Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 | 2 a.m.
- Incoming punter Chase Lansford’s boot already making noise (8-17-2011)
- Tim Cornett hopes improved body, mentality helps UNLV rack up wins (8-16-2011)
- 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 — Injuries and other developments forced UNLV coach Bobby Hauck and his staff to prematurely rip the redshirts off of several freshmen in 2010, putting them on the field well before they wanted to do so.
But there was one newcomer who, barring a complete emergency, they were adamant about not putting on the field.
It was Cameron Jefferson, who entering the 2011 campaign will anchor one of the nation's youngest, most inexperienced offensive lines at left tackle.
"There are some positions that freshmen can play a little easier than others," UNLV offensive line coach Chad Germer said. "Coach Hauck's philosophy is we're not going to play a true freshman offensive lineman unless we absolutely have to, and it was good for Cam. He's more ready for it, he's better for it and I think it's going to pay off in the long run to get another year out of him."
How much more game-ready Jefferson is now compared to last season is visible to even the most casual of observers.
Despite playing his high school ball in Las Vegas, he came to UNLV as under the radar as football recruits come, but the potential was there. At 6-foot-6 with mostly a basketball background, he was raw. But Jefferson had a big frame with plenty of room to add good weight, excellent athletic ability and quick feet.
Football was always in his blood, with his father, William Jefferson, having played for the Cleveland Browns in 1989 and 1990 following a strong collegiate career at Maryland. But Cameron didn't pick up football full-time until his junior year at Desert Oasis High.
"I didn't play my freshman or sophomore year but saw how much fun my friends were having, going to away games, putting on the pads, the summer period," he said. "I just wanted to be out there with them, so I figured I might as well try it.
"Basketball was my first love, but I've learned to love football, too, now even more."
He was first used as a tight end in high school, but his coaches changed their minds and put him at left tackle midway through that first season.
"I just grew from there, basically," he said.
Jefferson would become an All-Southwest League selection as a senior in 2009, then one of the first commits once Hauck at UNLV that December.
The Rebels' staff had big plans for him from almost the moment he stepped on campus but also knew it would take a while. He was roughly 265 pounds, needed to trim some body fat and ready himself technically to man the most important position on the offensive line.
While UNLV struggled to a 2-11 record, Jefferson learned in the shadows. He'd constantly pick the brain of veteran left tackle Matt Murphy, who is currently in training camp with the Atlanta Falcons. Also, even though they had no plans of putting him on the field, the staff traveled Jefferson to each of the team's road games.
"Traveling was just a great experience, just seeing what the players go through in preparation, and I'm glad that they did that for me," Jefferson said. "If you don't travel, you don't see the atmosphere; you won't be ready that first game when you do travel."
In the spring and summer months, the program's left tackle of the future dedicated himself to getting ready to fill those shoes this fall. He cleaned up his techniques and bulked himself up to 295 pounds while maintaining those raw athletic gifts.
So far through camp this month, Jefferson has impressed about as much anyone else on the field. He's come this far without having even played a snap at UNLV, which indicates how bright his future could be.
But he also has a good perspective on what lies ahead this season. He'll continue to learn on the fly but will do so against some outstanding defensive fronts, including the likes of Wisconsin, TCU and Boise State.
"From what I can tell, there will be ups and downs this season," he said. "That happens in any season in any sport. There's good games, bad games, bad quarters, good halves. But I'll take it play by play and not forget about my mistakes, but keep building on them."
That first game — a nationally televised bout on Sept. 1 at Wisconsin — like the entire 2011 season, will be a trial by fire for him.
Having had the luxury of bringing Jefferson along at the pace they desired, the coaching staff isn't too worried about how he'll handle both the good and the bad.
"I like the fact that it's Cameron Jefferson. With his personality and his demeanor, he's not going to shy away from anything," Germer said. "We'd be more concerned if it wasn't his personality, but I think Cam's up for any challenge. He'll let it fly and see how it shakes out. If the lights are on and the guys are fast and big, his approach to the game won't change.
"You've just got to add the finish to everything he does. He's on the right guy; he's headed in the right direction; he's just got to know how to take it to the next level."