Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Tim Hough didn't play for a powerhouse high school football program. In fact, his Desert Pines High team competes in one of Nevada's lower classifications, against small-town teams and other schools in central Las Vegas that struggle economically.
Hough, a wide receiver and defensive back, wasn't a highly sought-after college recruit. Rivals.com doesn't rate him, and despite receiving recruiting interest from Boise State and Colorado, UNLV was his only scholarship offer.
The 6-foot-1-inch, 190-pounder is one of about 15 players expected to sign with the Rebels Wednesday during national signing day. His commitment falls in line with coach Bobby's Hauck recruiting philosophy: grabbing under-the-radar prospects his staff believes they can develop into impact players.
The strategy has worked. UNLV is coming off its best season in more than a decade, winning seven games last year and playing in a bowl game for the first time in 13 seasons.
Most of the Rebels' key contributors followed a similar script as Hough. None were blue-chip recruits but all had potential.
Hough was a two-way Division I-A all-state selection in 2013 by the league's coaches, catching 35 passes for 760 yards and 11 touchdowns. He helped Desert Pines win nine games and come within seven points of reaching the state semifinals.
"They are getting an ultra-competitive kid," Desert Pines coach Tico Rodriguez said. "UNLV did a great job of keeping an eye on Tim. They do a good job of evaluating the whole town. When they saw how competitive he was, it piqued their interest. They realized that kid was the real deal."
Hauck's staff often looks in unlikely places for recruits.
Hough, who was recruited to play defensive back and return kicks, was recommended to UNLV wide receiver coach Cedric Cormier by Desert Pines basketball coach Mike Uzan — their sons play on the same youth team.
Hough is a starter on the Desert Pines defending state champion basketball team, partially crediting his lockdown ability as a defensive back to the full-court defense Desert Pines plays in basketball.
UNLV assistant head coach Kraig Paulson, who is the program's lead recruiter in Las Vegas, already planned to recruit Hough after watching him dominate a 7-on-7 passing tournament at UNLV during the summer. With Paulson's blessing, Hough's college future was sealed: He'd be a Rebel.
"I really like the coaching staff," Hough said. "They made me feel comfortable."
Hough wasn't sure he'd get a chance to play at the next level. Opportunities are rare for kids from the neighborhood he's from in Detroit. Hough moved to Las Vegas at the end of his sophomore year.
"Where I grew up, nobody makes it out," he said. "Making it is a big thing. I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity, show everyone I was worth taking."
That's a common desire with other players the Rebels have signed on Hauck's watch.
Meet five of those under-recognized UNLV recruits:
Tim Cornett :
Tim Cornett didn't make the varsity team at North Shore High School near Houston until his senior year. As a result, he failed to attract many recruiters' attention because of his lack of experience.
Still, he ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash, rushed for 1,510 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior and was considered one of the fastest players in Texas, making him a perfect contender for Hauck's initial recruiting class in 2010.
Although he also received scholarship offers from UTEP and New Mexico, "he's an unknown commodity," North Shore coach David Aymond said in 2010.
"He's a complete back. He can block, too. He's a big-time find for UNLV," Aymond said.
Cornett rushed for 1,284 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013 to become UNLV's all-time leading rusher with 3,733 yards. He'll be remembered as one of the program's best all-time players who helped his team accomplish what some believed was unattainable — reaching a bowl game.
Tim Hasson's high school team at Cimarron-Memorial rarely passed the ball, making it difficult for the wide receiver to catch the eye of recruiters. Few were interested in spending time with a kid who caught just eight passes for 187 yards and four touchdowns.
That changed when UNLV coaches recruited Hasson's half-brother Tajh in Los Angeles, learning there was another Hasson in their backyard.
"I have nothing to lose because nobody knows about me," Hasson said in 2010. "I never got a chance to prove myself. I'm just going to give it my all and hopefully surprise some people."
Hasson eventually joined the UNLV team as a walk-on. It didn't take coaches long to realize they found a hidden gem.
As a true freshman, Hasson played on special teams and at linebacker, finishing with 19 tackles and scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery. He was a full-time starter at linebacker his last two seasons and played in every game during his four-year career. He served as a captain last season and accumulated 84 tackles, the third-best on the team. He also logged more than 200 career tackles — not bad for a player nobody wanted.
Tyler Gaston :
A local from Rancho High School, Tyler Gaston's only other scholarship offer was from South Dakota. UNLV coaches initially asked him to gray shirt — wait a year to enroll — but quickly changed their tune when Washington showed interest.
He had a team-best 4.5 sacks last year and was fourth on the UNLV team with 56 tackles, including seven for a loss. Forced into action as a true freshman because the Rebels lacked depth of their defensive front, Gaston in 2010 recorded 13 tackles in eight games.
While he was often overmatched in those initial seasons, he was integral in helping UNLV in its breakthrough season.
Tau Lotulelei wasn't recruited as a senior at Maui High School in Hawaii. Instead, he opted to walk on at UNLV in the hopes of following the footsteps of his older brother, John Lotulelei, one of the Rebels' best all-time linebackers.
While slightly undersized in high school, Tau's athletic ability was obvious. He was a three-year starter in football, lettered in wrestling and track and was named his school's male athlete of the year as a senior.
As a red-shirt freshman in 2013, Lotulelei logged 31 tackles and was part of the regular rotation at linebacker. He'll be a key cog of the offense moving forward.
Taylor Barnhill committed to UNLV in 2009, even before taking a recruiting trip here. The Rebels were the only Division I school to offer the quarterback a scholarship.
As a high school senior, Barnhill passed for just 1,029 yards and seven touchdowns. He had two games with just 32 yards passing. His Northwest High in Justin, Texas, lost every game, and Barnhill had eight interceptions.
At 6-foot-4-inches, 240 pounds, Barnhill always had the size he needed to blossom into a key contributor. He red-shirted in 2010, was the No. 3 quarterback in 2011, converted to linebacker in 2012 and finally found a home this past season at tight end. He caught 21 passes in 2013 and was a key blocker in his team's run game.