Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011 | 2 a.m.
- UNLV coach Bobby Hauck establishes Twitter policy with players (8-16-2011)
- 3 key questions UNLV faces as it opens camp in Ely (8-15-2011)
- Back on offense, Taylor Spencer emerging as a serious contender for playing time (8-12-2011)
- Caleb Herring looks to secure starting QB job he’s long desired (8-10-2011)
- Tuesday Practice Briefs: Timetable for Phillip Payne’s return unknown (8-9-2011)
- UNLV sophomore RB Tim Cornett named to Paul Hornung Award watch list (8-8-2011)
ELY — Tim Cornett only had one goal entering his first fall camp at UNLV a year ago — become a starter.
Six games into the 2010 season, he did just that. And by the end of the 13-game schedule, the speedster had slashed and dashed his way to the top of the depth chart permanently.
Cornett headed into the offseason with a new goal in mind — make sure that was just the beginning of a stellar collegiate career.
"I knew I could (make an early impact), but I think I still had a high school mentality last year," he said. "This year, I'm changing a lot. I feel like a college running back."
Those are not common terms among football circles. But Cornett defined the 'high school mentality' as the mind-set of going into a game knowing that raw skill alone could get the job done. After all, he'd used his unique top-end speed to rack up 1,569 yards on only 152 carries as a senior at North Shore High in the Houston suburbs.
Cornett said that if it weren't for still having that mentality as a freshman — which, in his defense, many freshmen do — his numbers could have been even bigger.
"I left a lot of yards on the field," he said. "I didn't finish runs like I wanted to, wasn't as physical as I wanted to be. I was thinking it was just going to happen instead of pushing for every yard."
But as hard Cornett is on himself, what he accomplished last season was nothing short of impressive.
Cornett used the fall camp to push his way up the depth chart, then went on to lead the Rebels with 546 rushing yards and also scored eight total touchdowns. With his speed and knack for the big play, he proved to be valuable not just as a running back, but also as a receiver out of the backfield and a kick returner.
"Last year when he came in, he was really raw," running backs coach Dominic Daste said. "Tim, athletically, is probably one of the more skilled guys on the team. What I appreciate about Tim is he's really a student of the game. He's always in my office watching film. He's understanding conceptually what all 11 guys are doing, not just what the running back is doing on a certain play."
On top of becoming more of a film junkie, Cornett hit the weight room this summer, and judging by his appearance in camp, he did so pretty hard, benefiting from his first offseason spent on campus.
The 6-foot Cornett played last season at 190 pounds, and currently is checking in just a shade over 200.
So far this summer, it's translated into a visibly more rugged running style. He's shown an ability to bounce off of first contact and keep runs going. At the same time, he can still rip off big runs. He showed that Monday morning during the team's half-pads session in Ely, when he busted through the left side and down the sideline for a 55-yard score.
He's fighting against more than just the Rebels' defense in practices, too, as running back is one position where UNLV has plenty of quality depth. Just behind him is freshman Dionza Bradford, once a highly-touted recruit who grayshirted last season and has a build and skill set similar to Cornett's. Also in the mix for carries is sophomore Bradley Randle.
Still, it's unlikely that either will wrestle the No. 1 spot away from Cornett, who carries some significant outside expectations as a sophomore. Just last week, he was one of 50 players named to the preseason watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, which is given annually to the most versatile player in college football.
In terms of numbers, Cornett hasn't set any goals for this season except for one — six.
That's how many wins it would take to get the Rebels to a bowl game. Doing so this year might be pretty tough, but beyond 2011, with some of the young pieces in place and the changing culture within the program as it enters its second season under Bobby Hauck, he could have a good shot at doing so before his UNLV career is done.
"He knows he's far from arrived," Daste said. "He 's nowhere near where he wants to be for his personal goals and team goals, that kind of stuff. His biggest deal is we want to go to a bowl game. He doesn't really care what happens, whether he gets 20 carries or he gets one, he just wants to help this team."