LARAMIE – Wyoming fans are thankful Chad Muma came into their lives.
The Butkus Award semifinalist helped salvage the program’s bowl plans with a pad-popping 17-tackle performance during the Cowboys’ cathartic 44-17 road win last week over division-leading Utah State.
Entering what should be an emotional and meaningful regular-season finale for the seniors against Hawaii on Saturday at War Memorial Stadium, Muma ranks second in the FBS in solo tackles (75) and fourth in total tackles (120) and tackles per game (10.91).
“He’s what you have as far as your hallmark, as far as what you want in a program,” UW head coach Craig Bohl said.
The distinguished linebacker didn’t become a football superhero overnight or without overcoming adversity.
Muma was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at the age of 13, backed up two future NFL players as an underclassman and played through a pandemic to put himself in position to be one of the greatest players in UW history.
During this bumpy season – the Pokes started 4-0 for the first time since 1996 only to lose five of their first six Mountain West games – the consistent team captain made sure no fractures developed in the locker room foundation.
“Chad is a really good football player. Everyone can watch and see that,” defensive end Garrett Crall said. “Chad is also just a really good person. That’s what makes Chad great. He’s not just a guy that’s all about himself, and honestly, he probably could care less about the accolades. … You would never know from talking to him that he’s a stud middle linebacker like he is.
“The leadership that he’s developed over the last few years, learning from a bunch of good players, has been tremendous.”
‘We try to take that credit for his genes’
Muma’s UW origin story dates back to the Bob Devaney era 60 years ago when the legendary coach made a recruiting stop in Lawrence, Massachusetts, north of Boston.
Devaney brought photographs of Snowy Range vistas and a scholarship offer for Rick Desmarais to sign.
Come West, young man.
Desmarais decided to play for the Pokes without ever visiting the High Plains.
“Devaney could sell anything,” Desmarais recalled of his recruitment all these decades later. “He sold me on the campus by showing me pictures of a mountain. I thought, ‘Wow, the mountains are right there.’ I didn’t know it was 50 miles away up there past Centennial. …
“I told him yes and I signed some papers. My mother is still mad I signed her name, too. That was it. I was happy about it.”
Desmarais, a linebacker and running back, lettered for Devaney on the 1961 UW team that finished 6-1-2 overall and won the Skyline Conference with a 5-0-1 record.
Devaney left to build a powerhouse at Nebraska after the season, and Desmarais finished his career playing for Lloyd Eaton as the program made a successful transition to the Western Athletic Conference.
“First of all, at Wyoming, we always hit and gang tackle,” Desmarais said. “That was something that we did in the old days when I was a linebacker and running back for Wyoming with Bob Devaney and then with Lloyd Eaton. Then I coached as a grad assistant before I got my teaching degree. So that’s what we taught, and that’s the way we played.”
Desmarais stayed on the Front Range and was a longtime coach and teacher in Boulder, Colorado. He had sons that went on to play football at Air Force and Colorado College, but it was his daughter, Kara, who carried on the family legacy at UW.
“She’s a tough cookie herself,” Desmarais said, noting that Kara played soccer, softball, volleyball and ran track growing up.
During her time as a student at in Laramie, Kara met her future husband – Ty Muma – a safety from Torrington who played for Paul Roach and then Joe Tiller during the 1990-91 seasons.
Ty, like his father-in-law, enjoyed hitting and gang tackling. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree with Chad.
“We try to take that credit for his genes,” Ty says with a laugh. “His grandfather was quite a player and just a tough dude. We’ve had a lot of fun watching Chad play.”
Muma has watched some old VHS tapes of his dad’s highlights. The Pokes started 9-0 in 1990 but lost their final four games, beginning with a bitter Border War loss at Colorado State. UW finished the 1991 season 4-6-1 but grabbed the Bronze Boot back in Ty’s last home game.
“He’s always just been super supportive of me, and that’s just something I’ll always appreciate,” Muma said of Ty’s influence as a parent, coach and role model. “I truly don’t think I’d be in the position I am today without him.”
Muma also grew up listening to Desmarais’ tales about the golden era of Cowboy football. Devaney posted a 35-10-5 record over five seasons, and Eaton compiled a 56-20-2 record before the Black 14 incident in 1969.
“He likes to tell stories about how he was a really good fullback. He likes to say he was the best out of all of us,” Muma said. “But he’s funny about it.”
‘You have this, now what?’
Muma inherited his family’s athletic gifts. The 6-foot-3, 242-pound senior from Lone Tree, Colorado, is a coveted NFL draft prospect who has already committed to playing in the Senior Bowl ahead of the 2022 draft.
Even though Muma often makes a bruising sport look easy, managing his health has been a daily challenge since being diagnosed with diabetes.
He is constantly monitoring his blood sugar levels, determining when to take insulin and calculating how many carbohydrates to incorporate into his diet. Technology, like the Dexcom glucose monitoring device, makes the process less painful than it used to be when Muma was giving himself shots as a teenager.
But during games when the adrenaline is flowing, Muma pricks his finger after every quarter to check his levels.
“It’s been a huge learning curve as I’ve gone through it,” Muma said. “I would probably say like my junior year of high school is kind of when I really kind of got a grip on it.”
Ty, an elementary school principal, and Kara, a neonatal nurse practitioner, had to “take a step back” and research what the diagnosis would mean for their son.
“You have this, now what? What are you going to do with it?” Ty said of his conversations with Chad after the shock turned into reality. “That’s what we always tried to emphasize with him, putting him in control of it, making him responsible for his levels and understanding what he needs to do to be successful with it.”
Muma has given talks to students at Ty’s school and kids at Camp Hope in Casper about still being able to live their best life with diabetes.
“It has never hindered any of his performance, it has never hindered him as an individual,” Ty said. “I think he’s done a great job of embracing it and not allowing that disease to give him any setback.
“Seeing him have the success that he has, I think he’s a great role model for other kids.”
‘There’s not a lot of free time’
After patiently playing understudy behind Logan Wilson for two years, Muma wasn’t going to let a pandemic slow him down.
During the 2020 season, he took over as UW’s starting middle linebacker and finished sixth in the nation with 11.8 tackles per game.
“It speaks to his character,” linebackers coach Aaron Bohl said. “There’s a phrase, how you do anything is how you do everything. His attention to detail with his diabetes, in terms of knowing his sugar levels, knowing what he needs in his body at what time to be able to perform whenever it’s time to be on the field, that same attention to detail that goes into football for him. Then you also get the same guy in the classroom every single day.
“So every single aspect of life, he just focuses on it so much, knowing exactly what he needs to do at what time to perform the best he can.”
Handling Type 1 diabetes while playing college football wasn’t enough to fill Muma’s plate. He is also taking on a challenging academic load and is on track to graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering this spring.
Muma said he enjoyed learning about computer programing and designing an autonomous car during one class project as much as sacking quarterbacks and returning two interceptions for touchdowns this fall.
“There’s not a lot of free time to play video games or watch TV or movies,” Muma said. “Throughout the day, I’m just constantly working on homework or watching film and doing football stuff. It’s definitely a balance. But through the past years, I’ve kind of learned how to get that balance and do everything.”
During his freshman season, Wilson and Cassh Maluia – who were both selected in the 2020 NFL draft – called Muma “Computer” because his demeanor was always the same and his focus was unwavering.
Muma played on special teams in 2018 and finished third on the team in tackles in 2019 rotating in behind Wilson and Maluia.
“I used to joke with him that half his workout each day was just walking around with his backpack. I’d lift that thing up in our meeting room when he would get in, and it would be like 50 pounds, I swear,” Aaron Bohl said. “He was always studying any chance he could get while most people are just relaxing, playing Madden or whatever.”
Muma has been paying forward the mentorship Wilson and Maluia provided him by grooming Easton Gibbs, who is emerging as another standout in the middle of the defense, and the other young linebackers.
UW is becoming known as Linebacker U in the MWC with Muma and Wilson both being named Butkus Award finalists within a three-season span.
“A complete player. We’ve been fortunate,” Craig Bohl said of Muma. “We’ve had three linebackers get drafted in a short amount of time, and I think you’re seeing just kind of a cascade of leadership and these guys passing the torch down to that Mike position. He’s done a great job with it.”
‘How in the heck can I ever wear green? There’s no way’
When Jaylen Pate arrived on campus from Chicago in 2019, the defensive end was looking to follow the lead of the players with the strongest work ethic.
“Chad is probably the hardest-working person I’ve seen play and practice since I’ve been here, except possibly Logan,” Pate said. “When I first came in I remember I was telling myself, I want to find the guy who was working the hardest and I want to outwork them.
“It’s pretty hard when you’ve got Chad running around the field. He has been a great example the way he plays.”
Muma has played so fast and hard this season that he’s also kept the equipment staff busy.
“He went through five chinstraps at the beginning of the year,” Craig Bohl said. “And it wasn’t because of the malfunction on the helmet, it was so much thrust.”
Muma’s 17 tackles at Utah State wasn’t even a personal best. He had 18 at Colorado State in 2020.
The Border War rivals did not cool on Muma as some other coaches did during the recruiting process due to his diabetes or a knee injury he suffered in high school.
The Cowboys wanted the family legacy to continue, but the Rams did their best to keep Muma from crossing the border.
“I always told him I wanted it to be his choice because I didn’t want to force him in a direction,” Ty said. “But from the time he was young, we were singing the Cowboy Joe song and we were taking the kids to Wyoming games. CSU was recruiting him really hard and was really interested.
“I used to tell people, if he chose that, how in the heck can I ever wear green? There’s no way.”
Muma decided to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and parents at UW. Now he will blaze a path to the NFL with a meaningful degree to fall back on.
Wilson, who currently leads the Cincinnati Bengals in tackles and interceptions, was drafted with the first pick of the third round. Muma, a former three-star recruit, is being projected by some draft analysts as a second-round pick.
“I think the thing about Chad is, we saw this coming,” Wilson said. “He just needed the opportunity.”
Muma’s parents will be in attendance for No. 48’s senior day ceremony on Saturday in Laramie, and some tears may also be streaming in Naples, Florida, where his proud grandfather will be streaming the game.
A grateful UW fan base will have one more chance to watch Muma play at War Memorial Stadium.
“These four years have gone by so quickly,” Ty said. “We’ve planned it so we can be up there the entire weekend to take it all, live in the moment and really enjoy that time with him and celebrate what Wyoming has meant for him and us as a family.”