Unlv football preview
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FSM Essential Preview: 2021 UNLV Football Season Preview

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The 2021 UNLV football season kicks off on Thursday evening against Eastern Washington. It will be the first game that Allegiant Stadium will be open for all Rebels’ fans. FSM will give you the essential preview with answers to the most important questions on the field after our time at the Rebels Fall Camp.

 

UNLV Football Preview
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

UNLV head football coach Marcus Arroyo is entering year 2 as the Rebels’ commander and chief. The 2020 season saw unparalleled challenges that made it difficult for any coach to find some normalcy. Still, coach Arroyo did as good a job any anyone navigating through some choppy water. While the season didn’t go well on the field, coach Arroyo was able to get real evaluations on his players, and the players got to see the type of coach they have leading them.

Off the field, the UNLV football staff has done an excellent job recruiting and continuously upgrading the talent on the Rebels roster. UNLV has had Top 3 recruiting classes in the Mountain West Conference the past two offseasons under coach Arroyo. This year they used the transfer portal to add six players. Five of those six players are from Power-5 schools. Out of those five, one is quarterback Tate Martell.

Martell, a local high school football legend, will be the name every local media personality/reporter wants to talk about, in part because it’s low-hanging fruit and makes their jobs easier. The other reason is that the Rebels quarterback position has been a mess for quite some time. Coach Arroyo has done a great job easing Martell, who is coming off thumb surgery, into the quarterback competition – more on that later.

With the influx of talent via the transfer portal, the recruiting classes, and the returning players, the Rebels could be a team that surprises many. However, not too many people, including local radio hosts and the oddsmakers who put the win total at 1.5 for the season, expect the Rebels to compete for a Bowl berth. They speak for themselves. The players and coaches feel differently.

Now let’s get into the 2021 UNLV Rebels roster and breakdown.

 

Quarterbacks (6):

 

Justin Rogers (Jr)

Tate Martell (Jr)

Doug Brumfield (Soph)

Jared Heywood (Soph)

Cameron Friel (Fresh)

Matthew Geeting (Fresh)

 

UNLV Football Preview
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

The quarterback room, which was just three players in spring, doubled after the spring game. Rogers and Brumfield were the clear-cut front-runners for the starting spot, with the edge going to Brumfield. But Rogers continued to compete, and now it looks as if he may have overtaken the lead from the talented lefty after Brumfield had a foot injury that sidelined him for a few days. Friel also showed the flashes that excited the coaching staff to land him on National Signing Day. He is still raw and needs to better grasp the playbook, but he is progressing every day in the quarterback room and the practice field.

The wild card is Martell. The former Gatorade National Player of the Year comes home to Las Vegas, knowing that this is his last shot on the field. Martell has matured a lot and understands that he has to prove himself to his new teammates and coach. So far, he has done that and more. On the field, he is throwing the ball almost as well as he was before the thumb surgery and with a new throwing motion. Off the field, Martell heads to the Fertitta Football Complex at 4:30 a.m. every morning to “get his work in,” as he stated on social media. When Martell is fully cleared for contact, I expect him to get snaps and compete for the starting job with Rogers and Brumfield.

Heywood and Geeting will be competing for reps as well. I expect Geeting to redshirt, but he can play. He has shown good accuracy and arm strength but is still young and needs time to grow. Heywood surprised me in camp. He has good zip on the ball and can move. The former Rhode Island Ram is also well-liked by the team and should enter the season as the 4th quarterback.

 

Running Backs (8):

 

Charles Williams (Sr)

Chad Magyar (Sr)

Avery Miguel (Jr)

Courtney Reese (Soph)

Jayvaun Wilson (Soph)

Spencer Briggs (RS Fr)

Josh Tahida (RS Fr)

Sammy Green (Fr)

 

UNLV Football Preview
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

Charles Williams is the leader of the Rebels locker room. The senior is less than 800 yards away (793 yards, to be exact) from setting the All-Time rushing record at UNLV. “The Chuck Wagon” will once again be the focal point of the Rebel’s offense and one of the best backs in the MWC. If Williams can remain healthy and gets average quarterback play this season, he could have the type of year that puts him over the 1200 mark, as he did in 2019 when he ran for 1,257 yards and was named First-Team Mountain West Conference.

After Williams, coach Arroyo has his choice of the type of back that he wants. Wilson, an Oregon transfer, is a big back with exceptional hands and speed out of the backfield. The same can be said for Magyar, who is a better blocker than Wilson and looking to rebound from back-to-back injury-plagued seasons. Reese is lightning in a bottle. He can take it to the house whenever he touches the ball, either running or catching it.

The freshman, Shady Green, is another back that could get time when Williams needs a breather. Green is a lot like Williams and will benefit greatly from the mentorship Williams is already providing him. Finally, Spencer Briggs, the big back from Gallatin HS in Tennessee, is a player to keep an eye on. He redshirted last year, but he has the size and speed that could make him a difference-maker when he gets on the field, much like the aforementioned Wilson.

 

Wide Receivers (15):

 

Tyleek Collins (Sr)

Steve Jenkins (Jr)

Patrick Ballard (Jr)

Marcus Phillips Jr. (JR)

Christian Willis (Jr)

Kyle Williams (Soph)

Zyell Griffin (Soph)

Jordan Jakes (Soph)

Malik Wesley (Soph)

Kalvin Sauders (RS Fr)

Deamikkio Nathan II (Fr)

Aaron Holloway (Fr)

Kilinahe Hokunui Mendiola-Jensen (FR)

Jordan Riles (Fr)

Malik Bradford (Fr)

 

UNLV Football Preview
Photo Credit: Terrance Quaites/Franchise Sports Media

The depth for UNLV is impressive at the receiver position. It’s the deepest and best I have seen since I started covering the Rebels six years ago. The Rebels’ receiving core will be led by the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year, Kyle Williams. The sophomore from St. Monica Catholic High School led UNLV with 35 receptions for 426 yards and two touchdowns in 2020. He will be joined by Steve Jenkins, looking to rebound from a season he saw derailed by injuries. If UNLV can get the type of play out of Jenkins that Rebels’ fans saw during his freshman year, UNLV will have a dynamic 1-2 punch.

Tyleek Collins returns to the Rebels after briefly entering the transfer portal. Collins is an explosive player who is a threat to score any time he touches the ball. In addition, the Rebels landed a big target in former Indiana University wide receiver Jordan Jakes. The 6’2, 215-pound receiver out of Atlanta has sub 4.6 speed and a 40″ vertical. He is an ideal target on fade routes and in the red zone. Another player to keep an eye on is freshman Kilinahe Hokunui Mendiola-Jensen. The converted cornerback transitioned to wide receiver and has looked like he could make an impact early on.

Zyell Griffin, another sophomore who started for UNLV last season, will look to build off of a solid freshman season. A local product, freshman Aaron Holloway, from Legacy High School, is another young player to keep an eye on. Holloway, who set state receiving records his junior year in 2019, is an explosive player who also returns kicks and punts. Fellow freshman Deamikkio Nathan II is a smooth route runner, strong and deadly after the catch. He could also make an impact at some point this season.

If you’re looking for a “sleeper” player, then look no further than Jordan Riles, a walk-on from Long Beach Poly. Another long-player (6’4/180), Riles has the bloodlines (his uncle is former Oregon Duck and Kansas City Chief Samie Parker and Tray Session) and has made a lot of plays in camp. Malik Bradford is another freshman that could see meaningful playing time for the Rebels this season. Patrick Ballard is yet another player who the staff has been high on. He has the size and speed to make an impact when he gets on the field. Malik Wesley, Kalvin SaudersMarcus Phillips Jr., and Christian Willis round out the rest of the Rebels receiving core.

 

Tight Ends (8):

 

Giovanni Fauolo Sr. (Sr)

Noah Bean (Sr)

Daniel Godfrey (Sr)

Shelton Zeon III (Jr)

Adam Meyer (Jr)

Kaleo Ballungay (RS Fr)

Shaun Grayson (Fr)

Brye Lighon (Fr)

 

The Rebels have a very talented tight end room led by senior Giovanni Fauolo Sr. The former captain plays hard with heart and passion. Noah Bean is another player that the Rebels had hoped to have back this year, but he will be out the entire season due to a lower leg injury. That is a big blow for UNLV, but they hope freshman Shaun Grayson can pick up the slack. Shelton Zeon III, Brye Lighon, and Kaleo Ballungay will also get extensive playing time this season. They all possess a different skill set and can be on the field simultaneously or in different packages.

 

Offensive Line (17 ):

 

Julio “Chato” Garcia (Sr)

Clayton Bradley (Sr)

Amani Trigg-Wright (Jr)

Daviyon McDaniel (Jr)

Will Bonkavich (Jr)

Leif “LJ” Fautanu (Soph)

Brandon Logan (Soph)

Anthony Berry (Soph)

Mike Overland III (RS Fr)

Marcus Miller (RS FR)

Tiger Shanks (RS Fr)

Alani Makihele (RS Fr)

Jeminai Leuta-Ulu (RS Fr)

Anthony Rosas (Fr)

Graham Keating (Fr)

David Oxman (Fr)

Anton Ambuehl (Fr)

 

UNLV Football Preview
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

The adage is games are won up front. Well, the biggest question mark for the UNLV Rebels this season isn’t the quarterback position or the defense; it’s actually Rebels the offensive line. If you watched them over the course of the previous three seasons, the Rebels offensive line was arguably the strongest part of the team, but in 2020 that wasn’t the case. The Rebels offensive line didn’t play to the standard they had set in 2020, and they look to rebound in 2021.

Led by senior interior lineman Chato Garcia and junior Amani Trigg-Wright, the Rebels will look to get back to opening gaping holes for the running back’s to rush through. Both will provide versatility and leadership to a group that has some young talent. In addition, Alani Makihele could get time inside at guard and is healthy and ready to go. He is a big, strong, physical guard that could be dominant as the season goes on. The same can be said for Jeminai Leuta-Ulu.

Tiger Shanks started the final few games for UNLV at tackle and played well for a true freshman. The other tackle is a question mark. LJ Fautanu returns to man the center position. This is his third year at UNLV, and he has improved each season with his snapping. A name to keep a close eye on is Daviyon McDaniel, the Charleston Southern transfer. McDaniel was All-Big South Conference and could be the guy that is starting at left guard. The same could be said for Anthony Rosas, the highest-rated offensive lineman ever to commit to UNLV down the road. Rosas, who is only 17, has the size, physicality, and athleticism to see some time this year, although a redshirt isn’t out of the question.

Another freshman that could make an impact sooner than expected is Anton Ambuehl. The coaches were really excited to land him and felt he would have been a highly sought-after prospect if his season wasn’t canceled due to COVID-19. He possesses all the physical traits you look for in an offensive tackle. Cerritos College transfer Brandon Logan is yet another tackle that might push for playing time in 2021. Clayton Bradley will also be in the mix for the other starting tackle job.

 

Defensive Line (18):

 

Kolo Uasike (Sr)

Tavai Tuitasi (Sr)

Tavis Malakius (Sr)

Eliel Ehimare (Sr)

Connor Murphy (Sr)

Naki Fahina (Jr)

Adam Plant Jr. (Jr)

Tim Mosley (Jr)

Noah McGregor (Jr)

Seth Robinson (Soph)

Jalen Dixon (RS Fr)

Waisale Muavesi (RS Fr)

Jameson Helu (RS Fr)

Daniel Caloca (RS Fr)

Nick Dimitris (Fr)

Anthony Sagapolutele (Fr)

Sebastian McQuigg (Fr)

Kevon Ivy (Fr)

 

UNLV Football Preview
Photo Credit: Terrance Quaites/Franchise Sports Media

The Rebels defensive line is deeper than it has ever been and will look to build off a solid 2020 campaign that saw them get to the quarterback more often than they had in recent years. Senior Kolo Uasike will man the middle of the line once again, with Eliel Ehimare next to him inside. Tavis Malakius and Naki Fahina will back them up to start the season, but Freshman Kevon Ivy could be a name to watch, along with redshirt freshman Daniel Caloca, who could also see plenty of time. Waisale Muavesi is another big body interior tackle that should see time in the rotation.

Adam Plant Jr. will once again be a guy teams focus on trying to stop getting to their quarterback. Plant Jr. rushes the passer extremely well and has improved his play against the run. In addition, USC transfer Connor Murphy was a huge addition to the Rebels roster and has been everything they hoped for and more since he arrived on campus. Plant Jr. and Murphy will be a tough duo for opposing teams to stop.

 

Linebackers (15):

 

Vic Viramontes (Sr)

Farrell Hester II (Sr)

Austin Ajiake (Sr)

Kyle Wilborn (Sr)

Dondi Fuller (Sr)

Kue Olotoa (Sr)

Jacoby Windmon (Jr)

Kyle Beaudry (Jr)

Malakai Salu (Jr)

LeShaun Bell (Soph)

Brennon Scott (Soph)

Austin Fiaseu (Soph)

Ose Egbase (RS Fr)

Marsel McDuffie (Fr)

Tyray O’Dell (Fr)

 

UNLV Football Preview
Photo Credit: Terrance Quaites/Franchise Sports Media

Jacoby Windmon is the Rebels’ most impactful and best defensive player. Last year playing the SAM position, he led the Rebels in sacks. This year he moves to the JACK position, where his athleticism will be on display. Windmon is one of the vocal leaders on the Rebels roster and will be the player opposing teams will focus on stopping. Playing next to him inside will be Austin Ajiake and Farrell Hester II. Vic Viramontes and local product Kyle Beaudry will also see extensive time at the JACK and MIKE.

Arizona transfer Kyle Wilborn and one of the crown jewels of the 2020 recruiting class, LeShaun Bell, will also split time at outside linebacker/rush end (SAM). Wilborn is best at rushing the passer and had a lot of success early on for the Wildcats. Bell is a talented pass rusher and a player that the staff is really high on.

The linebacker group will also have Kue OlotoaOse Egbase, Dondi Fuller, and Austin Fiaseu. Two freshmen, Marsel McDuffie and Tyray O’Dell are also names to watch to make an impact at some point this season. Sophomore Brennon Scott is another name to watch once he comes back from injury.

 

Defensive backs (17):

 

Aaron Lewis (Sr)

Bryce Jackson (Sr)

Jeremiah Houston (Sr)

Tre Caine (Sr)

Phil Hill (Jr)

Dominic Brown (Jr)

Jerrae Williams (Jr)

Davone Walden (Soph)

Nohl Williams (Soph)

Ricky Jackson (Soph)

Tyson Player (Soph)

Mychal Victor (Soph)

Devynn Holly (Soph)

Kam Blanton (Fr)

Jonathan Baldwin (Fr)

Cam Oliver (Fr)

Rashod Tanner (Fr)

 

UNLV Football Preview
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

I have seen the biggest improvement in the Rebels’ defense right here in the secondary. Nohl Williams returns for his sophomore year as the Rebels top cornerback and looks to build off a season where teams started throwing away from him. Aaron Lewis will start opposite of him. Lewis has really given UNLV excellent play since the San Diego State game in 2019. He is also a leader and a player that could slide inside to the slot as well.

Another player who has quickly made a big impact is Jerrae Williams, Jacoby Windmon’s high school teammate. Williams, a walk-on that had no scholarships coming out of high school, came to UNLV with the urging of Windmon and has skyrocketed up the depth chart.

Davone Walden, who played at Centennial High School in Las Vegas, is another player that should receive a decent amount of playing time. Walden played extremely well, making big plays against Hawaii last season, and is one of the best special teams players on the roster. Jeremiah Houston is back at corner after a brief switch to safety last year. He is big, physical, and can run. He will give UNLV options when they go to the dime, allowing them to slide Lewis and Williams inside. Sophomore Dom Brown, along with freshmen Cam Oliver and Kam Blanton, could also see significant playing time this season in the corner rotation.

At safety, UNLV will have Phil Hill back after missing last season with a knee injury. Hill is a physical safety that plays fast and downhill. “Downhill Phil” will make opposing team’s receivers think twice about going over the middle. Bryce Jackson returns to free safety and will look to build off a season where he became a playmaker for the RebelsRicky Johnson, the first player in UNLV history to wear #0, Tyson Player, Mychal Victor, Jaylen Lane, and Jonathan Baldwin will also see time at one of the safety positions.

 

Specialists (6):

 

Daniel Gutierrez (Sr)

Rex Goossen (Sr)

Evan Silva (Jr)

Charlton Butt (Soph)

Ryan O’Hara (Soph)

 

UNLV returns Daniel Gutierrez as their kicker. He is coming off a solid year in 2020, where he made 16/17 field goals. Charlton Butt will be back to handle the punting duties. The Aussie averaged just 38.3 yards on 22 attempts, but a full 14 of his kicks led to fair catches (64%). Rex Goossen, who earned a scholarship, comes back as the long snapper. He was nominated for the Patrick Mannelly Award as the nation’s top long snapper.

 

3 things you need to know:

 

  1. You DO NOT have to be vaccinated to attend UNLV home games. However, you will be required to wear a mask at all times while attending games at Allegiant Stadium, except while actively eating or drinking.
  2. You can take a bus/shuttle to Allegiant Stadium from UNLV. One will be taking students and fans to the Rebels home games located at the transit center on campus (RTC Transit Center near the In n Out). It will cost $1 for students each way and $2 for non-students each way.
  3. When UNLV is on offense, BE QUIET! But when the Rebels are on defense, be loud, rowdy, and make as much noise as possible to disrupt the opposing team’s offense.

 

What I would expect to see this season:

 

UNLV Football Preview
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

Let me start by saying this right off the bat: I wouldn’t expect to see Tate Martell play at all Week 1 against Eastern Washington. He arrived at UNLV at the start of UNLV Fall Camp and still isn’t cleared for contact (as of this article). I know A LOT of people want to see Martell get on the field, but there are still things that have to be done before that happens. I expect it to happen sooner rather than later, but I don’t expect him to be playing Week 1.

I also don’t expect him to be the savior of the program, no matter how much some may try to force that narrative on you. Tate has immense talent and a knack for winning. He has just the type of leadership, competitive fire, and attitude to help change the program’s direction, but he is only one player, and this is the ultimate team sport.

I also expect Rogers to get the start in Week 1, but Brumfield to also play, with coach Arroyo going with the “hot hand” the rest of the way, much like last year. So let’s be positive about the quarterback situation; maybe both have shown enough to warrant splitting time and have the trust and belief of the coaching staff.

I know what I wrote about the offensive line, but I think they rebound and play better in 2021.

Jacoby Windmon will be the vocal leader of the UNLV defense, and they will start to take on his identity. Windmon is a fiery, passionate player who was the Rebels’ best player on defense, and maybe the entire team last season. Since spring, he has been more vocal and displayed strong leadership traits, and the players have responded well to it. He is now playing a position that will force defenses to account for him at all times, and he will be a disruptor all season.

 

UNLV Football Preview
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

Charles Williams will have a huge year. Chuck is in the best shape of his life, has even more motivation since the birth of his daughter, and he understands that this may be his best chance to play in a Bowl game. He wants that more than he has let on publicly and wants to be the first Rebel drafted to the NFL in over a decade.

The defense will be much better. I truly believe this because they are deeper and more talented. The Rebels are 3 deep at every position, and that is the first time I can say that, ever.

A few sleeper names to watch this year are Davone Walden, Jerrae Williams, Shaun Grayson, and Kilinahe Hokunui Mendiola-Jensen.

Lastly, as for a record prediction for the season, I won’t give a win total because I suck at it and I’ll just be wrong about it. The Rebels will win more than 1.5 games. I’m not a fucking idiot. I believe in the way the Rebels are being built. I think by the end of the year they will have surprised everyone.

 

Head coach Marcus Arroyo has the program trending in the right direction on and off the field. The time is now for UNLV to turn the corner, and with the amount of talent that they have, it could happen sooner rather than later. Now, let’s welcome back college football to the Valley!

 

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– Joe Arrigo

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