LARAMIE, Wyo. — Former University of Wyoming football stars John Wendling and Chris Prosinski have a lot in common.
Both were born in Wyoming — Wendling in Cody and Prosinski in Newcastle.
Both were two-time All-State selections at their respective high schools and led them to unbeaten seasons and state championships as seniors — Wendling at Class 5A Rock Springs and Prosinski at Class 4A Buffalo.
Both were perfect 4.0 students in high school.
Both came to UW on football scholarships and became three-year starters. Wendling played in 47 games for the Cowboys, starting 37, while Prosinski played in 49 games, starting 37.
Both earned their college degrees in business administration.
Both are safeties and close to the same size — Wendling at 6-1, 222 pounds, and Prosinski at 6-1, 210 pounds.
Both were NFL Draft picks — Wendling going in the sixth round to the Buffalo Bills (184th overall pick) in the 2007 draft, and Prosinski in the fourth round to the Jacksonville Jaguars (121st overall pick) in the 2011 draft.
Yet Wendling and Prosinski are unique.
Although 34 Wyoming-born natives have played in the NFL through the years, Wendling and Prosinski are among the select few who played at UW, were chosen in the NFL Draft and then actually played games in the league.
The others are running back Jerry Hill (Baltimore Colts, drafted in 1961), offensive lineman Nick Bebout (Atlanta Falcons, drafted in 1973) and defensive lineman John Burrough (Atlanta Falcons, drafted in 1995).
Hill, who was born in Torrington and played at Lingle High, participated in 101 NFL games in nine seasons with the Colts. Bebout, who was born in Riverton and played at Shoshoni High, was in 96 NFL games in eight seasons with the Falcons, Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings. And Burrough, who was born in Laramie and played at Pinedale High, played in 89 NFL games in seven seasons with the Falcons, Vikings and St. Louis Rams.
Wendling just completed his fifth season in the NFL, the last two with the Detroit Lions. He spent his first three seasons with the Bills before being let go after having micro-fracture surgery on his knee following the 2009 season.
"I played through the entire 2009 season with my knee problem, even though I could have went on (injured reserve)," Wendling tells the Laramie Boomerang (http://bit.ly/yYjXiZ ).
When Wendling was drafted, Dick Jauron was the Bills' head coach. But halfway through the 2009 season, Jauron was replaced by Chan Gailey. Six weeks into the offseason, Gailey and the Bills let Wendling go.
"This is a technique that actually re-grows cartilage," Wendling said of his surgery. "There are a lot of guys who can't come back from this surgery . they're just not the same. That had a lot to do with the Bills' decision."
Wendling's surgery turned out for the best, but NFL teams remained leery. He finally received a call from Detroit and was offered a tryout. A couple of weeks later, the Lions picked him up just prior to the team's third preseason game in 2010.
"I was basically given a two-week tryout to make the team," he said.
Wendling's career to date has amounted to 104 games, with almost all of his playing time being on special teams. He has had only one career start in the secondary, and that came this past season when he took Amari Spievey's spot in a game against the Chicago Bears.
"Whatever my role is, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability," said Wendling, who signed a three-year contract with the Lions following the 2010 season. "I go in every week and prepare as both a safety and a special-teams player. If one of those guys (safeties) goes down, I have to be ready."
Although Wendling would like to see more playing time in the Lions secondary, he's not all that unhappy with his current role on special teams, where he is rated among the NFL's best.
"I have been able to make my niche there," he said. "I'm happy where I am right now."
Prosinski just completed his first season with Jacksonville and experienced some of the same things Wendling has dealt with.
Prosinski had a hamstring problem during the preseason, and then he broke his thumb in the Jaguars' 13th game against Tampa Bay.
"The hamstring was unfortunate, and I missed some preseason games," Prosinski said.
The hamstring may have cost Prosinski a chance to start in the Jags' secondary, but he still got a lot of playing time in certain situations.
"It was mostly third down and second-and long, but it was quality time," Prosinski said. "They would put me in at safety and move one of the other safeties down, almost like a linebacker in the box. It was good experience, and I had a blast doing it."
Then came the thumb injury that put Prosinski on the IR list. He still has a cast, which has limited his offseason workouts.
Now Prosinski is experiencing a coaching change. Jacksonville got rid of longtime head coach Jack Del Rio following the season and recently replaced him with Mike Mularkey.
Just what that means for Prosinski is uncertain.
"I'll just go in there and try to earn a spot, whether it's in a starting role, as a backup or on special teams," Prosinski said. "To me, it's all about competition and putting it all out there. My whole mindset is to work hard and do everything that I can do and at the end of the day hope it's good enough."Comment on this story
Although Prosinski's first season in the NFL was successful, it had its share of stress.
"It was really what I expected as far as the speed of the game, the speed of the players, and the size and strength," Prosinski said. "The collisions, as compared to college, are a little more intense, but basically it was what I expected going through the process and constantly being told that.
"If there was anything I wasn't expecting, not that I wasn't ready for it, was the business aspect of the league. Just the day-by-day operation and going through camp was something with all the people coming in and out. The guy in the locker right next to you might be there one day, and he's gone the next.
"At times, that can be a little stressful and nerve-racking. At the end of the day, you just have to go out and do your job. You just go compete, and if it is meant to be, it's meant to be."