UW transfer Tscharner challenges at linebacker

Updated: August 11, 2003, 5:46 PM ET

LARAMIE, Wyo. -- Randy Tscharner will play all-out on every down.

He won't back down from a hard-charging running back or a bruising tight end. He will lead by example. He will help lead Wyoming's defensive resurgence.

You can bet on it.

"Me and (Tyler) Gottschalk, we have a little bet going on to see who can get the most tackles on the team," Tscharner said Friday during the Cowboys' annual media day. "Not a bet. No money. It's just between us."

"The Linebacker Challenge," as Gottschalk has named the competition, should be fun to watch.

Last season, Gottschalk led UW with 125 tackles and emerged as one of the Mountain West Conference's top playmakers.

Tscharner made 125 tackles, too -- as a sophomore at Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College.

Despite Tscharner's impressive statistics -- the rugged 6-foot-3, 231-pounder also had 8.5 sacks while earning Mid-Empire Conference Most Valuable Player honors -- Gottschalk wasn't quick to buy into the hype.

Not until he saw Tscharner in action, that is.

"To be honest, they brought in a couple of juco guys the last couple years that didn't pan out at all. So I didn't put much stock in what I was hearing about him," Gottschalk said.

Gottschalk's opinion quickly changed during the Cowboys' spring camp in April. Tscharner immediately settled into his starting spot at middle linebacker and quickly earned the respect of his teammates by playing with passion and determination.

In fact, Gottschalk gained such an appreciation for Tscharner's abilities that the unquestioned leader of UW's defense deemed him a worthy opponent for "The Linebacker Challenge."

"He came into a situation where he didn't know a lot of people and was asked to step into that starting spot and get the job done. And not just get the job done, but get it done the way he's supposed to get it done," Gottschalk said.

"He's proven himself to be a pretty solid middle linebacker. He's got great intensity, he's got a knack for finding the ball and he helps me out just being on the field because you know he's gonna be in his gap and he's gonna get his job done."

The Cowboys' coaches have been equally impressed by Tscharner, although they're also disappointed he's missed the first three practices of fall camp after cutting his head on a rock while diving into a lake recently.

"Randy is a tough kid and he brings a real toughness to our defense. Our whole team knows it already," UW head coach Joe Glenn said of the team's lone junior-college recruit this year. "He's not gonna lay our own guys out, but I saw enough of him hittin' in the spring that he's a tough customer. I know he'll compete."

Said linebackers coach Marty English, "He's just so physical. For what we want him to do, pressuring the quarterback, he's gonna do a great job."

In UW's restructured defensive scheme, which includes three linebackers and four defensive linemen, Tscharner will be expected to lead the Cowboys' blitzing attack and finish off opposing running backs who find their way into the middle of the field.

That could give him an edge in the friendly wager with Gottschalk, who will usually blanket the tight end and work to force plays back into the center of the field. In other words, if Gottschalk doesn't make the tackle, Tscharner probably will.

"I just want to go out and do my job," said Tscharner. "I have a job to do, I was brought here to do something and I gotta live up to the hype. You can't just get a scholarship and not do anything or just sit on the sidelines."

Converted safety Guy Tuell rounds out UW's linebacking corps, which English called "the strength of the defense."

Tuell, a quiet but steady contributor during his first two seasons in Laramie, will typically have the freedom to move all over the field from his weakside linebacker spot.

English expects Tuell -- "He's like a thoroughbred. He can run like crazy," -- to help immensely in defensive coordinator Mike Breske's blitzing scheme and record the majority of his tackles on backside pursuit.

"I think our linebacking group is the strongest part of the defense," Tscharner said. "We're the hardest hitters, the biggest leaders on the team. I think me, Guy and (Tyler), we have really good chemistry. We work really good together. I can read them, and they can read me."

But who's going to win "The Linebacker Challenge?"

"I don't know," Tscharner said with a smile. "I've got my work cut out for me."

Said Gottschalk, "We've both been poking each other back and forth, 'I'm gonna have more tackles than you,' stuff like that. It should be fun."

English, who hadn't heard about the Gottschalk-vs.-Tscharner contest until Friday, was intrigued.

Asked if he hoped both players tied again with 125 tackles, English laughed and said, "Absolutely!"

"I could hardly care less (who wins)," he said. "As long as they're not downfield. I'd like it if they're making all their tackles toward the line of scrimmage. I wish 'em both the best of luck in the world. If it makes our defense better, have at it."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index