UW’s Top 50 football players: No. 5
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.
Linebacker, 1975-78, Portland, Oregon
Here's why: When this panel gathered last May to discuss this project the first question asked was: "Who is the greatest player in Wyoming football history?"
Not an easy inquiry after 124 years of football in Laramie.
Go ahead, ask yourself that question right now. It's not that simple.
Kevin McKinney didn't hesitate -- Ken Fantetti.
Huh? The best ever? After some debate, that selection changed. Not by much. McKinney thinks this hard-hitting linebacker out of Oregon is the second-best to ever do it at Wyoming.
As a panel, we were forced to take a deeper dive into the man that is still eighth on the all-time tackles list at UW. He was fourth when he graduated in 1978.
I'm glad we did.
Fantetti was one of the first freshman football players to ever suit up and play in Laramie after the varsity rule was lifted before the 1972 season. It took just three games for head coach Fred Akers to unleash Fantetti on the college football world.
A year later, Fantetti was helping the Cowboys claim a share of the Western Athletic Conference championship and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma.
It was the program's first postseason appearance since 1968 when Lloyd Eaton's team played in the Sugar Bowl. In '69, Eaton kicked all 14 of his African-American players off the team in what will forever be known as the "Black 14."
Wyoming never won more than five games in a season from 1969-75.
As a senior in 1978, Fantetti tallied 124 tackles, which included 73 of the unassisted variety. After a 34-21 victory over Utah, he was named the Associated Press National Lineman of the Week. Racking up 24 tackles, including two for loss and a forced fumble, will earn you an accolade like that.
During his UW career, Fantetti earned All-WAC first team honors twice. After his final season the Football Writers of America named him an All-American. When the dust settled, Fantetti was also the conference's Player of the Year.
The Detroit Lions selected the former UW captain in the second round of the 1979 NFL Draft. He played seven seasons in the Motor City.
Fantetti was inducted into the Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003.
Tucker's take: When it comes to players I never had the pleasure of watching -- because of age -- I scoop up all the information I can. Whether that's pouring over videos, reading old news articles or contacting former teammates, I do what I can to learn all I can.
Fantetti was no different.
He graduated from Laramie five years before I was born. So, I watch, read, call.
I spoke to Don Clayton, the quarterback of that Fiesta Bowl team. I started by saying, "Kevin McKinney thinks he's the best player in UW history. Is that insane?"
"Oh yes, no doubt," Clayton said of Fantetti being one of the best in school history. "He had some serious intensity. He was high quality. I tend to agree with Kevin."
Clayton compared his rise to that of Josh Allen: No one expected much out of high school only to find out he was special.
"I was always really impressed with him, how he played and conducted himself," Clayton said. "One time in practice, he bent my facemask. It was slanted across my face a little bit. I've never been around a player with the intensity he had. His motor was full throttle. I'm not sure he ever took a lazy step."
Dan Christopulos was the placekicker on those teams in the late 70's. He recalls coaches screaming at Fantetti during practices. One yelled so much he actually passed out on the field.
"He was like Conrad Dobler crazy," Christopulos laughed, talking about Fantetti. "He was an old-school player. He was like the Waterboy, going until he killed himself. He was just a stud."
When you add all that up, plus the stats and accolades, it's easy to see why McKinney selected Fantetti No. 1 originally. Though he didn't land in that spot on this overall list, there's no doubt he belongs near the top.
How the panel voted: Cody Tucker (8), Robert Gagliardi (7), Jared Newland (4), Ryan Thorburn (11), Kevin McKinney (2)
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
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.