LINCOLN — Officially, the Wingard family left Lincoln when Dani and Andrew were young, heading first to Dallas and then to Arvada, Colorado.
When Andrew Wingard returns with the Wyoming football team, it might feel a little like parts of him always stayed behind.
“Obviously I have a lot of ties to Nebraska, so it’s going to be really fun going in there and being able to be on that field, just seeing the sea of red and the 90,000-plus,” he said. “So I’m just excited for it.”
Wingard will be a defensive leader when the Cowboys play the Huskers at 11 a.m. Saturday. The safety was a freshman All-American a year ago, and started this season with 12 tackles in the 40-34 triple-overtime win over Northern Illinois.
Wearing the brown and gold, however, will be the twist to the story.
Andrew is the son of former Husker punter Dan Wingard, who backed up Scott Livingston in 1983 and ’84 before averaging 42 yards a kick as a senior in 1985.
An uncle also played for the Huskers, and his mother is a Nebraska graduate. Older sister Dani is now an NU senior, and engaged to former Husker long snapper Josh Faulkenberry. Andrew traveled to NU summer camps most years through high school.
Even after moving away, the Wingards still returned for some games. Andrew said the 40-31 win over Colorado in 2008 was most memorable, when the final two minutes included Alex Henery kicking a 57-yard field goal and Ndamukong Suh returning an interception 30 yards for a touchdown.
“That’s the craziest football game I’ve ever been to,” Wingard said. “That’s just a small glimpse of all the memories I had at Nebraska.”
This will be his chance to make a new one. He’s among eight returning starters on the Wyoming defense.
The 6-foot, 207-pound sophomore debuted with 122 total tackles as a freshman, ranking second in the Mountain West Conference at 10.2 per game. With that season under his belt, Wingard said, he better knows his assignments and expects to see things more quickly in 2016.
“I knew I was going to have a shot to not redshirt, but I think I surprised a lot of people,” he said. “I even surprised myself. It was a whirlwind of a season, but I enjoyed it a lot and I’ll remember it forever. But obviously I’m excited to move forward.”
Same goes for Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl. The Cowboys use their safeties a lot to fill gaps on running plays, and Wingard has a knack for diagnosing and being around the football.
“What we saw in the game Saturday, against a complicated offense, was his ability to make decisions, be in the right spot and to make plays,” Bohl said. “There’s a bright future for Andrew Wingard, and he played well Saturday night. And he’ll need to play well against Nebraska to give us an opportunity to win.”
Wingard was the Gatorade player of the year in Colorado in 2014, making all-state teams as a running back. He ran for 3,251 yards and 52 touchdowns over his career at Ralston Valley High in Arvada, but recruiting interest told him his future was on defense.
“I did give it up a little grudgingly,” he said, laughing. “But I knew my speed was there all along, so I knew I could definitely play receiver, maybe slot receiver, and obviously I knew I could play safety because I did it in high school.
“I still look back on those days, and scoring all the touchdowns, but it’s also fun being out there tackling people, too.”
Dan Wingard was inducted into the Omaha Westside athletic hall of fame in 2012 and was a three-sport athlete for the Warriors. He was the quarterback and team captain when Westside went 10-2 and lost in the Class A semifinals in 1980, right before the Warriors won back-to-back championships for the late Dan Young.
Thanks to old videotapes and newspaper clippings, Andrew Wingard knows a little of that history. The Husker years for Dan Wingard, now a commercial pilot for American Airlines, included the 1983 team falling a two-point conversion shy of a national championship.
“When I was younger, it was all Nebraska,” Andrew Wingard said. “I was always asking him about Nebraska. We were always doing the games. He has all the pictures and all that kind of stuff.
“But now that I’m a Wyoming Cowboy, the Nebraska stuff is still there, but there’s some brown and gold thrown into the mix.”