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Ryan Wolfe: A pro in Rebels’ clothing

Reserved and routine-oriented, UNLV receiver remains ahead of the curve


Justin M. Bowen

UNLV senior receiver Ryan Wolfe enters the 2009 campaign as the Rebels’ career leader in receptions (209) and receiving yardage (2,735). After that? A near-certain shot at an NFL career.

It's Monday morning in Ely, and Ryan Wolfe looks as sharp as ever.

What else is new?

Going first in every drill, he sets the tone.

The senior receiver's routes are precise. The ball makes nary a sound as it hits his gloved hands, time after time. The other receivers follow suit during pass-catching exercises, taking visual note of Wolfe's form.

It's impossible to guess by appearance alone that just 24 hours ago, Wolfe was praying to the porcelain royalty, working to settle a stomach virus.

The model of consistency. No matter what.

"Basically, when I came in, I figured everything he did was right," sophomore receiver Phillip Payne said. "He seldom makes mistakes. Nobody's perfect, but if you're looking for someone to follow, it'd be him.

"Just look at him. Even if he isn't doing it right, he makes it look so good that you think it's right."

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV receivers Phillip Payne (4) and Ryan Wolfe talk strategy before running a skeleton drill on Friday morning during practice at Broadbent Park in Ely.

His numbers should come as no surprise given the way Wolfe both practices — full-speed, serious and consistent — and the way he takes care of himself — yoga classes on top of everything else have helped keep him limber for the past three years.

In just three seasons, his 209 catches and 2,735 yards are both UNLV records. He's a legitimate All-America candidate as the second-leading active receiver in the nation. Wolfe will be all over the Mountain West record books by the time his 2009 season is through.

And from there ...

"He's a pro," UNLV receivers coach Kris Cinkovich said. "This is real important to him, and he wants to get the most out of every day. We have a saying for our receivers that you get better or worse each day — you never stay the same. I think he really sees every day as an opportunity to get better."

Quick to agree is head coach Mike Sanford, who coached NFL receivers with the Chargers from 1999-2001 and the likes of Keyshawn Johnson and Johnnie Morton while at Southern Cal from 1989-96.

"I think he's the most complete receiver that I've ever been involved with," Sanford said. "He does everything a receiver needs to do. He has every quality that you want. He has the most of every quality out of a receiver that I've ever coached."

It was just a few years ago when maybe only those closest to him could predict that type of a future so boldly.

Most of that stems from the fact that Wolfe has done such a good job of staying ahead of the curve.

Audio Clip

  • UNLV receivers coach Kris Cinkovich talks about how Ryan Wolfe's work ethic at practice is just one thing that sets him apart as a pro.

Audio Clip

  • UNLV junior quarterback Omar Clayton talks about how Ryan Wolfe has become the reliable safety valve for him within the Rebels' offense.

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  • UNLV senior receiver Rodelin Anthony talks about Ryan Wolfe's tendencies as a creature of habit.

For most prep athletes with Division-I dreams, a major knee injury before a junior season can essentially be a nightmare. It's the showcase year for athletes in the eyes of recruiters.

That's what Wolfe received while playing safety in a 7-on-7 contest that summer. A receiver dove for a ball. instead, he caught Wolfe's left knee, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament.

It became obvious pretty soon that Ryan Wolfe wasn't most prep athletes.

After grinding himself through rehab following surgery in July, he was somehow ready to go in the 11th week of the season, just in time for Hart's playoff opener. On the first play of his first game back, Wolfe took a pass 70 yards to the opponents' goal line, setting up what would be a shocking run through the CIF playoffs, ending with an upset of No. 1 Mission Viejo in the title game thanks to a pair of Wolfe scores.

"His mom didn't really want to, his dad was saying 'OK,' and the doctor, who his mom worked for, said yes," Hart coach Mike Herrington recalled. "And it was all because of Ryan's work ethic. If it wasn't for him coming back his junior year, we wouldn't have won the CIF championship.

"And Ryan is so business-like that the next day, he was on the court with the basketball team."

Carrying a good-not-great hoops squad to the CIF semifinals as a senior, only to lose to an Etiwanda team which included current NBA rookies Darren Collison and Jeff Pendergraph, merely solidified his reputation as a winner.

But college football coaches didn't see that as enough.

"This was my one and only (D-I scholarship) offer coming out of high school," Wolfe said.

If it hadn't been for Gary Bernardi, there may not have been any.

Then an offensive line coach at Northern Arizona after an 11-year run on the UCLA staff, Bernardi was familiar with Wolfe as a teammate of his son, Joe, who is now an offensive lineman at Fresno State.

"The way Ryan played in that (championship) game, coming back from that injury, was just phenomenal," Bernardi said. "He just always had a soft spot in my heart, and I always knew he was a player.

"It's not statistics sometimes. You just get that feel about somebody. It was that way with Ryan."

When Bernardi wound up taking a job before the 2005 season with the Rebels, one of his first orders of business was to convince Sanford & Co. to take a flier on Wolfe. It took some pushing, but after Wolfe took a visit to the campus and met face-to-face with Sanford, the go-ahead was given.

"He'd always said that if I had nowhere else to go, then he'd try to find a spot for me there," Wolfe said. "Then by luck of the draw, he ended up coming here."

Added Cinkovich: "Gary was pretty insistent. He had seen him play, and we thought Ryan's tape was good, but he had an ACL as a junior, which probably scared a lot of people off, but the fact that Gary really went to bat for him, that was big. Because he hardly got recruited by anybody, which is laughable now."

The best the Rebels could do was offer Wolfe a spot as a grayshirt, meaning he'd come to campus in the spring of 2006

"It was exciting," Wolfe said. "All I had to hear was 'four wide receiver set.' As a receiver coming here, there was a lot of potential."

The idea of Wolfe redshirting went by the wayside during that first spring, both out of necessity for healthy bodies at receiver and his seemingly easy transition into the Rebels' system.

"There was no question about it -- When he came into camp as a freshman, he was just a little more mature, and we all saw that as players, as did the coaches," said former Rebels quarterback and current UNLV grad assistant Shane Steichen. "Everything he did his first year wasn't surprising at all. He was kind of the go-to guy right off the bat."

The contribution came right away, as he quickly became one of the lone bright spots on a 2-10 team as a freshman. In his first game, the kid few college coaches even gave the time of day caught six passes for 160 yards and a score.

That snowballed into a 911-yard season, earning him honors as the Mountain West's Freshman of the Year. A lengthy list of accolades and accomplishments later, he's still up to it. Mr. Consistency, in the flesh.

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UNLV wide receiver Ryan Wolfe (88) is lifted by teammate Matt Murphy (75) after Wolfe scored a touchdown on a 33-yard pass reception, as Jerriman Robinson (85) looks on during the first quarter against San Diego State on Saturday, Nov. 22.

"He might drop a ball every once in awhile because he's human," Steichen added. "But as far as doing the right thing, he's pretty much flawless in that area."

Wolfe's consistent nature is born from him being a complete creature of habit. A slave to routine.

"He belongs in the army," senior receiver Rodelin Anthony joked. "From the systems to fundamentals, I mean, he does squares when others do circles. If this is how you get there, then this is the only way. There's no shortcut."

The routine is always the same. Room for deviation is minimal.

The nine showers Anthony claims that Wolfe takes per day? A little bit exaggerated.

"Maybe three," Wolfe cracked.

But he can't leave the house without taking one in the morning. He doesn't leave the practice field during the summer or early fall months without being one of the last guys in the ice tub, slowly, methodically exiting when nearly everyone else has left the field. It can make the 22-year-old look like an old man.

He can't eat before a game without forcing himself to do so, and can't prepare for one properly without first losing himself in his iPod for awhile, as everyone else bustles and yells in the locker room confines.

"You get into your routine," he said. "I always talk about how once the season's over, I get a little stir crazy because there's not that many things to entertain myself with during the day."

That won't be the case once the 2009 season wraps up.

Whether it be after a bowl game or following the Nov. 28 regular season finale against San Diego State, football will immediately become a job for Wolfe. At this point, for the strapping 6-foot-2, 210-pound reliable target, a shot in the NFL is all but a given.

Already this fall, scouts from the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns have seen him practice. Surely, there are more to come.

"I've been to five pro camps, and there's no question in my mind," Cinkovich said. "He approaches the game that way. He has fun, but the game's really important to him and he treats the game like it should be treated, because that's the way it's supposed to be."

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV senior receiver Ryan Wolfe has made the most out of his opportunity with the Rebels. Despite a phenomenal finish to his prep career at Hart High in Newhall, Calif., UNLV was the only Division-I school to offer him a scholarship. Three years later, he's an All-America candidate.

Wolfe can admit that playing in the NFL is a dream, but after years of staying ahead of the curve in almost every aspect of his life, he's put a premium on enjoying his senior season.

He came back faster than expected from ACL surgery, he earned his bachelor's degree by last spring and took apart the UNLV record books inside of three seasons.

The Rebels came close to tasting a winning season last year, finishing 5-7 after a promising 3-1 start. The goals are set higher in 2009.

"Just winning -- Winning solves everything," Wolfe said. "I think this senior class and the work we've put in the last four years, we deserve to have some thrills of a bowl game. That's something we've worked hard towards, and it's time for us to cash in on stuff like that."

Then Wolfe can cash in.

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  1. he would do well under Singletary in SF, but i would love to see him in Philly, for selfish reasons.

  2. great article ryan. (greene) ha.. too many ryans. anyways wolfe is a stud and has put up insane numbers with about 40 different qb's throwing him the ball and 6 different offensive coords. the rebels owe it to wolfe to go bowling. dont get caught up in the preseason hype, beat reno. win the games we are supposed to win and hopefully play in january for once in a loooong time.

  3. Reagan. You made a great comparison a couple of weeks back with the Kevin Curtis thing -- an Eagle, obviously. I like that one. Deceptive speed, sure hands, fearless over the middle. Wolfe's gonna be a steal for someone in rounds 3-5.

    And you're right, unlvrunrebs. It's amazing how much the scenery around him has changed in just three seasons. The fact that he's remained such a consistent force says something.

  4. Thank you for all these Rebel up-dates.
    I am near death up hear, all I hear is suckpack this and suckpack that.
    Its good to be able to go to lvsun and read about the good guys.

    Thanks from a huge Rebel fan.
    How's Tark, I sure hope he pulls through.
    I remember watching his teams on UPN when I was a kid growing up near Reno. I hope Kruger and Co can make him proud this year.

  5. 9 more days...and counting.

  6. reno, ck out the new Shark Byte... it's the latest and greatest from Tark. He sounded a bit fragile, but he's recuperating from a lot -- two broken ribs, fractured shoulder, spine surgery to remove that pesky bone spur. He starts some intense physical therapy today, as he describes, and appreciates all those who are thinking about him. thx