The deep Casper roots of Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson, who preps for his first Super Bowl this weekend

Former University of Wyoming and Natrona County football player Logan Wilson smiles for a picture after his Cincinnati Bengals beat the Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 30 in overtime in the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City, Missouri. Wilson, a Casper native, will play for the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI against the Los Angeles Rams this weekend, with kickoff at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Trevor Wilson)

By Briar Napier

CASPER, Wyo.- One of the earliest memories Trevor Wilson has of his son’s football career came well before the spoils and accolades his child would earn later.

Trevor’s son, Logan Wilson, and his athletic achievement are paired with a fervent work ethic. Sure, the current Cincinnati Bengals linebacker and former Wyoming and Natrona County star has oodles of athletic talent, but players rarely get to the highest levels of the game on just ability alone.

That’s why when asked earlier this week what he remembers about Logan’s early days as a football player, Trevor recalled a story years ago where his son — as an elementary schooler — often found himself in the weight room of the same Casper high school he’d later be a three-time All-State selection at.

The seeds were planted early, and now they’ve grown to the highest of heights.

Logan and the Bengals will take part in one of the biggest spectacles in professional sports, Super Bowl LVI, starting at 4:30 p.m. Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, the first title game appearance for Cincinnati since 1988 and the first for Logan in his young two-year NFL career.

With Trevor, who works in Casper as the associate commissioner of the Wyoming High School Activities Association, there’s a tinge of irony in him remembering his son’s humble beginnings in the sports at a young age when the environment in Sunday’s game is anything but that; Super Bowl LVI will be played in Los Angeles at SoFi Stadium, a recently-built $5-6 billion behemoth that resembles a spaceship more than a football arena.

But it took those modest moments (and more) back in Natrona County to get to the point Logan is now. On Sunday, he has a chance to enter his name with a tie-in of “Super Bowl champion” among the other legendary Wyoming-born athletes in history.

“It was a whole team of people,” Trevor said about his son getting to the point he is now. “It was family, it was his friends and it was his coaches that helped him develop that work ethic. … [His friends] were going to Natrona and lifting weights with the big boys. Not that they did a lot of lifting weights, but they did a lot of bodyweight stuff and movement-type activities.

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“You’ve got to be blessed with a little bit of talent, too. I mean, it’s hard work and all that stuff, but he was fortunate enough to be blessed with a little bit of athleticism as well.”

That talent was well on display and noticed by coaches and peers early in Wilson’s early football career.

Casper resident and fellow former UW football player Dave Browning has been a physical education teacher at CY Middle School for 32 years, and first caught wind of Wilson when Wilson both enrolled at the school and came through the youth football program Browning helped coach.

Browning had a particular interest with Wilson as he is the same age as his son, with whom Wilson remains a family friend and with whom Wilson sometimes stayed over at the Browning house in his youth. But the football games are where Wilson really made waves: Browning said that in Wilson’s teenage years, everyone knew that to beat a team that the future NFLer was on, you had to go through him to do it.

“When he was in midget [level], my son played against [Logan] and actually played against him in the [city] championship,” Browning said. “We were lucky and ended up beating him. … We had a lot more talented kids, and ironically, it was ‘OK, we’ve got to stop Logan. If we stop Logan, we’re going to win the city championship.’ He was certainly the main concern, because he was definitely a stud, even in fifth and sixth grade.”

Instead of having to plan against him, Browning then managed to snag Wilson for his seventh- and eighth-grade teams he coached, where he played him at running back and safety to plenty of success, and won the city championship handily.

Wilson then moved on to Natrona, where he was a massive part in helping the Mustangs win two Class 4A state championship in his prep career as an All-State pick at four different positions, none of which were his eventual one in college and the pros: wide receiver, defensive back, kicker and punter.

Wilson was arguably the best kicker in the state for at least three years, earning his earliest All-State selection in the position as a sophomore in 2012. He was good enough, in fact, that his father thought that’d be Logan’s way to getting into the college game.

“I felt like his best way to get into college and to get a scholarship in college was being a kicker,” Trevor said. “And he had a great leg; he was really good at it. So I’d haul him around the kicking camps, thinking, ‘This is his ticket.’ Obviously, it’s kind of ironic that that wasn’t the case, and it’s certainly fine by me.”

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Until Wyoming offered Wilson late in the recruiting process, the former Mustang was set on going to Weber State in Ogden, Utah, an FCS program. When the option to play in Laramie came about, in which his family could drive down from Casper to watch him, Wilson took the opportunity by the horns to much success.

A First Team All-Mountain West Conference selection his senior year in 2019, Wilson terrorized opposing offenses and rocketed up NFL Draft boards, catching the eye of a plethora of teams. In the end, it was Cincinnati that selected him in the third round with the 65th overall pick in the 2020 draft, being one of three Bengals selections that year — along with No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow and second-round receiver Tee Higgins — that have proven to be critical pieces in Cincinnati’s surprise AFC North title and run to the Super Bowl this season.

“Maybe when he was a junior in college, I started getting some contacts from NFL agents,” Trevor said. “And I’m like, ‘Wow, maybe he does have a chance.’ You always hope and dream and all that stuff, but it’s really so farfetched that you don’t really think much about it.”

The likes of Burrow and stud wideout Ja’Marr Chase — who were named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year on Thursday, respectively — get many of the headlines and deserved plaudits from fans and media, but without Wilson, it’s likely the Bengals wouldn’t be at this point.

Wilson finished with 100 regular-season tackles to lead Cincinnati despite missing four games (three to a shoulder injury and one to pre-playoffs rest) and also currently leads the Bengals with 30 total tackles in the playoffs. But perhaps most critically, he had what was arguably Cincinnati’s defining play of the season as well.

With 20 seconds left on Jan. 22 in the AFC Divisional Round against the No. 1–seeded Tennessee Titans, Wilson intercepted Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill with the score level at 16–16, giving the Bengals the ball back in excellent field position with a chance to win it. Cincinnati eventually did, with kicker Evan McPherson booting through a game-winning field goal as time expired to send the Bengals to the AFC Championship Game.

After doing his part and tallying a team-high 10 total tackles in Cincinnati’s thrilling overtime win over the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs in the conference title game, the opposition ahead gets no easier — and the Bengals will have to beat them in their own home stadium.

Veteran Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is on a magical run of his own in his first year of his career not with the Detroit Lions, as Wilson and the Bengals defense must game plan for the likes of him and his many weapons including league receptions leader Cooper Kupp, other dangerous receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. and Van Jefferson and a solid corps of running backs in Cam Akers, Sony Michel and Darrell Henderson Jr.

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It’s absolutely the biggest game of Wilson’s life this weekend, but the youth and emerging talent oozing throughout Cincinnati’s roster means there’s a good chance it won’t be the Bengals’ last crack at the Lombardi Trophy, either.

But no matter the heights the former Cowboy and Mustang goes, he’ll always stay planted with his roots.

“He’s a Wyoming kid,” Trevor said of his son. “And whenever the season ends, well, no matter where he’s at, he’s going to spend time in Wyoming. He loves it, loves the people, and that’s just who he is.”