Ryan Greene/Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
The first installment of the 2009 Rebel Room in Ely has Ryan Greene bringing you highlights from the first day up in the mountains for UNLV, including freshman receiver Mark Barefield making a statement, the secondary creating some noise and the extended absence of Marcus Sullivan.
More from fall camp
- Rural practices give Rebels chance to cool off, focus (8-13-09)
- UNLV football notebook: With pads in play, defense shines (8-11-2009)
- Saint Preux creating a buzz after redshirt season (8-10-2009)
- UNLV football notebook: Childers finding his way in UNLV secondary (8-10-2009)
- Wild and crazy Bell ready to make his presence felt (8-9-2009)
- UNLV football notebook: Staying healthy no longer a concern for Clayton (8-8-2009)
- Despite Kiper’s praise, Wolfe focused on task at hand (8-6-2009)
- ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. taps UNLV football as a sleeper in 2009 (8-6-2009)
- UNLV football notebook: ESPN mention begins exciting morning for Rebels (8-6-2009)
- Now or Never: UNLV on ESPN, the start of fall camp and my new haircut (8-6-2009)
ELY — Even though UNLV snuck freshman receiver Mark Barefield out of arguably the nation's most talent-fertile state — Texas — he'll refuse to consider himself a steal for the program should he succeed as a Rebel.
Quite the opposite, actually.
"If anything," he said, "I'd say I got a steal."
Even though actual game play is almost a month away, the 6-foot, 195-pound wideout from Mesquite, Texas, is showing early returns.
Barefield was recognized following the second of UNLV's two Wednesday practices on the team's first day in Ely. During the team huddle, he was called up front along with senior receiver Ryan Wolfe, who pulled the red stripe off of Barefield's helmet.
The stripe is placed on each newcomer's helmet at the beginning of fall camp, and having it removed is essentially a rite of passage into becoming a true member of the team.
"It means a lot," Barefield said. "I came in nervous at first about the stripe. I wanted to set an example by getting my stripe off, but getting it off on the first day meant a lot. It also means that the coaches and players are paying a lot of attention to me.
"I feel closer to the team now. For today, it's an accomplishment, but tomorrow I'm gonna come out and work hard again. I've just got to forget about it now. It's over with."
Barefield took advantage of a golden opportunity on Wednesday, however.
Sophomore receivers Michael Johnson (hip) and Phillip Payne (knee) both missed the day's second practice, giving Barefield an opportunity to take on added reps with the first-team offense.
"His tongue was hanging from his mouth," UNLV coach Mike Sanford joked.
But Barefield followed up an impressive morning practice — which involved a touchdown grab up high over junior cornerback Quinton Pointer — with a consistent evening.
His best play came on a short out route in the red zone, in which he separated at the goal line from sophomore corner Will Chandler, shot to his right and caught a bullet of a pass while falling to the ground.
"Coming in, I thought I was going to be all right getting off the line," Barefield said. "But we have some good DBs, and they're gonna get me ready for the season."
Barefield's seemingly quick adaptation should come as no surprise, as moving up a notch is something he's pretty familiar with.
After playing his first three years of high school ball at tiny Wills Point High — a 3A school — in Wills Point, Texas, he transferred to 5A North Mesquite High for his senior season.
Barefield grew up in Wills Point, and after his family's home burned down while he was in eighth grade. While his mother relocated to Mesquite, he stayed behind and lived with a childhood friend and his family, as there was an opportunity at Wills Point to play varsity as a freshman.
When his mother needed both back and knee surgery before Mark's senior year, he moved in with her in Mesquite. It also helped him, coincidentally, in terms of getting noticed by D-I schools.
"The biggest ones that came through (Wills Point) were probably Texas State and SMU," he said. "UNLV showed me the most interest by far. All coaches were sending letters every day. I really enjoyed that, and I felt like this was the place to be."
So far, even though it's very early, he's fitting in just fine.
Speaking of Payne and Johnson
While Phillip Payne and Michael Johnson sat out of the afternoon practice, they took part in underwater conditioning drills in the pool at the local Motel 6 near Broadbent Park.
Payne has tendonitis in his knee, while Johnson is dealing with a hip flexor issue.
"Both of them are leg weary," Sanford said.
One other minor injury on Wednesday involved freshman cornerback Courtney Bridget, who left a defensive drill mid-way through the afternoon session, and sat out the rest of the practice with ice applied to the upper portion of his right leg. He has been diagnosed with a groin injury.
Sullivan, Barrett swap spots
The plan originally was for freshman receiver Marcus Sullivan — a Cheyenne High grad — to suit up this season and for freshman linebacker Jordan Barrett to take a grayshirt.
Now the two will flip-flop.
Sullivan, who was waiting still for the results to the math portion of his Nevada proficiency exams to clear, will now take a grayshirt this year while he gets his academics in order. He was originally expected to be used in the same fashion Michael Johnson was a year ago, by getting him the ball in space on speed sweeps and short routes to put his blazing speed into play as much as possible.
In turn, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Barrett — a Sherman Oaks, Calif., product who Rivals.com ranked as the No. 47 inside linebacker in the 2009 class — will join the team in Ely by week's end to begin practicing.
Uperesa provides a lift
UNLV offensive line coach, Keith Uperesa, who is awaiting radiation treatment in his battle with thyroid cancer, dropped by camp on Wednesday afternoon.
Uperesa underwent surgery in May, and expects to begin his treatment next week at the earliest.
"It's good medicine for me, just being around the fellas," Uperesa said. "It's probably the best medicine I can have right now."
He shook hands with players and fellow coaches after arriving for the final hour of the afternoon session, providing plenty of smiles all around.
He had blood tests done earlier in the day, and if all turns out well, he's hoping to have radiation scheduled for the middle of next week.
Secondary coming on
It's no secret that UNLV needs more turnovers out of its defense this season — especially its secondary.
The Rebels were tied for second-to-last in the nation last year in turnovers gained, with just 13 of them in 12 games.
It was clear on Wednesday that competition will probably be more heated in the defensive backfield for a slew of starting jobs than it will be anywhere else on the field over the next week in Ely.
Junior Alex De Giacomo — who transferred into UNLV from El Camino (Calif.) College — highlighted Wednesday's effort with an interception at each practice.
"The thing that's happening right now, which is a good thing, is that we're getting turnovers on defense," Sanford said. "That's good. We're getting interceptions. But on the other side, we're turning the ball over on offense, which we've got to eliminate."
De Giacomo is one of four prime contenders for two starting safety jobs, while Sanford easily rattled off six names in play for two or three cornerback slots.
During full team drills late on Wednesday, the six-man first-team secondary consisted of Deante Purvis and Mike Grant at the cornerback spots, Terrence Lee at the nickel, Quinton Pointer at dime and a pair of former quarterbacks at safety in Travis Dixon and Chris Jones.
Black jersey update
Junior quarterback Omar Clayton and senior linebacker/defensive end Jason Beauchamp wore the black jerseys for Monday's practices — awarded to the top performers on each side of the ball from the previous practice.
What's on tap
The Rebels will practice just once on Thursday, going from 9:40 to 11:50 a.m.
Two-a-days will resume on Friday, with a practice from 9:40 to 11:50 a.m., then another from 5:15 to 7:15 p.m.
This is all leading up to Saturday's scrimmage at Broadbent Park -- which is open to the public -- from 10:00 to 11:45 a.m.