A year ago, the UNLV football team went 2-11 while suiting up 23 freshmen and playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules. Guess what? This year, the Rebels have 31 freshmen and one of the nation’s toughest schedules. So life won’t be much easier for coach Bobby Hauck in his second year at UNLV. The Rebels averaged 18 points per game and gave up 40 in 2010, but this year’s squad enters the season loaded with Hauck’s recruits and accustomed to his approach. They may not be ready to beat national powers such as Wisconsin, Boise State and TCU, but they’ve got plenty of players worth watching as the team grows.
#35 Tim Cornett
The sophomore running back is one of 50 players on the Watch List for the Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the most versatile player in the nation. Cornett became a starter at midseason last year and was the first freshman ever to lead the Rebels in rushing, gaining 546 yards and six touchdowns on 144 carries.
Hauck’s take: “He’s a powerful guy who can get you the tough yards, but if he gets in the open field he’s tough to catch.”
#8 Caleb Herring
The sophomore quarterback is the only experienced passer on the Rebels, playing in parts of eight games last season after redshirting in 2009. He won the starting job this year after completing 28 of 56 passes for 365 yards and four TDs with three interceptions in 2010.
Hauck’s take: “He’s got a good presence in the pocket, and he has the ability to pull it down and run for first downs when you need it.”
#40 Princeton Jackson
The junior middle linebacker is expected to have the biggest impact of all Rebel newcomers this year after being named a first-team Junior College All-American playing for Texas’ Blinn College in 2010. His performance is crucial to a UNLV team that lost all three starting linebackers from last season.
Hauck’s take: “He’s got a lot of energy and passion for the game, which is what you need at his position. If we want to be a consistent winning program, we’ve got to play some defense, and guys with attitude like Princeton’s are exactly what we’re looking for.”
#27 Nolan Kohorst
The Green Valley High School graduate had a solid freshman year as the Rebels’ kicker, starting all 13 games and leading the team with 53 points. He made 29 of 30 extra-point attempts and was 8-for-11 on field-goal tries, but he struggled from long distance, going just 1-for-4 on attempts of 40 yards or longer.
Hauck’s take: “He’s got to continue to strive for consistency and continue to develop leg strength. Certainly we are going to feel a lot better with him on the longer field goals than we did with him as a true freshman.”
#4 Phillip Payne
UNLV’s lone preseason All-Mountain West selection has been limited by a foot injury, but as one of just 14 seniors on the team, the Rebels will need the receiver’s leadership both on and off the field. The Western High School graduate had 40 catches for a career-high 689 yards and five TDs last year despite sitting out two games because of suspension.
Hauck’s take: “Phil’s probably our best player, and he’s got a chance to have a big season. He is becoming more and more complete as a football player every day.”
#10 Quinton Pointer
The three-year starter returns to the Rebels’ defensive backfield after missing all but one play last season with a knee injury. The senior cornerback, who has four interceptions and 167 tackles in his UNLV career, is one of the fastest players on the team.
Hauck’s take: “He’s been a good tackler on a defense that needs to improve in that area. He gives us some veteran presence and stability in our secondary, and we need him to be a leader over there.”
#18 Marcus Sullivan
The Cheyenne High School graduate was one of the nation’s top kickoff returners last year as a freshman, setting UNLV and Mountain West records with 976 yards on 35 returns (a 27.9-yard average). The sophomore receiver is expected to play a bigger role on offense this season after catching six passes for 102 yards and two TDs in 2010.
Hauck’s take: “Marcus is a dynamic player. Every time he touched the ball last year there was a chance for some real excitement.”