Summer Spotlight: Wide Receivers
WR PREVIEW: REBS IN GOOD HANDS
Easily the strongest position on the team, UNLV's 2007 receiving corps could become the school's best ever. With the return of two All-Mountain West Conference honorees, it's already the deepest. In fact, all but one receiver or tight end who had at least one catch a year ago return to the huddle.
Leading the charge is Football Writers' First Team Freshman All-American Ryan Wolfe (6-1, 205, SO-1L/Santa Clarita, CA/Hart HS) at the H spot. The Mountain West Freshman of the Year led the league with a conference freshman-record 911 yards and regularly streaked down field with big play touchdowns. UNLV's first first-team all-conference selection at his position since 1997, Wolfe ranked 26th in the nation with 75.92 receiving yards per game and became the first Rebel to turn in at least three 100-yard receiving games in one season since 2002, including a monster nine-catch, 176-yard effort vs. New Mexico. A unanimous preseason first team all-league selection among 2007 preview publications, Wolfe was listed by Lindy's as the conference's most dangerous deep threat.
Second-team All-MWC choice Casey Flair (6-1, 190, JR-2L/Anchorage, AK/East HS) was the other half of UNLV's league-leading duo as the former walk-on led the MWC and ranked 21st nationally with 5.58 catches per game. Having caught at least three passes every game of his sophomore season, the rock-steady native of Alaska totaled 816 yards and four scores of his own, standing 44th in the country at 68.0 YPG. Sporting News even labeled him as having the league's surest hands heading into fall where he's atop the list at the Z position.
X will mark the spot for hard-nosed Floridian Renan Saint Preux (6-1, 185, JR-2L - 17 receptions for 115 yards/Immokalee, FL/Immokalee HS) who began to better display his talents in 2006. He'll be pushed for time by one of the more heralded recruits to come to Las Vegas in a while, former JC speed-burner Aaron Straiten (6-2, 195, SR-1L - 22 for 249/San Fransisco/Antioch HS/City College of San Francisco), who finally began to show fans what all the fuss was about late in the year and will be the group's lone senior in '07.
Two players who sat out last season after transferring from Pac-10 schools figure to make their presence known. Formerly of Washington State, Lorenzo Bursey Jr. (5-8, 175, JR-TR/Long Beach, CA/Long Beach Poly) is a speedy product of football power Long Beach Poly while former Arizona Wildcat Gerold Rodriguez (5-10, 175, JR-TR/Los Angeles, CA/Venice HS), who led all receivers with 82 yards in the spring game, also looks to make a big impact as a physical route-runner. Also, a healthy Justin Marvel (6-0, 180, JR-2L - 9 for 54/San Bernardino, CA/Arroyo Valley HS) will look to be a bigger contributor.
Saint Preux's prep teammate Rodelin Anthony (6-5, 220, SO-1L - 17 for 235 yards/Immokalee, FL/Immokalee HS) showed great promise using his large frame down field and he's expected to start at the Y position (unattached tight end), where Wolfe will also see some time.
While returnee Chris Butler (6-3, 245, SR-1L/Canyon County, CA/College of the Canyons) grabbed just five footballs for 56 yards and a score, UNLV is planning on having a more traditional tight end look in some sets this fall when the Y receiver moves toward the line. Joining him will be Ryan Worthen (5-11, 250, JR-1L/Las Vegas/Palo Verde HS) who moved over in the spring after getting nine carries as a fullback a year ago.
SANFORD SAYS: "Receiver is a bright spot for us. We have a lot of depth, a lot of talent. Ryan is a smart player who catches the ball well. He has a great feel for getting open and runs well after the catch. Casey plays with tremendous effort and has worked very hard to improve, which has really paid off, obviously."
TOP HONORS CANDIDATE: MWC Freshman of the Year Wolfe and go-to junior Flair will both be in the battle to decide who is the best receiver in the Mountain West.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR: Butler, whose reception total from '06 (five) could at least triple as a senior playing in more traditional tight-end sets.
NUMBER TO KNOW: 23 - as in the number of consecutive games Flair has caught at least one pass - or every game of his Rebel career. At this pace, he can shatter Earvin Johnson's school-record mark of 41 set in 2001-04.
NUMBER TO KNOW II:
18 - as in the national ranking of UNLV's 2007 corps of receivers by respected analyst Phil Steele in his preview publication.