Vegas football contingent helps So. Oregon get to NAIA National Championship game

Posted: December 17, 2014 in General, NCAAF
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
worthington

Seven Las Vegas-based football players are on Southern Oregon’s football team, including Lantz Worthington (third from left). The Raiders play for the NAIA National Championship on Friday. PHOTO: Courtesy of Sports Information.

 

By W.G. Ramirez

If UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez (it’s okay to say that now, right?) needs proof it’s okay to recruit locally, and build a nucleus around Las Vegas talent, he should direct his attention to Ashland, Oregon – population 20,000. That’s an approximate number.

A more precise number is seven. How apropos, as Vegas’ winningest number on The Strip is the same number of Southern Nevada football players who attend Southern Oregon.

Why does this all matter? Because Friday at Noon pacific, the eighth-ranked Raiders will take on seventh-ranked Marian University (Ind.) for the NAIA Football Championship in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Yep, while the Rebels are licking their wounds after another two-win season, seven Las Vegas products may be donning national championship rings at the collegiate level. Southern Oregon, which was No. 22 in the preseason poll, knocked off third-ranked Saint Xavier, 62-37, two weeks ago to get to the final game. And history is on the Raiders’ side, as the lower seed has won the last four championships and seven of the last eight.

Coach Craig Howard has a wealth of talent he can brag about, but said he has been pleasantly surprised and overwhelmed with how well his Las Vegas contingent has worked out for his team during its championship run.

“It really was an untapped recruiting area,” Howard said from Daytona Beach, during a phone interview on Tuesday. “These guys have been a joy to coach. And we’re going to continue to recruit Las Vegas, no matter what, as it’s been a huge benefit for us.”

Linebacker Isiah Carter (Canyon Springs), running back Lantz Worthington (Centennial) and defensive back A.J. Cooper (Canyon Springs) made the trip with the Raiders, while defensive back Ray Robinson (Las Vegas), defensive back RaeQuan Bascombe (Canyon Springs), offensive lineman Terry Dodd (Cheyenne) and running back Malik Davis(Desert Pines) have been an integral part of getting the team prepared throughout the season, during practices.

“These kids played together for many years and they stayed together to build a pipeline from Las Vegas,” Canyon Springs coach Hunkie Cooper said. “We have a pretty good group of kids there.”

Cooper, who starred at UNLV and went on to become one of the biggest stars in the history of the Arena Football League, said he’s confident Sanchez will begin his recruiting process in Southern Nevada, as he knows the coaches and players, and respects what many of his now-former high school colleagues do at their respective schools.

The trio who made the trip to Daytona Beach agreed wholeheartedly.

“I think that a lot of Las Vegas talent is overlooked by a lot of schools because we’re small, speedy guys,” Carter said. “Nobody is willing to look into it and recruit from it because most schools are looking for prototypical football players, size wise.”

(TOMORROW: Read Isiah Carter’s touching story on who he’s dedicated the season to)

Carter2

Former Canyon Springs standout Isiah Carter, who played in 11 of 14 games for Southern Oregon, finished fourth on the team with 75 tackles. PHOTO: Sports Information

Carter finished fourth on the team with 75 tackles, after playing in 11 of the team’s 14 games. He recorded 10.5 tackles for loss, which ranked third on the team, and his 52 yards-for-loss ranked second-most on the team.

“I think that having guys from Vegas, it would make the transition to college much better if they went to UNLV,” said Carter, who also recorded four sacks this season. “I know our Vegas guys up here now have made this team more dynamic and more diverse on offense and defense.”

Worthington, who was one of the best running backs out of the Sunset Region last year, said former UNLV coach Bobby Hauck sat down with him and told him he could walk-on and make the team, but that he would not be offered a scholarship, mainly because they had been used up for out-of-town recruits and there simply was no more money left.

“Honestly, I think it’ll help the program if he brings in locals,” said Worthington, who has seen limited time, but is the fastest player on the Raiders, according to Howard. “It’s the way Sanchez runs his program, I mean, Gorman was phenomenal and I feel college athletes need that kind of leader and role model as a coach. He’s the type of coach that college athletes would love to play for, and I feel it will make a big difference if he can keep kids home.

“Kids will feel more appreciative being recruited by UNLV, knowing they can stay home. UNLV’s recruiting should always start with Las Vegas football players.”

In six games, Worthington rushed for just 31 yards on five carries. Nevertheless, Howard wasn’t afraid to say he’s shocked to this day he has Worthington, given how talented he is, and that he’s looking forward to him playing a lead role next season.

“Lantz hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time, but he’s the fastest player on the team,” Howard said. “He will definitely be a full-time starter next year. I don’t know why he is at Southern Oregon, because he is a Division I player. But hey, he’s an impact player for us, so everyone else’s loss is our gain.”

A.J. Cooper said it’s come up often, as the season has progressed, whether or not the Vegas boys will be staying in Ashland, or if they’d like to return home to play for the Rebels and Sanchez, or elsewhere for that matter.

“We’ve decided we started here and we want to build here,” said Cooper, who is Hunkie’s son. “Even though I’m a redshirt, I came for the trip so I can experience the feeling of playing for a national championship and that means something to me, so I’m going to stay loyal to my team and my coaches. But, there are guys who would feel good playing for their hometown (in Las Vegas). There’s a sense of motivation to play in front of friends and family. It would feel good to play for your hometown.”

Howard said it’s been his first move, to recruit locally, as it’s created a solid fan base, including sponsorship money from business owners who support the local team. But after recruiting from Ashland and surrounding areas, he said he knows where one of his first moves will always be after this seeing the results from this season.

“I don’t know if we lucked out, but character-wise, these guys from Las Vegas have been great,” Howard said. “They’re just great examples for our program. The character of those kids and the work ethic of those kids makes me want to go out and recruit that area annually.”

Given his success with Southern Nevada preps, something tells me Sanchez will be doing the same.

(Friday’s NAIA National Championship will be televised on ESPNU)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s