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unlv football:

Led by Boyko and Waterman, UNLV’s offensive line returns all five starters

The unit has three sophomores, but helped the Rebels rush for 164.1 yards per game last year


courtesy Sage Sammons

Members of the UNLV offensive line, including center Robert Waterman (with ball), line up for a play Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, during the Rebels’ training camp in Ely.

ELY — UNLV football coach Bobby Hauck hasn’t named a starting quarterback, saying Monday after practice in Ely that he is still evaluating the position with his assistants.

Red-shirt freshman Nick Sherry has taken a majority of the snaps with the first-team during the 11-day training camp in Ely and appears to be in position to succeed junior Caleb Herring.

Regardless of which signal caller is under center, there’s a good chance the linemen in front of him will remain the same. Every week.

The five expected starters on the offensive line — sophomore Brett Boyko and senior Yusef Rodgers at the tackles, sophomore Cameron Jefferson and senior Doug Zismann at the guards, and sophomore Robert Waterman at center — started the final seven games together last year in helping the Rebels rush for a respectable 164.1 yards per game.

For a team with just a pair of wins in each of the past two seasons, having an experienced offensive line is a clear strength. It’s a luxury most programs don’t have.

“The thing that cracks me up is we talk about our veteran offensive line and three of those guys are sophomores,” Hauck said.

Jefferson, a product of Desert Oasis High in Las Vegas, joined the starting lineup last year midway through the season. He’s one of three sophomores in the unit, giving the Rebels a solid foundation for the next three years.

“We know what to expect out of each other, and how each guy plays and who needs help where,” said Waterman, who was named to the Rimington Award Spring Watch list for the nation’s top center. “With all of those games together under our belts, there is no reason for us not to click as a group.”

UNLV has played several freshmen and sophomores the past two years — some because of injury and others because Hauck three years ago inherited a program lacking depth at virtually every position.

While some players have been overwhelmed, others such as junior running back Tim Cornett, the team’s leading rusher the past two seasons, and the left tackle Boyko have thrived.

The 6-foot-7, 310-pound Boyko was a honorable mention all-Mountain West Conference selection last year and a second-team freshman All-American by the Phil Steele magazine after starting every game. He was recently named as a preseason first-team all-league selection and the conference’s best pass blocker by Lindy’s.

Boyko picked up his first college start last year at nationally ranked Wisconsin and has been a mainstay on the left side every since. While he is the most heralded member of the unit, he knows the success and failure of the line is a team effort — all five guys working together.

“The offensive line is a unit. You are supposed to play together — all as one,” Boyko said. “When you have all those guys coming back you are so used to playing with, it makes us all better. We are going to compete every game. We are going to be tough and physical, and play at a fast pace.”

Having an experienced line is one thing. Having a capable line is another.

And UNLV, despite its struggles the past two years, appear to be solid up front. Boyko and Waterman each have multiple honors, Rodgers and Zismann are proven seniors, and Jefferson at 6-foot-6, 300 pounds is the most athletic and could have the most potential.

For a team only expected to win three games, the line is one step in the right direction of proving the so-called experts incorrect.

“When you are playing the number of young guys we have, there is going to be some growing pains,” Hauck said. “But, frankly, (the line) held up better than I thought they would and we ran the ball well last year. That in itself gives everyone involved a lot of encouragement that we’ll be pretty good down the road.”

That road begins next Thursday against Minnesota with five familiar faces on the line.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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Previous Discussion: 9 comments so far…

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  1. I predict that the Rebels win the Mountain West Conference Championship this year. Yes, you heard it here first.

  2. The O-line is the most important component of an offense. The ability to run block and pass block makes the offense more versatile, plus it leaves the offense on the field longer. We need to have 4 to 6 minute offensive drives each quarter. The only way this team will be better this year is to have the defense off the field as much as possible. I would be curious to hear about who the 2nd team O-line is? They more than likely will get playing time because of injuries. Do we have depth on the O-line? Ray?

  3. That would be awesome vegasbike, but I think most of us would be content with 4 wins, happy with 5, and out of our minds hyped for next season with 6.

  4. john dough go join hundreds of others on a sat night in your local sports book and cheer against the rebels and cash a ticket just like everybody else last year at south point there were about 500 in line after the washington state game the sports book directors in las vegas hate the rebels

  5. O-line depth not there from CompColleFtball mag.1st O-line rated high.defense mid range.special teams-very good.RBacks/recvrs mid-upper. OB-questionalble-Sherry new-inconsistant rookie mistakes possible.But elite11 says Sherry great potential.if finds grove kid does amazing things. Bobby hauch is patient w/freshmens but is UNLV.

  6. It is frightening that one of the worst OLs in D1 football, is our 'strength' going into Hauck's 3rd year. Totally unacceptable. Hopefully they will improve with age, but run blocking and pass blocking are two different animals. It looks like we can run block pretty well, but these guys were absolutely atrocious at pass blocking last year. I don't care if we have Matt Barkley and Marquise Lee, we aren't getting anything out of them if the QB has the box stacked with 8 & 9 guys every play and getting sacked 40+ times per year. That is REALITY. Until Hauck can figure out how to execute a forward passing game at UNLV and adjust a completely predictable gameplan that does not consist of 66% run plays, nothing is going to improve here. If these guys can actually learn how to pick up a blitz and convert some 3rd downs with the passing game, then maybe we might have a shot at more than 2-wins this year. With a FR QB, a group of totally unproved WRs and an OL who has not yet proven they can pass block at the D1 level...I'd place the odds at 'unlikely'.

  7. JahReb, on this we totally agree. How pathetic is this team when this is our glimmer of hope??

    VegasBike, Who put you up to that incredibly naive statement??

  8. It's obvious you're either not a fan of UNLV or you haven't spent anytime checking them out. Either way it would make sense based on past history. I have spent some time getting to know this team, and I'm very encouraged by what I have seen. Give them a chance before you bury them. Who knows you might be surprised. Like any team of young men they need support and encouragement. I believe this team will be worth your time.

  9. As a former college coach I can tell you it takes time to build a program from the bottom up. It really isn't until the fifth year that the coach has his program in place. Sure, I want UNLV to show progress and I think they will. But , come on, give the coach some time. He is a proven winner. Do you really think he forgot how to coach? I will be there on Thursday and hope it is a good game. I am from Minnesota so .....I do want the rebels to win.