Few people in Southern Nevada can better gauge what it takes to succeed in football than Mike Pritchard. The 1987 Rancho High School graduate was a star running back with the Rams before attending the University of Colorado, where he switched to wide receiver and established himself as one of the nation’s most versatile offensive threats. With the Buffaloes, Pritchard was named MVP of Colorado’s 1990 national championship team. He subsequently was selected in the first round (13th overall) of the 1991 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons, and also played with the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, finishing with 422 catches for 5,187 yards and 26 touchdowns in nine seasons.
Now entering his seventh year as radio analyst for UNLV football games, the 42-year-old Pritchard will team with new play-by-play announcer Russ Langer, calling the action on ESPN Radio 1100-AM and 98.9-FM, beginning with the Rebels’ season opener against Minnesota on Aug. 30.
Looking at the schedule, how many games do you think UNLV will win this year?
Realistically, with where this program is right now, I’m expecting them to win at least five games. The schedule is conducive to that, and I also think there is enough experience on this roster to produce five wins.
What has been the biggest obstacle preventing UNLV from landing more of the top local high school football players, and how seriously did you consider playing for the Rebels?
The biggest obstacle is the fact that UNLV just hasn’t introduced itself to the local talent. The local talent, myself included, would be very receptive to the opportunity to attend UNLV and play for the Rebels. When I was coming up, I was getting recruited across the nation by other schools, so UNLV might have thought that it didn’t have a shot. … I did consider the Rebels. What happened was I had declared my five official visits, and UNLV was not one of them. I went on three visits—to Pitt, Colorado and Illinois—and I canceled my other two because I verbally declared with Colorado. But then UNLV came calling. I still had two official visits, so I used one so I could look at the program—I just didn’t want to overlook them—and I came very close to changing my mind and staying in Las Vegas, but I wanted to honor my verbal commitment. It was just a case of UNLV showing [a lot of] interest at a later stage.
How has UNR been able to lure so many Southern Nevada kids up there and field a consistently better football program than UNLV?
[Wolf Pack coach] Chris Ault does a great job of selling that program and understanding what it takes to compete in this state. He’s very in tune. He really taps into that mindset of what it takes to have pride in a program, and a lot of kids are starting to believe in that, and that’s why they continue going up there.
There are many people in Southern Nevada who believe that private schools, specifically Bishop Gorman, shouldn’t be allowed to compete against public schools for state championships. What’s your opinion?
Well, I’m a competitor. So my mindset is, yes, I would love to see Gorman continue to compete with the other local schools. It’s just [coaches need to ask themselves], “What do I have to do to get on Gorman’s level? How can I develop these guys to compete at a higher level, a level that Gorman has achieved already?” Those are the questions, and hopefully a lot of [public] schools will have the answers. The worst thing you can do is go backward and be intimidated by the success of Gorman. If anything, you have to embrace it and see how your program can reach that level.
High school, college or the NFL—which level of football do you look back at most fondly?
Playing pro football was a dream come true. Very few people play professional football, and I’m very proud that I was able to do so. But I have to say that coming of age, going to the University of Colorado at 17 years old and accomplishing the goal of winning a national championship by 21, and then being the MVP of that national championship team, that is a tremendous accomplishment and probably the one that I’m most fond of.
Which NFL wide receiver today impresses you the most?
Calvin Johnson [of the Detroit Lions] is the obvious choice; he’s a freak. To be that big, that strong and that fast, he’s got great genes, but he obviously cultivated and molded his talent to where he’s on an exceptional level. But the guy I’m eyeing right now is A.J. Green of Cincinnati. He reminds me of a faster Jerry Rice. I say that because his route running is so precise, he catches everything and you can line him up wherever you want on the field. He can do so many things; he’s just a gifted receiver.
Where are you most likely to be found in Las Vegas in your free time?
My favorite place is probably Bellagio, having dinner at Olives restaurant on the balcony overlooking the Strip and the fountains show. That gives you a little bit of old Vegas but also a little bit of new Vegas, and the energy level there is unmatched.