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Gordon: QB competition at UNLV could shape future of program

They took turns fielding snaps Tuesday at Rebel Park during UNLV’s first spring football practice. Then they took turns speaking publicly, assessing the quarterback competition.

Doug Brumfield, Cameron Friel and Harrison Bailey have 14 more practices to win coach Marcus Arroyo’s trust and earn the respect of the rest of the Rebels.

“They’ve got to be the toughest guys on the football team. Bottom line. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally,” UNLV’s third-year head coach said moments after practice concluded. “Those guys understand that. They’ve got to elevate every day.”

For their sake and UNLV’s.

Arroyo indicated he hopes to solidify a starter by the time the spring season concludes. He hasn’t had that luxury during his first two springs at UNLV. Partly due to COVID-19 and partly due to a dearth in talent.

But Brumfield is healthy now and more experienced behind center and Friel is the reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year. Bailey, a former four-star recruit turned Tennessee transfer, adds Power Five pedigree and figures to jockey with the incumbent at the position.

“We’ve just got to work together,” Friel said. “Push each other and get each other better.”

May the best QB win

The sentiment certainly sounds good, rooted in the best of intentions. But make no mistake, even if the competition is friendly, it’s still a competition. All three want to start come Sept. 3, when the Rebels open their season against Idaho State at Allegiant Stadium.

Brumfield spoke first on Tuesday as the elder statesmen of the trio, having arrived in 2020 as part of Arroyo’s first recruiting class. The lanky lefty played in three games last season, blending a strong arm with deft running instincts.

He passed for 320 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, adding 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns before a fractured vertebrae prematurely ended his season and thrust Friel into duty.

Brumfield is playing without pain — and with the confidence that helped him seize the starting role. If only for two games.

“A couple months ago, I could barely walk,” Brumfield said. “Just to be able to compete with these guys is amazing.”

Friel fielded a mere seven snaps last spring, per Arroyo. But he started the final nine games and battled a series of nagging injuries to aggregate 1,608 passing yards, six touchdowns and 11 interceptions while leading the program to its first two victories since 2019 en route to his award.

Yet Arroyo still elected to recruit Bailey, a move that Friel seems to understand. “I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t ‘Oh, I’m leaving,” he said.

Sounds like someone ready to compete.

So too is Bailey, who started as a freshman at Tennessee before a new coaching staff recruited over him and triggered his transfer. He passed for 578 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in 2020 before leaving the SEC for the Mountain West. Arroyo said he’s “elevated the standard of the room.” Even if it’s one he’s not yet comfortable in.

“I was like the odd one. I haven’t quite fit in yet,” Bailey said. “But everybody wants what’s best for me, everybody helps each other, everybody motivates each other.”

Creating continuity

Consider this: Brumfield, Friel and Bailey all have three years of eligibility remaining. Meaning whoever emerges as Arroyo’s QB1 could shape the future of the program. Imagine the continuity that could accompany such stability behind center.

Brumfield, Friel and Bailey probably are.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to create competition there, and guys have to run with it,” Arroyo said. “Competition at that position just like everywhere else is not just a cliche. It makes everybody better.”

Let the competition begin.

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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