Unlv football
Photo Credit: Quincy Hatcher/Franchise Sports Media

New FSM Feature: UNLV Football’s New Additions

Franchise Sports Media

 

The transfer portal has created a third signing period for coaches, and UNLV head football coach Marcus Arroyo has used it to upgrade his roster.

 

UNLV Football
Photo Credit: Trisha LaCoste/Franchise Sports Media

The NCAA opened a can of worms when they created the transfer portal. They allowed players to transfer one time with no restrictions but never envisioned the mass exodus of players from schools they play for to schools they want to play for. It has created an almost year-round free agent system that enables teams to upgrade the talent on their roster with players who already have some college experience. It also has hurt high school recruiting and created an unofficial third signing period, after spring ball and just before fall camp.

Marcus Arroyo was prepared for this. He and I spoke about it during the press conference and after spring practice a couple of times. In December, coach Arroyo talked about it on National Signing Day when he spoke to the media about the class he and his staff had signed.

Why such a small group early on?Arroyo said. “I think with this super-senior deal, with the transfer portal, with the ability to recruit over a longer length of time, now you’re going to take your time and give yourself flexibility.” 

“We’re going to give ourselves the flexibility,” Arroyo continued. “Guys can leave at any time. You have to be ready. The world of free agency and pro football and roster management is all the way ramped up right now. Because at any time, you could lose anybody, and it could be anybody that was ultra-productive for you, and you better have a plan.”

 

The Portal Giveth and the Portal Taketh Away…

 

UNLV Football
Photo Credit: Quincy Hatcher/Franchise Sports Media

The Rebels took a hit when they lost their best player last season in linebacker Jacoby Windmon, who transferred to Michigan St. shortly after the season ended. UNLV also lost Stevie Jenkins, Tyleek Collins, Justin Rogers, Marcus Phillips, Patrick Ballard, Bryce Jackson, Farrell Hester II, Tim Mosley, and Dondi Fuller, amongst others, to the portal or them leaving the program. That would seem like some considerable turnover for a program, but UNLV also used the portal to add players, create depth, & increase the overall talent on the roster.

The initial wave of transfers spread throughout the country, and UNLV hit the ground running. On the December National Signing Day, coach Arroyo announced the Tennesee quarterback Harrison Bailey and his high school teammate, Michigan St. wide receiver Ricky White II. They also announced offensive lineman Coby Bryant (SMU) and Preston Nichols (College of Charleston), receiver Senika McKie (Erskine College), and linebacker Jordan Eubanks (Florida St.) as their first group of incoming transfers.

But the work was far from done for the UNLV coaching and support staff. They still had to find a replacement for the school’s All-Time leading rusher Charles Williams, who was nearly 50% of the team’s offense in 2021. Coach Arroyo was also looking to add more depth to the offensive and defensive lines and secondary and linebacker positions. The coaching and support staff used spring as the opportune time to evaluate and eventually bring in potential Rebels.

 

We’re Changing Everything

 

UNLV Football
Photo Credit: Quincy Hatcher/Franchise Sports Media

UNLV has become an attractive place for recruits. When The Fertitta Football Complex and Allegiant Stadium were built, the vision was to lure recruits to Las Vegas and turn the program around. Armed with a hyper-intense recruiting staff, coach Arroyo has made UNLV a place potential transfers and recruits on the West Coast and Texas want to visit. Both the Fertitta Football Complex and Allegiant Stadium play a significant role, as do the uniforms and the honest approach the staff takes with potential Rebels.

University of Utah cornerback Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson (better known as LPJ) hit the transfer portal and had offers from Boise State, Washington, and Florida. But when he took his official trip to UNLV, he knew that Vegas was the place for him. The 6’1, 175 lb cornerback with nearly an 80-inch wingspan is full of confidence, swagger, and a non-stop work ethic.

I knew from the jump that UNLV was it. We are about to turn this around this year. I did my homework on the team and staff, and I believe that we’re about to turn it around.LPJ told me shortly after he committed. “Everything is here for us to be successful, and it’s up to us to go out there and win games. I played here in the Pac-12 Championship game, Allegiant was turned up, and we will have it rockin this year!

The Rebels also added running back Aidan Robbins from Louisville. Robbins is a huge running back, standing 6’3 and weighing 235 lbs. At first sight, you think you are looking at former St. Louis Rams running back and Las Vegas native Steven Jackson. Coming from Louisville, Robbins has the reputation of a great teammate, a hard worker, and a guy that can make a difference when he gets on the field. There aren’t any injury concerns, and Robbins is coming in with a chip on his shoulder since he couldn’t find the type of success he had hoped for playing for his hometown Cardinals.

UNLV also added another former Utah Ute, this time in outside linebacker Elijah Shelton. Shelton, who also played with Utah State, comes to UNLV after starting three of the five games he appeared in during the 2020 season, recording 15 tackles (3.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks), one fumble recovery, and one pass breakup. He did not play in 2021. The Rebels hope he provides even more juice to their pass rush, which improved much last year.

The receiving corps also got another weapon with former Colorado State University-Pueblo wide receiver Nick Williams. Williams is another big, long athlete (6’4/215) that has the speed to take it the distance anytime he catches the ball. All four of the players above (LPJ, Robbins, Shelton, and Williams) were in attendance at the UNLV Spring Game.

UNLV wasn’t done. There was (and is) still work to do, so the coaching and support staff continued to grind away and add talent to an already improved roster.

The Rebels added a massive piece to their defensive line in Brandon McElroy. During his official visit, the Juco defensive tackle was 6’5 and weighed in at 325 lbs. McElroy had offers from Arizona State, Jacksonville State, and the University of Alabama Birmingham. The former Glendale Community College standout is relatively young with football experience, but his upside is tremendous.

They also added a group of Juco players in outside linebackers Keith Conley and Dave Heckard Jr., also defensive backs Donyai Dixon and Bijon Harris. The Rebels also landed running back Andrew Wimmer and quarterback Evan Tomich as PWOs.

 

Miracle In The Desert

 

UNLV Football
Photo Credit: Quincy Hatcher/Franchise Sports Media

We haven’t got to the point where I predict a record, and I probably won’t if I am honest. But UNLV is trending upward in a major way. Coach Arroyo and his staff continue to add talent to a roster much like the teams that they are now recruiting against, something good teams do.

I will say that my expectations are as high as they have ever been for UNLV football. All the pieces are in place, and while there are still questions that need to be answered, on paper, they are much better entering this fall camp than they have been at any time before.

If the Rebels can stay healthy, they will have three quarterbacks that have played (and started) in Division-1 football, competing for the starting job. They have arguably the deepest wide receiver room (and potentially the best since I have been covering them) and the deepest and most talented secondary in the Mountain West Conference.

If UNLV can get the offensive line to hold up and the defensive line to stop the run and get to the quarterback, the Rebels could thrive.

Lastly, you have to give coach Arroyo credit for the job he is doing and for having a plan in place for something the NCAA wasn’t even sure how they would handle. He was ready for any scenario, and he and his staff executed it to perfection. While they did miss out on a few players (all of whom had UNLV in their final two and decided to go to Power-5 schools), they got players to check off the boxes they were looking for. Now, it’s time for the fans to show up to Allegiant Stadium and the Rebels to show out on the field.

 

 

You can purchase your 2022 UNLV Football Tickets by clicking HERE or at www.unlvtickets.com.

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-Joe Arrigo   Franchise Sports Media

Follow Joe on Twitter and Instagram: @JoeArrigoFSM

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