Friday, Aug. 7, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
For a college football player with legitimate NFL aspirations -- say, UNLV receiver Ryan Wolfe, for example -- Thursday morning was probably a huge help.
Wolfe and the rest of the Rebels veterans were eating breakfast together at the Thomas & Mack Center on Thursday morning while the team's newcomers were practicing at Rebel Park.
On a television tuned to ESPN with the volume off, the room's attention was grabbed when images of junior quarterback Omar Clayton and Wolfe flashed during a segment in which analyst Mel Kiper Jr. discussed four potential sleeper teams for the 2009 season.
"It's cool to see us up there, but I don't think we've done the best in past years with positive publicity," the ever-humble Wolfe said following the veterans' first practice session of the fall camp on Thursday evening. "So it's all preseason stuff. We've just got to do our jobs and not worry about what other people think about us."
Even if Wolfe & Co. can tune it all out, there's no question that thousands upon thousands of college football fans who had never heard of the Rebels' all-time leading receiver will now have his names somewhere on their brains this season.
Especially following the high praise Kiper -- maybe the biggest name in projecting where college players will fit in at the next level -- gave him in just a few seconds.
"If Omar Clayton, their quarterback, can stay healthy and get the ball to Ryan Wolfe -- Ryan Wolfe is a senior wide receiver, one of the best clutch performers in all of college football with those great hands -- UNLV, I think, can go bowling for the first time in a long time and be a factor in the Mountain West Conference," Kiper said.
Wolfe certainly earned the kind words from the scouting guru.
The 6-foot-2 Santa Clarita, Calif., native, enters his senior season as UNLV's all-time leader in receptions (208) and receiving yards (2,735), and is less than 1,000 yards away from being the Mountain West's all-time receiving yardage record-holder.
And being talked about by Kiper, who during the months leading up to the NFL Draft each April gets more face-time on ESPN than anyone not named LeBron or Kobe, can do nothing but help Wolfe.
Among those who saw the mere 15-second clip on Thursday morning could have been anyone. NFL coaches? Scouts?
Wolfe doesn't have time to think about it.
"If people know who I am, then that's good, but ever since you're a kid, you dream of playing on TV on Sundays," Wolfe said. "So, I mean, if it gets to that point, I'm gonna try and play as hard as I can, work as hard as I can, just like I have been the last four years."
"It's cool to hear your name, especially when it's positive like that, so I've got to live up to that, that's what I see it as. If people are gonna say it, I'm gonna make sure they're not wrong."
Wolfe sees that as the attitude the whole team has taken on.
And in his eyes, it didn't take Kiper name-dropping the Rebels to make them think that, though he did point out that UNLV hasn't been to a bowl game since 2000.
That streak could have been broken last season, when the Rebels flamed out in a 42-21 loss to San Diego State with a potential bowl appearance on the line.
"I think the main point is the way we dealt with positive publicity last year," he said. "Coming off of two straight wins towards the end of the season and needing a win (at San Diego State) to be bowl eligible, I think we let the hype get to our heads, and we learned a big lesson.
"I mean, I would have loved to win that game, but we almost got more out of losing than actually winning. I think we're definitely way more mature than in past years, so I don't think that's something we'll have to worry about this year."
How much more mature?
Well, coach Mike Sanford -- who was on the practice field with the newcomers when the segment aired, but saw it later on his computer -- said it's something that he feels doesn't even need to be addressed in a meeting setting.
"I think that's one of those deals that just takes care of itself," he said. "To me, we know who we are, we know who we can be, and we're excited that people are seeing that, but it's something that we've got to prove on the field."