Alex Wesley is one of a kind among Big Sky Conference football players.
The Northern Colorado sophomore is certainly not the first football player to run track or the first track star to want to play wide receiver. Bob Hayes, Willie Gault and James Jett changed the landscape of football as we know it, bringing track speed to the gridiron.
Even in the last few years, Montana All-Big Sky Conference linebacker Herbert Gamboa and Montana State reserve safety Zach Stern have tried their hand at indoor track. Former Griz speedsters like Jabin Sambrano and Donny Lisowski ran track in the off-season to work on their speed. Hulking tight end Dan Beaudin accomplished the trifecta last decade, starting for the football team, competing as a thrower on the track team and even earning a roster spot as a walk-on on the men’s basketball team.
But Wesley is different than all the other two-sport Big Sky athletes in recent memory. Wesley came to Northern Colorado on a football scholarship from Murphy, Texas. But he is the only individual Big Sky Conference champion currently pursuing a team championship in the entire league.
“I’ve been joking with him all season that he’s a football player pretending to be a track star and usually it’s the opposite way around,” UNC head football coach Earnest Collins Jr. said last week. “You get a track kid that wants to come play football because he’s fast and not very tough. But Alex is one of the toughest kids I know. He will block for you, he will go catch a ball for you and he’s not a lazy kid. When he’s running, he’s running whether he is the primary target or the decoy or on the track. You can’t tell the difference because he’s always getting after it.”
Whereas most wide receivers transition to sprints like the 60 meters, the 100 meters and the 200, Wesley has a unique niche on the track. The 6-foot, 170-pounder is the top 400-meter runner in the Big Sky and one of the top quarter-milers in the entire western region.
Wesley burst onto the scene in the spring of 2015. He ran a Roos Field record 47.14 seconds in the 400 to win the gold at Big Sky Outdoor Championships at Eastern Washington as a freshman. He’s continue to thrive, earning back-to-back runner-up finishes in the event at the indoor championships the last two winters and defending his outdoor title.
On his home track last spring, Wesley ran 46.28 seconds to win the outdoor 400 and qualify for the NCAA West Regional track meet for the second straight year. He took 15th at the West Regional, one of the best finishes by any Big Sky athlete from any school.
While the results point to Wesley dedicating most of his time to track training, that’s not the case. During the winter, he participates in the football team’s winter conditioning while also attending track practices and competing in meets on the weekends.
“I miss Saturday practices but for the most part, I do both every day,” Wesley said. “I don’t miss much and if there is something I do miss, I come in, learn it, watch film and do all I can so that I’m ready when I come back to football.
“My freshman year was pretty hard. Transitioning from high school to college and also playing two sports, that first spring was pretty difficult. Now I’ve transitioned and gotten used to it. It’s second nature.”
Now that Wesley has the hang of the routine, he is showing he can not only navigate the rigors but also excel in two Division I sports. Last fall, Wesley caught 17 passes for 282 yards and touchdowns while starting for the second half of the season. This season, he has 25 catches for 346 yards and his five touchdowns are second on the Bears.
“Track is a lot different than football, you are by yourself, it’s individual,” Wesley said. “Preparing for that mentally is a little bit different. I go out on the track with a lot of confidence. I don’t allow a lot of other people to dictate my races. I just go out and do what I’m supposed to do. I don’t get too nervous or put too much pressure on myself.
“I go from being by myself to football where I’m with all my friends joking around. The transition, they make it a lot easier. When you really care about the person off the field, it makes it a lot easier to be a teammate on the field.”
Collins recruited Wesley out of the Lone Star State with the knowledge he hoped to keep running track. At first, the coach didn’t know how long it would last or if Wesley would be able to endure the rigors. Two Big Sky individual championships later all while playing a key role for a 5-4 Bears team that hosts No. 18 Montana on Saturday and Collins couldn’t be happier with Wesley’s progress.
“I’m so pleased with how the young man has matured,” Collins said. “It was a real struggle into his second year for the first few games. But he caught hold of it last year about halfway through the season and we told him, ‘Once you get it together man, we are going to use you.’ His speed, you can’t coach that. He carried that into this year and he’s starting to become a leader on the football team just by the way he plays the game.”