Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 | 7:30 p.m.
During his initial four recruiting classes at UNLV, football coach Bobby Hauck handed out more than 20 scholarships each year in trying to mold the Rebel program to his liking.
They needed help at virtually every position, giving the coach multiple options on the recruiting trail. From building depth on the lines to improving the defense, there was no shortage of needs to be addressed.
This year, it was different.
With a light senior class last fall, Hauck had about seven fewer spots to fill, having to be more selective in his evaluating. Today, he announced a 16-player recruiting class, including five defensive linemen to address this offseason’s biggest need. Three regulars on the defensive front during UNLV’s seven-win season in 2013 graduated.
“It was a fairly stress-free recruiting season for me,” Hauck said. “It was nice for once.”
The class included four defensive backs, four players from the Las Vegas area and junior college quarterback Blake Decker, who is already enrolled and expected to battle rising junior Nick Sherry to start under center.
It was the smallest class in school history and includes two players — kicker Conor Perkins and tight end Austin Hunt — who won’t enroll for two years while serving church missions.
“I’m excited with what we brought in the room. This class is not large in number, but it’s high in quality,” Hauck said.
Here are some highlights from the class:
• No running backs or wide receivers, no problem : The class didn’t include a running back or wide receiver, which is a rarity. Still, Hauck isn’t worried. Of the three players who gray-shirted — signed last year, but enrolled in January — two are wide receivers. And at running back, UNLV has four capable returning rushers.
• Recruiting Las Vegas : Of the 11 Las Vegas-area players to sign Wednesday with Division I schools, four picked UNLV. Hauck’s staff offered scholarships to nine of the players. Like he’s done the past four years, he opened his signing day press conference stressing the importance of recruiting local players. “I’m really pleased with the local guys coming our way. It’s good to keep local kids home,” Hauck said.
• Three-star recruits : Hauck isn’t a fan of rankings by evaluating sites, repeatedly saying you can’t judge a recruiting class until a few years later. But, if those sites are correct, UNLV landed a pair of quality defensive backs. Chazz Eldridge (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) from Chino Hills High in California is a three-star recruit by ESPN.com and was initially committed to Arizona. He had 35 tackles, two interceptions and 14 passes defending in 2013. Dominique Fenstermacher (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) is a three-star recruit by Rivals.com, picking UNLV over offers from Nebraska and Arizona.
• The next UNLV QB? : Decker posted impressive numbers last fall at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona, completing 269 of 456 passes for 4,241 yards and 47 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He was an NJCAA second-team All-American. Decker, 23, served a two-year church mission before enrolling at Scottsdale. In 2009, he redshirted at BYU.
• How winning changes things: Hauck spent his first four years selling his vision of UNLV being a winning program. At times, it was a tough sell, with the Rebels winning two games in each of his first three seasons. The Rebels won seven games last year, opening new doors on the recruiting trail. “It helps for sure, without a doubt,” Hauck said. “As the season progressed, we were able to hang in there with more kids than normal.”
• Wait and see: Rivals.com ranks the class at 116th nationally out of 123 schools, which means nothing to Hauck. “That will play out over the next couple of years,” he said.