cardinals slugger, Mark McGwire -- to force an incompletion on the visitor's two-point conversion attempt at the end of the game.
The ball fell harmlessly to the War Memorial Stadium turf.
Wyoming held on for the 52-51 victory, its 15th straight Western Athletic Conference win at home.
Donahue's 49 career sacks is still tops in UW history. In fact, he has 19 more than the next closest player, his fellow teammates Pat Rabold and Jeff Knapton. Those type of numbers made it nearly impossible to not name Donahue the WAC Defensive Player of the Year in 1989 and '90.
He was also earned first-team All-American honors from the Football Writer's Association, The Sporting News and the National Football League Draft Report. After the dust settled on his senior campaign, Donahue led the nation in sacks with 22. That still the best single-season in Cowboys' history, three more than Knapton had in '87.
Donahue was named to the All-WAC team all four years of his career in Laramie. In '90 he landed in fourth place for the Outland Trophy, an award given to the nation's top defensive lineman. Donahue wasn't a one-trick pony, either. When he graduated, he was also in the Top 10 for career tackles in UW history.
More importantly, Donahue helped lead the Cowboys to back-to-back WAC Championships and a pair of berths in the Holiday Bowl. As a senior, his team made it right back to the postseason, playing in the Copper Bowl.
Donahue was a fourth round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in the 1991 NFL Draft. Eleven years later, he was inducted into the Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame. Donahue is also a member of the Montana Hall of Fame.
The guy known for blowing past offensive linemen, dumping quarterbacks and doing a celebratory backflip or two on the field, currently owns a roofing business in his native Billings.
Tucker's take: My first recollection of a super star in Laramie was the often smiling towhead in the No. 49 jersey.
Donahue always seemed to have the most grass stains on his uniform. They always complimented the neck roll and the full facemask. He was the epitome of a football player.
He was also the picture-perfect example of what Wyoming fans expected from their heroes inside War Memorial Stadium.
Just think about that for a second. That's in rarified air with names like Derrick Thomas, Bruce Smith and Tedy Bruschi. You remember those guys.
“I used to lay the wood in that,” Donahue smiled, pointing to the scars across the brown and gold stripes on the crown of his old Wyoming helmet as he showed me around his closet filled with old jerseys and trophies in his Billings home back in 2019.
Donahue shared the defensive line in Laramie with plenty of greats -- Knapton, Rabold, Thomas Williams, David Edeen, Doug Rigby, Craig Schlichting, and others. Those six names, plus Donahue, tallied 198 quarterback sacks. Truly unbelievable numbers. Is it a wonder the Paul Roach era is still thought of as glory years for the program?
Another relic Donahue pulled from his closet was his Hall of Fame plaque from Wyoming. The wood is cracked, but the words are intact: "The greatest defensive end in school history."
It's not close.
If you want to catch up on what Donahue is up to these days and relive some of his great memories in Laramie, I strongly encourage you to read the story I penned from that day with him at his home beneath the Rimrocks in Billings. You can find that right HERE.
How the panel voted: Cody Tucker (2), Robert Gagliardi (2), Jared Newland (2), Ryan Thorburn (3), Kevin McKinney (3)
Previous selections: No. 50, No. 49, No. 48, No. 47, No. 46, No. 45, No. 44, No. 43, No. 42, No. 41, No. 40, No. 39, No. 38, No. 37, No. 36, No. 35, No. 34, No. 33, No. 32, No. 31, No. 30, No. 29, No. 28, No. 27, No. 26, No. 25, No. 24, No. 23, No. 22, No. 21, No. 20, No. 19, No. 18, No. 17, No. 16, No. 15, No. 14, No. 13, No. 12, No. 11, No. 10, No. 9, No. 8, No. 7, No. 6, No. 5, No. 4, No. 3
Cody Tucker: Brand Manager and creator of 7220sports.com. Tucker has covered the Cowboys since June of 2019, but was a season-ticket holder for nearly three decades. Tucker has also covered Michigan State University Athletics for the Lansing State Journal and Detroit Free Press and the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins during his 10-year journalism career
Robert Gagliardi: Former sports editor and University of Wyoming beat reporter for WyoSports. Gagliardi covered the Cowboys from more than a quarter century. He also covered the team at the Branding Iron, the UW student newspaper. Gagliardi also co-authored the book: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming
Jared Newland: Currently the local sales manager for Townsquare Media SE Wyoming, Newland worked with and around Wyoming athletics for 20 years, starting as a student athletic trainer in 1990. Newland has also served in the Sports Information Office, the Cowboy Joe Club, Wyoming Sports Properties and was a UW Athletics Hall of Fame Committee Member from 2002-14.
Ryan Thorburn: Currently covering the Oregon Ducks for The Register-Guard, Thorburn also covered the Cowboys in the early and mid-90's for the Branding Iron and Casper Star Tribune. He has also written four books about Wyoming Athletics: The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming, Cowboy Up: Kenny Sailors, The Jump Shot and Wyoming’s Championship Basketball History, Lost Cowboys: The Story of Bud Daniel and Wyoming Baseball and Black 14: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Wyoming Football
Kevin McKinney: Currently the senior associate athletics director for external affairs at the University of Wyoming, McKinney also serves as the radio color commentator for Wyoming football and men's basketball. McKinney has been involved with UW Athletics in some capacity since 1972. He was also inducted into the Wyoming Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2015.