Posts Tagged ‘UNLV’

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.”

wade and tarkanianBy W.G. Ramirez

This April will mark the 28th anniversary of my first published article after high school.

Less than a year after graduating from Clark High School, my exclusive interview with then-UNLV point guard Mark Wade was splashed across the front page of the Las Vegas Sentinel-Voice, the state’s only African-American newspaper.

That was 1987. Little did I know the next time we’d do another exclusive 1-on-1 interview, it would be under somber circumstances.

But sure enough, less than 30 seconds after texting my ol’ buddy Mark, he replied with one simple word: “Yes.”

The question: “Mark, you available for an interview about Tark?”

Mark Wade 2Just as he was UNLV’s loyal floor general who helped lead the Runnin’ Rebels into the 1987 Final Four, and was an extension of the coaching staff on the court, he was loyal to his former coach on Wednesday, roughly three hours after we were all saddened by the news that Jerry Tarkanian had joined his friend and former North Carolina coach Dean Smith in the afterlife.

Mark, understandably shaken, spoke about a number of things with me, talking about how much Tarkanian meant to not only him, but the program, university and city of Las Vegas. Much of what he said, I knew. The broad strokes, of course I knew. I’ve been here since 1972, and used to watch the Runnin’ Rebels play inside the Las Vegas Convention Center’s famed Rotunda, which resembled a spaceship.

From Sweet Lew Brown, Eddie Owens, Sudden Sam Smith, Robert Smith, Reggie Theus and that high-flying bunch from the 70s, to Wade’s crew that included Armen Gilliam, Freddie Banks, Eldridge Hudson and Gary Graham, I had seen them all. Yep, long before the 1990 National Championship – with Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, Anderson Hunt and George Ackles – we were all bleeding Rebel Red.

Including Mark.

Which is why his phone began blowing up shortly after the 84-year-old legend died at Valley Hospital, just minutes from his home. So many people knew what Tarkanian meant to Mark, who might have been diminutive in size, but who had as big a heart as any other Runnin’ Rebel in the history of the program.

Which is why, to this day, he defends UNLV to the core.

“There was always this misperception that we were this undisciplined, crazy, helter-skelter uncontrollable basketball program,” Wade said. “But as chaotic as it looked, it was unbelievably disciplined basketball. To us, we had a plan and it was directed toward what we were supposed to do. Even on the championship team, they all had roles on the floor en route to winning the championship. Us, that 1987 Final Four team, we had a plan and we knew what we were doing and what we had to do to get as far as we did. We had a plan that was set forth in practice.”

And boy did the Runnin’ Rebels execute it.

They finished 37-2, averaged 92.5 points per game, allowed 75.5 points per contest and lost in the National Semifinal, 97-93, to eventual champion Indiana.

But it was the game before that, against Iowa in the West Regional Final that Mark wanted to talk about. It’s the one game he remembers absolutely everything about, and the one game he believes epitomized the life and soul of Tark the Shark.

“The eternal fight of telling one another we weren’t going to lose that game, that’s what I remember,” Wade said. “We were getting out butt whipped out there, I got my fourth foul and Gary (Graham) came in the game. And no matter how far down we got, we just always had the mentality it was us against the world and we were going to fight ’til the clock said zero.”

Just like Tarkanian. In real life.

“The Iowa game epitomized what Coach Tark was all about; it epitomized what college basketball was all about,” he said.

Wade_MarkWade remembers one intangible being the culprit allowing Iowa to open a 16-point halftime lead on the Runnin’ Rebels. That culprit, in a sense, was Tarkanian, who had Gilliam throwing the ball in each time Iowa scored.

“Our best finisher was taking the ball out of bounds, and that wasn’t working,” Wade said. “So at halftime, rather than him telling us what we were doing wrong, a couple players went to coach and we told him to switch Jarvis Basnight with Gilliam, putting the team’s best scorer into frontcourt, rather than the backcourt.

“And that is what essentially changed the flow of the game.”

UNLV outscored the Hawkeyes 42-23 in the second half and advanced to its second-ever Final Four.

“Coach and I never had any serious battles, what we had was a meeting of the minds on the basketball court,” Wade said. “We found a happy medium and that’s what made me enjoy being a point guard for that team.”

It was that kind of relationship that taught Wade to trust a coach, taught Tarkanian a lot more about the point guard on his team and displayed the type of coach who wasn’t afraid to learn from his players while teaching them how to win.

“He taught his players to fight through practice ’til they had nothing left, and in games, the model was to play ’til the game was over,” Wade said. “In life, his journey was the same as what we stood for on the basketball court. You fight until you have nothing left, to the very end.”

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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)

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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)

 

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On Nov. 18, in an exclusive interview, Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez spoke about his six-year tenure there, how he’s built the program, this year’s postseason and what’s up next for him. Photo: W.G. Ramirez

By W.G. Ramirez

Well, that escalated quickly.

UNLV coach Bobby Hauck told Tina Kunzer-Murphy on Friday that he is resigning his position after coaching the team in Saturday’s season-ending game against UNR, at Sam Boyd Stadium.

And hours after the press release surfaced and Kunzer-Murphy answered additional questions, social media blew up with rumors that Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez was the leading candidate to replace Hauck, with tens of millions of dollars following him from the Fertitta family.

The Fertittas, big backers of Gorman’s athletic program, specifically football, will reportedly pay the$400,000 buyout for Hauck – tweeted first by the Review Journal’s Mark Anderson.

“We were given an opportunity to get it done here at UNLV and we simply did not win enough games,” said Hauck, who has two years left on a contract that was extended after he led the Rebels to a bowl game last season. “It’s my responsibility to push the program forward and I wish we would have produced better results.”

As he heads into Saturday’s Battle for the Fremont Cannon, Hauck will be finishing his fifth year at UNLV and 12th overall as a head coach. He was 15-48 with the Rebels, including 11-27 in the Mountain West Conference. Prior to becoming the 10th head coach in UNLV history, he compiled an 80-17 mark at the FCS-level University of Montana from 2003-09.

The Rebels go into Saturday’s finale with a record of 2-10 overall and 1-6 in league play.

“No one has worked harder in trying to achieve consistent success with our football program than Coach Hauck and we thank him for his dedication and leadership,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “He and his staff have worked tirelessly in trying to achieve the results we all want to see but it unfortunately has not happened.”

According to several sources, the Fertitta family is willing to inject enough money into UNLV’s program if in fact Sanchez wants the job.

The move would make sense, as Lorenzo Fertitta’s son, Nico, is a senior defensive back headed for Notre Dame next season. Sanchez and the Gaels are on the brink of another state title, not to mention capturing the mythical national championship for being ranked No. 1 in several polls. At this point, there might not be much more to achieve at Gorman, as the foundation has been laid for the next era of Gael football.

When I spoke with Sanchez last week, for my 1-on-1 interview I released on Thanksgiving, we spoke about his future and what was next for him. He didn’t shy away from the question, but he also didn’t necessarily give me a direct answer.

Coy smiles and slight head nods tend to speak in volumes.

“‘Take every job like it’s your last and you won’t screw it up’ was the greatest advice I ever received,” Sanchez said. “I’ve always felt if you treat people right, if you do the right thing and if you work hard, you don’t make excuses and you stand for something, there’s always going to be possibility and opportunity out there for ya.”

Well, the possibility is now there, and once the Rebels conclude their season Saturday, and the Gaels wrap up what should be their sixth-straight state championship next week, the opportunity would be waiting. Sanchez, who helped shape Northern California’s California High in a five-year span, would easily have a pipeline to local talent, as the city’s top prep players would obviously be familiar with what he’s done at Gorman. The Gaels have several unsigned seniors – including star running back Russell Booze – and talented underclassmen who undoubtedly would consider following their high school coach if he bolted for the Rebels.

“We’re going a million miles an hour (right now),” Sanchez said. “I’m trying to get my kids recruited right now, we’re trying to finish the football season and really, we just really want to finish this thing strong. I don’t take too much time to worry about what’s going to happen later.

“I always treat people right cause you never know who’s going to show up in your corner down the road.”

By the looks of it, Kunzer-Murphy, the Fertittas and the Rebels are waiting just down the road.

Redshirt sophomore Bree Hammel (9) leads UNLV in points after the Rebels' first weekend of action.

Redshirt sophomore Bree Hammel (9) leads UNLV in points after the Rebels’ first weekend of action, last week in the UNLV Invitational. PHOTO: W.G. Ranirez

By W.G. Ramirez

D69836_35Bree Hammel was a star volleyball player at Bonanza High School.

In fact, she was so good she earned co-MVP honors in the Southwest division, was named an MVP for the Sunset Region, was recognized for her efforts with all-conference honors and was largely considered one of the valley’s top players.

But when the three-time all-conference, scholar-athlete arrived at UNLV, she forgot to check her ego at the door and was in store for a rude awakening.

The 5-foot-11 outside hitter-turned-middle hitter admits she was humbled going from the big girl on campus to the new kid on the block, but is thankful for what she’s learned the past two years – a redshirt season in 2012 and a redshirt-freshman campaign that saw her play in a total of 31 sets.

“I definitely needed to grow, and I’m happy (coach) redshirted me,” said Hammel, last weekend after the Rebels’ win over UC Riverside during the UNLV Invitational. “I came into college kind of cocky at first. I didn’t think that I needed to put effort into this. It finally clicked that I needed to put my work ethic into this.”

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UNLV’s Bree Hammel (9) and Alexis Patterson sky for a block against Cal Riverside’s Fabiana Rosas during Saturday’s UNLV Invitational. PHOTO: W.G. Ramirez

Just watching her, you’d never know she needed time to adjust to the next level, as her mere presence ignited the Rebels every time she stepped on the court. Whether she skied at the net for a kill, teamed with Alexis Patterson at the net for a block or showed off her vertical during one of her powerful jump serves. Fact it, her teammates noticeably respond to the electricity she generates on the floor.

“I said to her ‘what happened to that girl I recruited; I loved that girl and I haven’t seen her for a year and a half now,'” UNLV coach Cindy Fredrick said. “And all of a sudden, that’s when she just kind of decided ‘alright, I’m gonna get that girl back.'”

It was Fredrick’s decision to redshirt Hammel two years ago, and it was Hammel’s eventual decision to make an attitude change that both are hoping will benefit the Rebels by the time the Mountain West Conference schedule comes around.

The move from outside hitter to the middle has been a huge adjustment, but Hammel said she likes the action and appreciates the game much more, given how much activity she’s involved in during each set.

“I still have a lot of learning to do, but I think it’s cool that I get to shift from different positions,” she said. “I think the biggest part of me is just being aware on the court, having a volleyball IQ. In high school I just wanted to hit, I just wanted to hit harder and harder.

“I come here and it’s not about hitting harder, it’s like using your roll shots, using your tips, strategizing against the other team. I think coming in as a freshman I didn’t have that and I think that’s why I got redshirted. It made me a better player overall. This year I think it’s showing.”

After the Rebels’ first five matches, Hammel ranks second on the team with 51 kills and first with 29 blocks. She leads the team with 72.5 points overall.

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UNLV’s Bree Hammel (9) blocks Cal Riverside’s Ashley Cox last week in the UNLV Invitational. PHOTO: W.G. Ramirez

“She’s got a great personality, she’s fun, she’s upbeat, she loves to compete and I think that’s what draws everyone to her,” Fredrick said. “I think that’s what’s fun to play with, is kids that are so excited about what they do and how they play. I’m so proud of her and what she’s accomplished right now and how she’s transformed herself. Her first two years she had a few things on her plate that weren’t quite in the right direction, and all of a sudden she’s turned everything around. She’s gotten herself in such good physical condition, she has a whole new focus.

“As coaches that’s what you want to see happen to young people. So it’s really exciting for us to see that with Bree. We always knew she was a tremendous athlete, but she wasn’t using that and now she is, and it’s really fun to see.”

REBELS IN ACTION – Hammel and the Rebels return to action this weekend in South Orange, N.J., for the Seton Hall Invitational, and will play two more out of town tournaments – in Seattle and Conway, Ark. – before returning to host Southern Utah and Fresno State, on Sept. 23 and 25, respectively.