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Rebels say mission accomplished in spring football practice

Senior Austin Ajiake knows UNLV football still has work to do.

“Spring, for me, is really just the foundation,” he said. “You can’t have a house without building a foundation first.”

The Rebels finished spring practice Thursday, and the Bay Area linebacker believes the team has done a good job building depth and learning the system.

With 15 practices officially completed ahead of summer workouts and fall camp, UNLV and coach Marcus Arroyo have some things to sort out. There’s a quarterback battle to resolve, and with more player movement than ever because of the transfer portal, the Rebels roster isn’t set.

Despite the decisions looming, Arroyo said this spring has been a testament to the maturation of his program. “We have a good feel for who we are,” he said.

Arroyo entered the spring with three main goals. He wanted to evaluate his roster, encourage leadership among the players and begin to install the team’s new defense.

Thursday the UNLV coach said he felt they’d accomplished all of their objectives. He credited new defensive coordinator Keith Heyward for creating a good curriculum this spring.

Ajiake agreed with Arroyo. He believes the basics of Heyward’s new defense have taken hold during the 15 spring practices. The linebacker said the team has a better understanding of its own scheme and how UNLV will prepare for opponents.

While the defense won’t be as new heading into the summer, UNLV will have more fresh faces. The next wave of additions ahead of the 2022 season will arrive in early June — a mix of true freshman and transfer portal recruits.

Arroyo acknowledged the new arrivals will have to make quick adjustments during the summer, but he said a few, especially the older transfer players, will have a decent chance to crack the rotation and earn snaps.

The UNLV coach will rely on leadership from veterans like junior center Leif Fautanu to help the new players get settled.

“Once they get here, they’ll have a lot to catch up on — how we operate, what we do, how we do it,” Fautanu said. “I think when we take them under our wing, they’ll catch on really quick.”

The secondary, in particular, know they have some new players to welcome. Safety Kris Williams from Division II Limestone and former Utah State defensive back Cam Lampkin, who started 13 games for the Aggies during their Mountain West title run in 2021, will both arrive this summer.

“You’ve got to be able to play pass defense,” Arroyo said. “There’s really talented quarterbacks, talented wide receivers, it’s a passing conference and it’s a passing game right now.”

With their spring practices finished, the Rebels will enter a discretionary period for the rest of May while the coaches will begin the spring recruiting period.

It will be the first time Arroyo’s staff actually gets to travel to visit recruits instead of just making zoom calls. Summer session then begins in June as the team begins the ramp up to fall camp.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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