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Graney: Spring goal for UNLV football is that players lead

To go from coach-fed to player-led. That was the goal.

It’s one ideal that UNLV spring football has been built around — the mandate that players take more ownership of their program, their work ethic, their accountability and responsibilities.

“I have to stop being the beacon and they have to start,” said third-year head coach Marcus Arroyo. “Coaches can’t always be the ones to get them going. Leadership is key. It can’t always be me saying we have to be good.

“They have to say it, and the teams that do, it becomes organic that way and the shift changes. It has for sure happened with us.”

Arroyo’s second spring practice with UNLV (the first was wiped out due to COVID-19) continues Saturday with the team’s Spring Showcase at Allegiant Stadium.

It’s free and open to public with a controlled scrimmage commencing at 5 p.m.

Must get better

Two things are certain: UNLV needs to get a whole lot better and a spring such as this could go a long way in delivering such results. Maybe.

There are still a starting quarterback to be named and a new defense to be installed. There has also been some coaching turnover. New faces with new ideas.

Arroyo is 2-16 since assuming control of the program in December of 2019. There haven’t been many fond memories about what has occurred in the fall. He thinks that can change. It must start now.

You probably won’t see a whole lot of hitting Saturday beyond what the Rebels offer in a typical practice. The physicality has been minimal this spring and that’s smart.

This isn’t Alabama. UNLV hasn’t even proven to be a consistently competitive Mountain West outfit. The Rebels don’t own the depth to put players in harm’s way.

Sure. It’s football. But risking injury for a team that will need every last capable body come camp in August is a shortsighted view. They can’t get guys banged up and risk missing reps now or during individual summer workouts.

Instead, Arroyo and his staff teach. It becomes more and more a benefit as a coach’s tenure increases, the opportunity for retention of schemes and verbiage and how he wants things done. It all allows for a much faster learning curve.

“At spring practice last year, they hadn’t even seen a layout of how we practice,” Arroyo said. “The new guys have to catch up and I think that’s good — it elevates them and pushes them to do so. We’re at the point where guys know exactly what’s going on. It’s exactly what you want to happen with a ton of teaching going on.”

It was before camp when Arroyo hosted for his team a Special Forces training camp for three days. It was all about the importance of leadership within the ranks or, in this case, a locker room.

And it rubbed off. There are more players-only meetings now. They don’t approach Arroyo with every last issue or problem. They handle things themselves more.

No enabling

See. Coaches inherently enable those under them and it’s one truth Arroyo wanted changed this spring. Sometimes, like with one’s own children, you have to let them mess things up for any real learning to occur.

“We can focus more on what to do this spring, working on fine details,” said junior center Leif Fautanu. “We’re really only two springs into this, but even though Coach Arroyo protects us some at practice with (controlled hitting), we’re still going full speed.

“It’s allowing all of us to focus more on a bigger picture. Everyone has bought in. I can see it.”

Player-led instead of coach-fed.

That was the goal. Seems to have caught on.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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