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UNLV football isn’t sweating high expecations: ‘We have to go earn it

Updated July 10, 2024 - 4:04 pm

UNLV’s historic football season last year has folks thinking the winning ways will continue.

The Rebels were picked second in a Mountain West preseason media poll released Wednesday during the league’s annual media days at Circa.

UNLV was last picked to finish this high in the conference in 2001, when the John Robinson-coached team was coming off a Las Vegas Bowl win over Arkansas.

UNLV received four first-place votes and a total of 471 points in the poll. Boise State, the 2023 conference champion, was picked to repeat atop the league with 38 first-place votes and 543 total points.

“We have a winning standard and that’s to be champions,” UNLV senior linebacker Jackson Woodard said. “We want to be Mountain West champions. That’s the standard — every day, every rep. It doesn’t matter what the expectations are. Us in the room are on a mission to win a championship.

“Preseason doesn’t matter. We have to go earn it. It’s awesome (being picked second) but it can’t really do anything for us. It won’t help us during the season. We’re thankful for everyone who voted, but we have to go earn everything we get. We’re going to do that.”

In individual selections, a record five UNLV players were placed on the preseason all-conference team.

Woodard, who had the third-most tackles in the Mountain West last season with 117, is the preseason co-defensive player of the year along with Boise State senior defensive end Ahmed Hassanein.

Also gaining all-conference honors were wide receiver Ricky White III, offensive lineman Tiger Shanks, defensive back Cameron Oliver and Jacob De Jesus, who made the team as both a kick and punt returner. De Jesus was also the preseason special teams player of the year.

The Rebels last had a preseason all-conference pick in 2020.

“We want to go in every week and dominate,” said White, who along with Woodard represented the Rebels at media days. “That comes with preparation — the way we prepare will give us that advantage. If we do that, everything will fall into place as it should.

“It’s good to be picked second, but we still have to go out and do the things we need to do. We fell short last year in the (conference championship game to Boise State), but our goal is to get back there, host the game again and dominate. That’s what I think we’re going to do.”

UNLV, which was picked ninth in the preseason poll last year, won nine games for the first time since 1984 in its first season under coach Barry Odom. The Rebels qualified for a bowl game for the first time in a decade.

UNLV opens the 2024 season at Houston on Aug. 31.

Pinch runner?

White will be the first active Rebels player to participate in the annual Battle 4 Vegas charity softball game between the Golden Knights and Raiders.

The game is set for Saturday night at Las Vegas Ballpark. White will be part of the team led by Knights center Jack Eichel.

“It’s a blessing,” White said. “I’m just going to soak it all in and gain knowledge from people who are there. I want to gain some connections. I haven’t played a lick of baseball or softball, but I’m an athlete. I’m going to see the UNLV baseball coach this week and get some practice in.”

Contact Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @edgraney on X.