Posts Tagged ‘UNLV Football’

W.G. Ramirez

CamJefferson

Desert Oasis-graduate and former UNLV lineman Cam Jefferson is in San Francisco for Super Bowl 50 as a member of the Denver Broncos’ practice squad. PHOTO: Courtesy Cam Jefferson/Snapchat

Cam Jefferson had just finished a stint in the Canadian Football League, with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and returned to Las Vegas for the winter.

The former Desert Oasis High School and UNLV offensive lineman hadn’t given the NFL a thought, since the Chicago Bears waived him on Aug. 30 and no other team seemed interested. So he did what many former athletes do when they return to Vegas, he got a job working security at a local nightclub.

That was until his agent called and told him to get on a plane and head to Englewood, Colorado, where the 6-foot-5, 317-pounder had a tryout with the Denver Broncos.

“The following week I got the call that I was being brought in for the practice squad,” said Jefferson, via a phone interview from San Francisco, where the Broncos are preparing for Super Bowl 50. “I was so excited I began calling everyone – my girlfriend, my mom, friends, everyone.”

His dream had come true. He was an NFL player.

Jefferson, who spent the summer with the Chicago Bears after being signed as an undrafted free agent May 3, is still a member of Denver’s practice squad. And while that means he won’t be getting into the biggest game of the NFL season, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t played a pivotal role in helping the AFC champs get to this point.

“I go against players like DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller every day,” said Jefferson, who has been with the Broncos since Dec. 8. “It’s really an honor going against these guys and then seeing them ball out on game day. For that I feel like I’m a part of this team every single day.”

Jefferson was born in Cleveland, where his father, William, played for the NFL’s Browns (1989-90). After his father’s professional career ended – he also played for the Los Angeles Raiders and spent time in the CFL and WFL – the Jeffersons relocated and Cam was raised in Southwest Las Vegas, where he attended Sierra Vista High School as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Desert Oasis.

Interestingly, Jefferson starred as a basketball player before even thinking of playing football. He didn’t set foot on a football field until his junior year, when he earned all-Southwest Region honors for the Diamondbacks. It was his father who has always been his biggest inspiration, as he was the main reason he switched to the gridiron his junior year.

“He’s been through it all, and all I can do is try to follow in his footsteps and be even greater than he was,” said Jefferson, who transferred to Arkansas from UNLV for his senior season. “My Pops always told me, football – even in most sports – is mostly mental. If your mental isn’t right in anything you do, especially sports, you can’t accomplish anything. Your mind has to be set.

“These last couple weeks, my Pops has been telling me to enjoy the moment, and everyone has been telling me to enjoy this because nobody gets this opportunity.”

Which is why the younger Jefferson always remained focused upon returning from Arkansas, in Chicago, up in Winnipeg, and back home in Las Vegas – all before landing in the Mile High City.

His mental strength and positive outlook is paying off, as he’s been enjoying the limelight with the Broncos: Snapchatting from Opening Night Media Day and throughout San Francisco, being interviewed by CBSSports.com for a piece on Super Bowl players with tattoos, and simply soaking up the experience leading up to the biggest game of the season.

And even though the “Cam” everyone else tuning into the game will be familiar with will be wearing powder blue and black, igniting Panthers fans with a dab or two, Cam Jefferson is taking pride that he’s helped guys like Ware and Miller, and been involved in meetings on what it means to protect Peyton Manning.

“It always starts in the trenches, no matter what play it is, what down it is, what quarter, what half it is, really, or what game – it all starts on the line,” Jefferson said. “Peyton makes plays because we makes plays. And it doesn’t really matter who it is, the priority of this football team is to execute at the highest level.

“The last couple of months have been crazy. As a football player, you dream of these moments. But to live in them is an entirely different thing. Things have really come full circle for me, because my ultimate goal was to sign a contract. This season has turned out to be a blessing.”

CAM’S PREDICTION: “I can’t give you a score, but we’ll have more points than the other team.”

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Tallis Wallington runs through a football drill Tuesday at the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl Football Clinic at UNLV.

W.G. Ramirez

“Football has become safer to play than it’s ever been – it’s the world’s greatest game.”

That was the message UNLV football coach Bobby Hauck continually embedded into the minds of nearly 600 exuberant youths who attended Tuesday’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl Youth Football Clinic at Rebel Park.

And while Hauck might have an easier time getting his Rebels back into the postseason than he did grabbing the attention of the rotating groups of roughly 100 whippersnappers ranging in age from six through 14, it was the ensuing message that left the parents in attendance eyes wide open.

“Last year there was one youth football player nationally who died; 600 kids died riding their bikes,” he told each audience.

Alarming? Sure. True? Possibly.

Based on the research I did by scouring the Internet, there is no doubt that hundreds of bicyclists died last year. Of course, many were hit by cars, but from what I can tell, the youths who died from head trauma were not wearing helmets.

Safety first.

Which brings us back to not only Hauck’s first comment, but the same message I’ve heard all summer in conducting several interviews for a handful of football projects.

Tuesday was no different, and it was refreshing to see so many kids enthusiastic about a sport that has been conked upside the noggin with a national concern toward head injuries.

“I think the game, to a degree, has been under attack a little bit,” Hauck said. “It’s good to see these parents and all these kids excited about football. Five and 600 kids out here on a Tuesday morning in early August to participate in a football camp is kind of exciting, just to see the interest level in Revel football, and also in the game itself.”

VIEW A PHOTO GALLERY OF THE CLINIC HERE

After a pre-clinic speech, the kids were broken up into colorized groups – purple, red, yellow, etc – and taken to different stations where the Rebels practice every day. Some moved through drills as if they felt they’d be the next Robert Griffin III, others were there with their youth-football league teammates – like the Las Vegas Aces – getting ready for the season, there boys and girls just having fun and like most athletic events like these, there was a random father or two that was more into the training than his son.

“My dad keeps yelling at me that I’m in the wrong line,” cried one little camper to UNLV defensive back Sidney Hodge, who promptly flipped the boy’s frown upside down with a vote of confidence, got him in line – which the boy was right about all along – and the young trooper dominated his next time through the drill.

“I have two kids of my own, so coming out here, being fired up trying to show a little enthusiasm for them, I know it goes a long way,” Hodge said. “I would strongly encourage a lot more kids to come out. I think it’s something good for them – as far as learning the game of football.”

And learning it the right way, at a young age.

“The key to the whole thing is teaching the kids the game the right way at the right age,” said John Saccenti, executive director of the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. “We have professional coaches here with UNLV football coaches and football players who hopefully can teach these kids how to play the game the right way and how to stay safe and enjoy the game.”

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Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl executive director John Saccenti addresses a group of youths at Tuesday’s football clinic. Nearly 600 local youths attended the clinic at UNLV.

On a national level, there has been an increased effort toward educating parents, players and coaches about the sport, much deeper than before. Heads Up Football has been adopted by nearly 2,800 groups, and as the second season of the educational program begins, it has the biggest backer it could ask for – the National Football League. The NFL has granted USA Football – the national governing body for the sport – with a five-year, $45 million endowment. With nearly 11,000 football leagues across the United States, former Pittsburgh Steeler and ESPN analyst Merril Hoge believes Heads Up Football can eventually become a teaching tool nationally.

“It is the responsibility of parents, administrators, coaches – I don’t care the sport, even a teacher at during recess or lunch – they need to be educated on head trauma,” Hoge told me earlier this summer. “We have done a better job in football.”

Hoge said the biggest mistake parents can make is to take their kids out of extracurricular activity, and that by avoiding to take action to provide a safer environment for their children, it’ll be a bigger detriment in the long run.

“Part of that is about playing the game correctly, teaching the game correctly, so if and when there is head trauma, the proper protocol is followed,” Hoge said. “When you do that, the (athlete) is returned to play in a safe state. Doing the right thing, understanding the right symptoms – whatever environment we’re talking about – we’ve created a safer environment.

“We have parents who are not going to let their son play (football), but they’ll drive home and let them jump on a bike without a helmet. There is more upside to sports and being active, especially in a certified program that provides a safer environment, than sitting on a couch eating donuts and playing X-Box.”

Hoge said concussion awareness has become widespread nationwide, and an arduous effort in educating and informing people – from youth football, to high school, to college and to the NFL – is finally paying off. Hoge believes, as a whole, football is in a proactive state, rather than a reactive state, as there is enough information available to learn how to treat head injuries properly.

“Where we’re at now, compared to three years ago, is astronomical,” Hoge said.

Said Saccenti: “If we’re all getting together and we’re teaching kids how to play the right way, how to tackle the right way … and trying to keep the game safe, at this age, hopefully that carries with them at every level and makes them better football players and safer football players.”

Hauck agreed.

“I feel good about the game, I think it’s safer than it’s ever been,” Hauck said. “I still think it’s the world’s greatest game.”

By W.G. Ramirez

Perhaps it was a wake-up call.

Arbor View senior Jacob Speaks calls it a blessing.FtbSV 045

Watching some of his fellow seniors sign letters-of-intent to play college football, Speaks was – metaphorically speaking – silent.

Salah Boyce and Devon Turner committed to the University of Mary in North Dakota, while Lonnie Sharpe and Anthony Smith announced they were headed to Victor Valley College, Calif. And yet the two-way player who led the Aggies in receiving yards and ranked second on the team in rushing yards appeared to be going nowhere.

“I was stressing for a minute, but I had to think to myself ‘you can’t have everything,'” said Speaks, a 6-foot, 185-pound monster who finished last season with 126 receiving yards and 676 rushing yards. “I went through a three-week depression, as if I wasn’t going to make it. Not signing, that feeling like all the hard work I put in, then you get to this stage, and boom – nothing!”

But Speaks knows he is better than that, and is confident he can compete to play at the next level. Thus, upon being accepted to UNLV last week, he announced he will attempt to walk-on with the football Rebels in the fall.

“I got to a point where I thought to myself ‘I waited too long,’ then I thought to myself: ‘UNLV, why not?'” said Speaks, who ranked fifth on the team in scoring with 48 points. “I had to think about what was best for me overall and I knew I could stay here, afford in-state tuition and have a chance to walk-on. This happening is a true blessing.”

Speaks’ story reeks of the same one former Cimarron-Memorial standout Tim Hasson played out at UNLV.

Hasson played in every game as a Rebel, after taking advantage of the opportunity to walk on, earning his spot on the team and becoming a defensive leader by his senior season, last year.

“Tim is a great story, a great example for young players coming into college,” UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said last fall prior to the season-opener at Minnesota. “He showed up here as a walk-on wide receiver and three weeks later he was actually playing in a game as an outside linebacker.”

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Speaks succeed at either level, as he starred on both sides of the ball for the Aggies. He finished his senior season with a pair of 100-yard games, which is significant since coach Dan Barnson had eight running backs to choose from in just about every game. He also led team in rushing in three games, including a 96-yard effort against eventual state champion Bishop Gorman in the playoffs. On defense, Speaks ranked eighth on the team with 36 tackles and was second on the team with two interceptions.

Hauck, who is prohibited from speaking about walk-on players, opened spring practice Monday at Rebel Park, looking to carryover the momentum from last season’s run to a New Year’s Day bowl game last season. The fifth-year Rebels coach has repeatedly said he looks for locals, even though most standouts are eager to head out of town for their college experience.

“Our philosophy in recruiting is to start with local guys and then move on from there,” Hauck said last fall. “The hardest guys sometimes, it seems like to convince that UNLV and Vegas are great places, are the Vegas guys. We’ve got guys from all over the country and all over the world right now and guys have come because they think this is a great place and has some potential to be good and good for them.”

Nevertheless, Hauck is a staunch believer that hometown players – like Hasson – tend to thrive.

“I think it’s a big deal, and I think it’s more prevalent in football than other sports,” Hauck said. “We’ve got guys from all over town here, and they all feel strongly about their high school. You represent your team and your school and to a degree the state you live in. I think it’s great when guys are passionate about that representation. We’re going to keep working hard on the local guys and hopefully we can get our share.”

Don’t be surprised if Hauck’s next great local standout is someone whose talent ‘Speaks’ volumes on the field.

By W.G. Ramirez

While starring for Desert Oasis High School, offensive lineman Cam Jefferson was sought after by two schools: UNR and Northern Arizona.

He played in the annual showcase game for high school seniors, and as he puts it, all his all-star teammates had 10 offers on the table compared to his two.

“I couldn’t stand Reno, I didn’t like the city at all,” Jefferson said. “Reno was my first offer, then NAU came along.”

Jefferson v AFA by IIA

UNLV junior Cam Jefferson has started 23 straight games on the offensive line, where he’s played every position besides center for the Rebels.

Thankfully for him, he adds, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck replaced Mike Sanford, and then he came along after NAU.

“Thanks to Bobby and them, they came at the last second and scooped me right up,” Jefferson said. “I love the coaches really.”

And despite having less wins in his college career than he did as a junior for Desert Oasis, he couldn’t be any happier as a Rebel.

“It’s been up and down, but my main goal for me personally was to get better from day one,” said the 6-foot-6, 300-pound junior, who has played every position on the offensive line besides center for the Rebels and has started 23 consecutive games dating back to 2011. “Just ’cause I wasn’t born here, I still rep Vegas to the fullest. Vegas is really dear to my heart, ’cause this is where I grew up.

“This is where my family is, this is where my great friends are here, I take pride in it. Wherever we go … I’m reppin’ Vegas and UNLV to the fullest.”

Jefferson was born in Cleveland, where his father, William, played for the NFL’s Browns (1989-90). After his father’s professional career ended, the Jeffersons relocated and Cam was raised in Southwest Las Vegas, where he attended Sierra Vista High School as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Desert Oasis. He was more of a basketball player, and didn’t set foot on a football field until his junior year, when he earned all-Southwest Region honors for the Diamondbacks.

He credits his father for the switch from the hardwood to the gridiron.

“My Dad is my biggest inspiration, as far as football,” Jefferson said. “He’s the main reason I wanted to play football my junior year. He would always tell me about football. He’s been through it all, and all I can do is try to follow in his footsteps and be even greater than he was.

“My Pops always told me, football – even in most sports – is mostly mental. It’s probably about, from what my Pops says, 90 percent mental. If your mental isn’t right in anything you do, especially sports, you can’t accomplish anything. Your mind has to be set.”

It’s the kind of positive attitude and motivation Hauck relishes in having on his football team.

“If we could get a hundred of that guy, we’d take ’em,” Hauck said. “He’s such a quality guy, he’s a team guy. He’s a really solid player on the offensive line, he’s a captain on the football team as a junior. He’s just a wonderful guy.

“(And) they’re great people around town. They’ve been good, not just for their own son, but for a lot of our kids who are here from out of town. They have ’em over for dinner and they look out for them and they’re just a great family.”

More than anything, for Hauck and the Rebels, Jefferson is a reliable anchor on an offensive line that finally came to life last Saturday against Central Michigan, opening holes for running back Tim Cornett, and protecting quarterback Caleb Herring in a 31-21 win. The Rebels will look to even their record at 2-2, not to mention match their season-win total the past three seasons, tonight against Western Illinois at Sam Boyd Stadium.

And to keep that offense moving tonight against the Leathernecks, Hauck said it starts and ends with “a nameless group of five that makes the whole thing go:” the offensive line.

“How they go, our offense goes,” the fourth-year coach said. “All those guys that make the big plays and get their names up in lights and get talked about, they can’t do anything without the big fellas; they all acknowledge that in the locker room, and Cam is an important piece of that group.”

Though Jefferson doesn’t hesitate to agree, saying “it always starts in the trenches,” he also takes pride when his skill-position teammates make the headline plays.

“When we see guys like Vante (Devante Davis), Caleb, Tim, Nick Sherry, Anthony Williams – when they get explosive runs, explosive big plays – we know it started up front. If we don’t block for them, they couldn’t make those big plays. At the same time, if they don’t make those big plays, what we did was would be for nothing almost. It would be on us.”

With another year ahead of him, Hauck has the benefit of possibly molding a future NFL lineman, something Jefferson would love to do, following in his father’s footsteps.

“That’s my main goal, at the end of it all,” said Jefferson, a Psychology major. “Get my degree, be one of the greatest at UNLV and go off to be in the NFL.”

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Junior Brett Boyko, coach Bobby Hauck and senior Tim Hasson were upbeat at this week’s press conference.

By  W. G. Ramirez

UNLV executed well and simply suffered some tough breaks to fall apart against Minnesota and lost 51-23 two weeks ago in the season opener. Coach Bobby Hauck showed up at his weekly press conference appearing a bit dismayed and simply drained mentally.

UNLV looked abysmal against Arizona in the Rebels’ home opener last Saturday, falling behind 45-6 at the half, getting outgained offensively 478-282 and eventually getting thumped, 58-13. Hauck, along with senior Tim Hasson and junior Brett Boyko, all walked into this past Monday’s press conference upbeat, jovial and joking with reporters.

Go figure.

“We gotta regroup and attack this week,” Hauck said. “Arizona beat us soundly; it’s time to move on from that one.”

Said Boyko: “We haven’t shown our full potential yet. We gotta strive for that. There are always positives you can take (out of losses).”

Well alrighty then. On to Central Michigan, which is 1-1 after rallying with 17 fourth-quarter points to get past New Hampshire last week for a 24-21 victory.

“We can’t let a 0-2 start just be the end of our season,” Hasson said. “There are plenty of teams in the past who even this year will lose their first two games and still go on to get a bowl game or get a winning season.”

The only thing missing was a LeBron James-like throne for Santa Claus and Christmas music; it was so positive and jolly.

And though oddsmakers just minutes up the street from Rebel Park have made the Rebels a double-digit favorite, the Chippewas are no slouch. Besides, who are the Rebels to take any team lightly and assume a team out of the Mid-American Conference is an easy win. After all, Northern Arizona came into Sam Boyd Stadium last year as a 13.5-underdog and won outright, 17-14.

“We’re aware they’re a good team, they have been,” said Hauck, about the Chippewas. “We just gotta get ready to go this week. We’re two weeks into the season (and) our opponents have scored six touchdowns (with) our defense on the bench.”

Hauck was talking about the many mistakes his team has made, including three interceptions returned for a touchdown, a fumble recovery taken to the house, a blocked field goal returned for six and a kickoff returned for a TD.

“No one is gonna win when you do those things,” said Hauck, who is now 6-34 in his fourth year as coach of the Rebels.

And while he is well aware CMU ranks No. 1 in the MAC in interceptions with four, Hauck is hoping his athletic secondary can create a few miscues in the Rebels’ favor this week, as CMU will hand the offense over to redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Rush, who will be making his first career start. Rush saw his action last weekend against New Hampshire, and helped the Chippewas in their comeback win. The strong-armed QB finished the game completing 19-of-32 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns.

And while the Chipps are confident in their young gun, Hauck remained firm on his confidence in Nick Sherry, who was benched last week during the Arizona debacle. Caleb Herring stepped in for Sherry, who was just 6 of 22 for 111 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions – both of which were returned for touchdowns.

“Our starting quarterback a week ago set a school record for completions in a game; and the next week we have a meltdown,” Hauck said. “My assessment of Nick is he is a tough kid. He’s the guy who has the ability to bounce back. Within a game, that’s probably an art that more veteran players have. Week in, week out I think he’s shown the ability to pull himself out of it.”

The bottom line is whether or not the entire team and coaching staff as a whole can pull themselves out of it, and produce a victory in the middle game of this crucial three-game homestand. Next week is no picnic, with Western Illinois visiting, and all the FCS schools that have already scored upsets.

“We’ve got the guys in the locker room who want to compete and want to play hard,” Boyko said. “We’ve got the guys who want to win. When you’ve got those types of guys in the locker room, it makes you want to head in the right direction.”

Added Hauck: “It’s about winning and losing and we aren’t (winning) right now. Winning is good, losing is horrible. There’s nothing good about it, there’s nothing to gain from it and winning is good.

“It’ll be alright; it’ll be alright. We played two good teams and we didn’t beat ’em. We’ll be alright.”

Well alrighty then. Bring on Central Michigan!

UNLV vs. CMU – Central Michigan has played UNLV three times, with all three meetings taking place in the span of two seasons (1993-94). CMU lost to the Rebels in Las Vegas on Sept. 18, 1993, 33-20, in the first-ever meeting. On Sept. 10, 1994, the Chippewas returned the favor in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., by earning a 35-23 victory. The most high-profile clash was a rematch of the second meeting, on Dec. 15 1994, when the two met in the Las Vegas Bowl. Led by all-purpose back Henry Bailey, UNLV stymied the Chippewas, 52-24.

QUARTERBACK COMPETITION – As much confidence as Hauck has for Sherry, the quarterback job is certainly there for the taking after the first two weeks. Although Herring didn’t dazzle anyone last Saturday in place of Sherry, as he completed just 3 of 5 pass attempts for a mere 14 yards, Hauck knows what he’s capable of and liked his ready-to-go attitude when called upon. And with the two battling all week at Rebel Park during practices, it’s no surprise Hauck said he may wait until gameday to name his starter.

“We’ve said all along we feel like we have two guys that have game experience, and that’s a real benefit to the team,” Hauck said. “Some guys get it going, or they don’t. Obviously we like our guy – we like our guys, plural. We feel like they’re capable.

“The quarterback is the most visible part, but for all of us, Saturday is the exam. You prepare all week, and you get to go out and perform.”

Whoever Hauck hands the rock to, Sherry or Herring, he better be ready to pass that exam.

KEY MATCHUP – Central Michigan Titus Davis is doing his best to build his brand, as one of the nation’s top receivers. Last week he torched New Hampshire’s secondary, for 184 yards on six receptions, including two touchdowns. Among his six catches was a 97-yard scoring play, the junior wideout’s second 90-plus yard touchdown catch of his career.

UNLV’s senior defensive back Tim Hasson knows how crucial a win is Saturday night, so don’t be surprised if he’s called upon to key in on and put the clamps on Davis.

“I feel like our best game has yet to be seen,” Hasson said. “And that’s where a lot of guys are still confident. Our guys are capable of making the plays that we didn’t make (in the first two games). I know we’re better than that. We didn’t play as good as we can, we didn’t execute our assignments.”

Against a receiver like Davis, who led CMU with 860 receiving yards, eight receiving touchdowns, and a 71.7 receiving yards per game average in 2012, executing assignments will be a must.

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