ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Austyn Carta-Samuels is an exception to old-school country singer Waylon Jennings’ anthem, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”
The 18-year-old quarterback has been one of the keys to Wyoming’s run to the New Mexico Bowl. The Cowboys (6-6) will face off against Fresno State (8-4) on Saturday at University Stadium.
Carta-Samuels, a product of San Jose, Calif., became the team’s starter in Week 4 of the season and promptly helped the team get on a three-game winning streak that set up its postseason run.
He won Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year honors for his season, that included 1,752 passing yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions, as well as 295 rushing yards and three more scores.
“He has done an amazing job of putting himself in that role,” offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo says. “Just the maturity it takes to go just to college, let alone play at the collegiate level against top-ranked opponents and carry a team into a bowl game. It’s a big, big achievement and makes a statement about who he is as a person.”
During the 2008 football season, Carta-Samuels was a student at Bellarmine College Prep School who thought he was going to stay home and play at San Jose State, based on his relationship with Arroyo — then the Spartans’ offensive coordinator.
“I had a lot of offers,” Carta-Samuels says, “but I’d made a connection with coach Arroyo.”
When Wyoming hired head coach Dave Christensen last December, he lured Arroyo away from San Jose State, who in turn lured Carta-Samuels to Laramie.
Carta-Samuels joined an offense that had a three-year starting QB in Karsten Sween returning, as well as a junior college transfer in Robert Benjamin.
Benjamin started the season, but after the offense went back-to-back games against Texas and Colorado without a touchdown, the Cowboys turned the reins over to the baby-faced freshman. Carta-Samuels’ ability to scramble gave the Cowboys an instant spark.
Wyoming scored 97 points in its next three games combined, including a 37-13 rout of New Mexico.
“You get more confident when you get into it,” Carta-Samuels says. “I thought I could do it, but I didn’t really know until I got in there.”
His most impressive performance came in Week 10 against San Diego State, helping rally the Cowboys from a 27-6 fourth-quarter deficit for a 30-27 win. Including the final 2:19 of the third quarter, Carta-Samuels completed seven of eight passes for 121 yards with a TD and rushed for 28 yards and another TD.
“We’d had moments here and there where the offense shined,” Carta-Samuels says, “but when we put it together there in the fourth quarter, it was special.”
Fresno State coach Pat Hill’s proximity to the QB’s hometown makes him well aware of how special Carta-Samuels himself is.
“He’s a creative, creative player,” Hill says. “The play is never dead until he’s down. We’ve had a lot of trouble this year with mobile quarterbacks.”
So did SDSU, Florida Atlantic and UNLV, all of whom succumbed to Carta-Sameuls-led Cowboy rallies.
“He’s had a chance to have three-come-from behind wins,” Arroyo says. “And he’s had a chance to face top-tier talent (against Texas, TCU, Brigham Young and Utah), and that makes you better dealing with adversity.”
Which has contributed to several people singing the praises of the babe that grew up to be a Cowboy — and brought along an entire program with his maturation.
NOTE: New Mexico Bowl executive director Jeff Siembieda said more than 23,000 tickets had been sold for Saturday’s game as of Thursday morning.
Fresno State vs. Wyoming, 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: Premium sideline seats $30, North end zone seats $23. Call 505-925-5626 or 505-925-5999.
Fan Fest: University Stadium North Lot, 11 a.m.
Gates open: 1 p.m.
Rail Runner Express: Fans can catch the Rail Runner to the Lobo Special Events Platform and hop a shuttle bus that will take them directly to the game. After the game, shuttles will take them back to the Downtown Station to catch a train home. The last bus departs University
Stadium for Downtown at
7 p.m. For more information, call 866-795-RAIL(7245) or go to www.nmrailrunner.com.
Kickoff luncheon: Sandia Resort & Golf Club, 11:30 a.m.
Pep rally: Fan Fest Lot, University Stadium, 4:30 p.m.
Fireworks: University Stadium, 5:30 p.m.