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Faith Lutheran’s hot start has a UNLV flavor

Mike Sanford stood at midfield Wednesday watching the defense go through a drill, the sights and sounds not all that different from the mid- to late-2000s when he took a similar spot at Rebel Park and oversaw UNLV football practices.

The location now is half a valley away at Faith Lutheran, at a high school rather than a college, but the objectives are the same. Instead of Brigham Young and Utah, Sanford is chasing Bishop Gorman and Liberty, and he has taken on that daunting challenge by surrounding himself with others with deep ties to the Rebels’ program.

Five assistants played for the Rebels, and another, Michael Gray, coached the defensive line from to 2010 to 2014 under Bobby Hauck.

Sanford said associate head coach and defensive coordinator Jay Staggs, one of those former Rebels, already had established relationships with many of the assistants, which eased the process of assembling a staff.

“Jay had been in a town for a while because he was a (graduate assistant) at UNLV and then he was here (at Faith Lutheran),” Sanford said. “The connection put me with them, and I met with the guys. They were all no-brainers.”

Those coaching the Crusaders have them off to a 4-0 start entering Friday’s 7 p.m. home game against Canyon Springs. Faith Lutheran has played at a high level, with its closest game a 17-point victory over Legacy on Aug. 26.

Sanford said the chemistry and “buy-in by our players” were critical to the early success this season, as he established a leadership program last spring with the upperclassmen.

“That’s a really important thing for us to have leadership from within rather than coming from the coaches,” he said.

Sanford is enjoying a more traditional season at the helm of Faith Lutheran, having endured two COVID-impacted years. He took over the program after a season as a Utah high school coach, opting to return to a city that has changed dramatically since his final UNLV season in 2009.

Now there are NFL, NHL and WNBA teams as well as more high schools. Sanford lived in Henderson when he was at UNLV and now resides in Summerlin.

He beat out Staggs for the Faith Lutheran position. Sanford knew he wanted Staggs, an honorable mention All-Mountain West defensive back in 2006, to not only be on his staff but in a leadership capacity.

“He and I kind of do it together,” Sanford said, noting the Staggs also runs the strength program.

Staggs declined to be interviewed for this story because he wanted Sanford to speak for the team.

Another former Rebel, however, talked about being surrounded by so many with UNLV ties. Dominique Dorsey, who was first-team All-Mountain West in 2004 after rushing for 1,261 yards and went on to play six seasons in the Canadian Football League, kept Las Vegas as his home.

“We’re all under the same branch — UNLV family,” Dorsey said. “It’s been a privilege to come out here and give some of the knowledge we’ve gained over the years of playing football back to these young men.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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