(UW Athletics release)
Laramie, Wyo. – When the phone conversation started, it was like former Cowboy football player Corey Mace had never left campus at the University of Wyoming. Mace’s voice on the phone conveyed the same enthusiastic, easy-going demeanor that defined him when he helped anchor the defensive line for the Cowboys in the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Since leaving UW after his senior season, Mace has been on quite a journey as a professional football player and now a professional football coach.
But this phone conversation, which took place while he was attending the 2018 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in late January, wasn’t originated because of his accomplishments on the football field. It grew out of his most recent accomplishment — his graduation from the University of Wyoming. Mace earned his bachelor’s degree in social science from UW in December 2017, achieving a goal he had been pursuing since concluding a successful college and professional playing career. Mace completed his degree while serving in his current position as defensive line coach for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League (CFL).
“Finishing my degree is definitely something that has always been on my mind,” said Mace. “It has been a goal of mine for awhile. It was a little tough working on classes during the last couple of seasons while I was coaching, but I’m happy I did it.
“I was able to complete my remaining classes online through the University (of Wyoming). I didn’t know if that was possible. I was looking at potentially going back to Wyoming and being a graduate assistant if I had to in order to get it done, but luckily I was able to finish it all online while keeping my job up here.”
Mace played six years (2010-15) in the CFL, all with the Stampeders, after playing three seasons (2007-09) for the Buffalo Bills in the National Football League (NFL).
His professional playing career followed an outstanding two-year career at Wyoming that concluded with him earning Second Team All-Mountain West Conference honors for the Cowboys in 2006. The Canadian native, from Port Moody, British Columbia, began his college career in junior college at Palomar College in southern California. Oddly enough, it was his choice to play at Palomar that eventually connected him to the University of Wyoming and Laramie.
“I remember my recruiting trip out to Wyoming. Being a Canadian kid, I wasn’t very familiar with Wyoming, but my junior college coach — one of my favorite coaches of all time — J.G. Aegerter is a Wyoming guy from right there in Laramie,” said Mace. “He told me I had to get out there, and a couple of my previous teammates from Palomar, Brandon Bell and Ron Rockett who had already transferred to Wyoming, showed me around.
“Jovon Bouknight, who I also keep in contact with, was there. We rode snow mobiles with Mad Dog, and it felt a little bit to me like Canada in the wintertime. I felt comfortable there. The support I felt there was crazy, where you get support from all corners of the state.”
Mace still has very fond memories of his time as a Cowboy. One of his favorite memories was a win over rival Colorado State his senior season of 2006.
”There’s nothing better than whooping on CSU,” said Mace. “We beat them pretty badly (by a score of 24-0) my senior year in Laramie. I was happy about that. I only had two years there, so I had to make sure we got a good one, and we got a pretty good one on them in ‘06. That was my fondest game for sure. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go to a bowl game. We were bowl eligible that season (6-6 record), but no one picked us.”
As Mace concluded his senior season, he was faced with the decision to pursue his dream to play in the NFL or complete his college degree. Mace decided to take his shot at playing professionally and so began training for the NFL Draft. While he didn’t get drafted, he was signed as a free agent by the Buffalo Bills of the NFL and was part of the Bills’ organization for the next three seasons.
“Like anyone who plays football, reaching that level was a dream come true,” said Mace. “For myself, being a Canadian kid it was always a dream of mine. The route I took to get there through junior college and then to the University of Wyoming, every one of those experiences I believe was meant to be to get me there.
“Once you get to the NFL and you see all these guys that you’ve watched on TV and admired for years like Marv Levy (former Buffalo Bills’ head coach and Professional Football Hall of Fame inductee), it’s a little hard to believe. But once you’re there, football is football and you’re surrounded by guys who love the sport. I just tried to soak up as much knowledge from everyone I could who had more experience than me.
“But you don’t want to just be happy to get there, you want to play well and stay there. The experience is unbelievable as far as learning defensive line play from the coaches and the veterans who have played around the league. Seeing the passion for the game that individuals have at that level, there is a reason why there is only a select few who make it. You see that difference, not just physically but mentally in how they approach the game.”
After his three seasons with the Bills, Mace returned to his home country of Canada where he embarked on a six-year playing career with the Calgary Stampeders. During his playing career with the Stampeders, he was credited with 44 tackles and 4.0 sacks in 40 career regular-season games. He also scored a pair of touchdowns, recovering a fumble for one TD and catching a pass as part of a short-yardage unit. Mace appeared in six postseason games. He was part of Calgary’s 2014 Grey Cup Championship Team that defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 20-16, for the title. Mace was credited with a sack in the Grey Cup Championship Game.
When his playing career began to wind down, he started thinking of the next phase of his life and an option that began to present itself was coaching.
“In the sport of football, unfortunately injuries are something that is a part of game. I was one of those guys who kept suffering injuries, season-ending injuries,” said Mace. “I missed three seasons out of the six that I was in Canada, but the gift from that was I spent a lot more time around the coaching staff.
“I wanted to find a way to contribute while I was hurt, so I was doing a lot of little things for my defensive line coach at the time, who is now my boss (Defensive Cooordinator DeVone Claybrooks). I was doing more behind-the-scenes things and even when I was playing I was more the older guy, the guy who understood the playbook and was helping get everyone lined up where they needed to be.
“I think the coaches saw something in me, and when I told them I was ready to retire, that my body just couldn’t do it any more, they asked what I was going to do. I said I was thinking about getting into coaching, and they said ‘Well, why not here.’ It was a blessing. It worked out great, and I couldn’t ask for a better start.”
Now that Mace is on the other side of things as a coach, he is evaluating players the same way he was once evaluated. He was asked what that transition has been like after being a player for so many years and what it was like being at the Senior Bowl scouting some of the top players in the nation, including Cowboy quarterback Josh Allen.
“At the core of my being football has been my life, and I knew it was something that I wanted to stay involved with,” said Mace. “I love coaching. I’m happy that I got to start where I am now.
“Rubbing elbows with all the coaches down here at the Senior Bowl has been a great experience. I’m trying to pick their brains for every bit of information I can get. It’s an exciting process. I’m still relatively young in the coaching world. I’m only 32 years old. But I know the mindset that these young men are going through. It’s such an exciting process. You’re always pulling for them and you want them to do a great job.
“The first thing that always comes up this year is when I’m asked where I went to school and I say Wyoming, everyone says, ‘How about that Josh Allen?’. Everybody’s excited about Josh, and I am too. I didn’t have a chance to meet him the first day, but he was rocking that Steamboat on the side of his helmet. He had a pack of media following him around. I ran up to Josh right after the scrum later in the week, shook his hand and told him good luck and keep that chip/Wyoming work ethic with him wherever he goes.
“It’s the same type of fraternity that I had with my college and professional teammates — us Wyoming guys have to stick together. I’m pulling for him. I’m sure he is going to do a great job, and I’ve heard he is an outstanding young man. It’s just exciting to see these kids work so hard. This is their time, and they’ve earned the right to be here.”
Talking about the fraternity he had with his teammates, Mace has stayed in touch with many of his teammates from his time at Wyoming, as well as making connections with Cowboys who came after him who have made their way to the CFL.
“I’ve stayed in touch with most of my D-Line mates that I had at Wyoming — Jake Mayes, Aaron Robbins, Mike Groover. I just got in contact with Fred Givens,” said Mace. “I love checking on everybody, and seeing how everyone is. John Wendling is another teammate I’ve stayed in touch with. We’ve taken some trips together in the offseason, and he of course is living back there in Wyoming with his family. Those are my brothers right there. I love those guys.
“I brought Eddie (Yarbrough) up here to Calgary in 2016 when he was released at Denver (Broncos). I was hoping we were going to re-sign him. I was afraid when he left to go home and train after the season that he wouldn’t be coming back. Sure enough, it worked out great for him catching on at Buffalo (Bills). I’m so happy for Eddie.
“Gabe Knapton is another Wyoming guy who is playing up here in the CFL who I’ve made contact with. I know the kind of players we have at Wyoming, so I always keep my eye on players coming out of Wyoming.”
Mace also has maintained connections with his professional coaches and teammates.
“My defensive line coach at Buffalo, Bill Kollar, is on the Denver Broncos’ staff now — as is Sean Kugler, who was the offensive line coach when I was with the Bills, so I got to see both of them at the Senior Bowl,” said Mace. “I stay in touch with most of my old coaches who are around the league and a lot of the guys I played with, some who are still playing, like Marshawn Lynch with the Raiders. It’s a brotherhood, especially the class you go in with. You develop relationships with those guys. My wife always says, ‘Everytime we go to any city we always have some of your friends there.’ I tell her that’s football sweetheart. We can be in Laramie, Las Vegas, it doesn’t matter. Football is awesome in that sense.”
Mace was recruited to Wyoming by the staff of former head coach Joe Glenn. Glenn’s staff had several Montana ties, and as fate would have it Mace’s head coach at Calgary, Dave Dickenson, is a former All-America quarterback from the University of Montana who knew many members of the Glenn staff from their days in Missoula.
“Of course my head coach here at Calgary, Dave Dickenson, is a Montana guy, and he of course knows Joe and a lot of the guys from Coach Glenn’s staff — Coach (Chad) Germer, Coach (Lanny) Robinson, Coach (Bill) Cockhill. It’s amazing how things come full circle.”
Asked if there are things that he learned from Coach Glenn’s staff that he now tries to incorporate into his coaching philosophy, Mace said, “Absolutely! One thing that I always appreciated about Coach Rob (Lance Robinson) and Marty (English) is that they were themselves. I’ve been around a lot of coaches, and I find that being transparent and being yourself is something that players respond to the best. That is exactly what I try to do, and I learned that from those guys. I think we all knew as players that those guys were trying to teach us the best that they knew how because they wanted us to succeed. I try to do that now for the young men I work with.
“Coach Glenn could recruit with the best of them. He never forgot your name. He always had a story to tell about your family. He was the ultimate people person, and in the business we are in it is so important for players to know that your coaches are there to talk with you and help you. Joe was a perfect example of that. He was definitely a great leader.”
The coach that still serves as a mentor to Mace today is his junior college coach, J.G. Aegerter, at Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif.
“They say that there is always a coach that directs your career and is your favorite. He is mine,” said Mace. “I just saw him a couple of weeks ago, and I’m going to be going out to see him at Palomar after I get done here at the Senior Bowl.”
As Mace talked about his relationship with Aegerter and his planned trip back to Palomar, he eventually shared that his trip back this January would be for a special occasion — Mace’s induction into the Palomar College Athletic Hall of Fame. Mace was a two-time All-Mission Conference defensive end at Palomar in 2003 and ‘04.
“I’m going to have Coach Aegerter introduce me,” said Mace. “He started everything for me. If it wasn’t for him, Wyoming would have never been a possibility for me. When I got to Palomar, he taught me how to play D-line. I had zero technique, but he spent the time to teach me and taught me about Wyoming. Who knows where my career or my life would have been if it wasn’t for him. I owe that man the world.
“It goes to show the kind of people who come from Laramie. He hasn’t lived there for a long time, but he’s a Cowboy at heart.”
Personally, Mace and his wife, Petra, now make their home in Calgary. Petra is also an athlete, who competes in world class fitness competitions. She will be competing in the Arnold Classic professional and amateur bodybuilding, fitness, figure, bikini and physique championships in Columbus, Ohio, March 1-4, 2018. The competition and expo, named for Arnold Schwarzenegger, is in its 30th year.
“Right now, it’s just my wife and I. We’ve been married for about two years,” said Mace. “We’re looking forward to starting our own little family. You want to talk about competitors, I’m falling behind in my own household. My wife competes in fitness competitions. She’s going to the Arnold Classic in March, competing with some of the best in the world. I’m not even the true athlete in the family anymore.
“My father, John, lives in San Diego with my step mother, Tausha, and they run their companies out there. They’ve blessed me with two outstanding young siblings, Adam, who is 12, and Katelyn, who is 10. My little brother Adam is a huge football fan. He loves anything Tom Brady, which is tough being a former (Buffalo) Bill. Katelyn is hot on the figure skating right now, which is solid since the Olympics will give her some motivation. In Vancouver (British Columbia), I have my mom, Virginia, and my step father, Mike, who have raised a character kid in my little brother Jevaun, who’s a freakish football player. He is a quarterback and a safety — about 6’1” and 205 pounds. I think he wants to play safety in college. Jevaun has one more year of high school. I’ve already talked with some of the coaches on the staff there (at Wyoming), so my little brother might be rocking the Steamboat one day if it were up to me. But he needs to make his own mind up. He’s got a couple schools interested in him already.
“I love the direction Coach Bohl’s staff is taking the program at Wyoming. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a couple members of the staff — Coach Coop (AJ Cooper) and Gordie (Haug). They’ve done an incredible job. It’s an exciting time for Cowboy Football.
“It’s also an exciting time for our family. I couldn’t be more happy for what my family has done for me personally and what they have accomplished for themselves, and I obviously know the support the kids are getting from my parents is just as strong as it was for me. I can’t wait until we have some kids of our own because they have set such a solid foundation for us to build off of.”