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There are more California Cowboys now than there have been in recent years. When Dave Christensen took the reins for the 2009 season, there were eight players from the Golden State on the roster.

Less than five years later, that number has more than doubled.

“We have shifted our recruiting a little more there and a little less on Texas,” Christensen said. “It’s been a good fit for those kids. It doesn’t seem to be as big of a transition. I don’t know why, but California kids have seemed to adapt well here.”

Certainly, the entire team is plenty motivated heading into the conference game at San Jose State on Saturday.

Nearly a week ago, Wyoming stood across from its bitter rival, and proceeded to take it on the chin for almost four jerseys It was a beatdown the likes of which the university and its fans hadn’t seen in years and hope desperately never to see again.

If the Cowboys play the same way again this week, they’ll lose more than a football game.

The fan base, gone. The donors, dwindling. The bowl hopes?

But the California kids have that motivation, and more. There’s something about playing somewhere familiar, against guys you used to lock horns with in high school. There’s something about that sunlight, and that breeze.

For 18 kids, there’s just something about going home.

For Tim Hayes, home is about redemption.

He saw the football hit his hands, and then he saw it hit the ground.

Hayes, a freshman starter at cornerback for Wyoming, could have made the play of his year.

With Wyoming trailing Colorado State 31 15 early in the third quarter last week, Rams quarterback Garrett Grayson unleashed a pass to the right flat in the general direction of tight end Kivon Cartwright.

Before the 5 9 cornerback could react, the ball struck his hands and fell, softly, quietly, harmlessly to the ground.

The only thing in front of him was green turf and an end zone.

“I wasn’t really prepared to catch it. I saw [Cartwright] about to jump, so I was preparing to get the tackle. But then I saw the ball, and I was like, ‘Ohhh,'” Hayes said.

You know the rest. Colorado State scored, then scored again, then kept scoring, en route to a 52 22 rout on Wyoming’s home field in Laramie.

Hayes has been impressive all year while stepping in for injured cornerback Tyran Finley.

And next time, hopefully in California, he wants to make sure he has it.

“Excitement might be a little bit higher, because my family’s there. I want to make sure I play good for them and play good for myself and my team, more importantly,” Hayes said.

“But yeah, there’s a little more excitement.”

For Jordan Stanton, home is about trash talk.

The game just isn’t the same when you recognize the guy across from you, he says.

“You know what you can say to get under their skin a little bit, because you know them personally. You know what sets them off. I think it’s a lot of fun,” Wyoming’s starting middle linebacker said, laughing.

“It’s better than playing against guys that you don’t know.”

Stanton will know plenty of guys on Saturday night. He’s been playing sports with and against San Jose State freshman linebacker Christian Tago since he was 6 years old, calling him one of his closest friends.

He also has memories of playing against running backs Osirius Burke and Tyler Ervin.

The trash talk will be plentiful on Saturday night, and before.

“Actually, I was planning on calling [Tago] sometime this week anyways, just to kind of talk a little trash to him, see where his spirits are,” Stanton said. “I know they’re coming off a bye week, so they’re well rested.”